Forget the relationship, give us an answer
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"CRM is overcomplicated. Customers don't want a relationship, they want an answer - and fast."

So says Dave Thomson, marketing manager EMEA, Primus Knowledge Solutions and a regular key speaker at CRM conferences. He believes that a comprehensive knowledgebase underpins every successful CRM strategy, and offers straightforward answers to recent questions he has been posed.

If a knowledgebase is at the heart of a solution, newly-implemented CRM tools can swing into action with greater ease. Whilst the CRM software is still collecting and processing data, the underpinning knowledgebase can be pumping information to customers and employees. It can literally keep a CRM system alive during the early years.

The problem
A large technology company has just launched a new product that has had a mass consumer take-up. As with many new products, customers are discovering faults and ringing the customer care line for advice. The call centre staff are becoming frustrated at the amount of similar problems they are being asked to solve. Levels of service are falling as employee unhappiness rises.

What can be done to lighten the problem-solving load for the staff involved and motivate them to maintain levels of customer care?

The solution
When a new product or service is launched, teething problems for customers, such as missing parts, incompatible technology, or an incomplete manual, can cause major headaches for telephone support staff.

Answering the irate calls of confused customers with identical problems is frustrating and stressful. The simplest, yet most effective way to solve this issue is to try and divert routine enquiries from call centre staff to another problem-solving source - the web.

A large technology company will almost certainly have a website that can be used in conjunction with a customer knowledgebase to resolve queries. Customers can use the web to search for up-to-date information on their query.

Although the UK public is becoming more and more web savvy, and the customers of this technology company may be among the top tier of users, most people still pick up the phone to get an answer to their troubles. The challenge is to encourage them to do otherwise.

Help is at hand
¥ One initiative is to remind the customers that self-help on the web exists and can offer a similar service to a call centre employee, 24 hours a day. Try repeating the website address to the caller during the holding period as they wait to be put through to an advisor.

¥ Another way to encourage web use is for call centre staff to remind customers to try it. Staff can encourage callers to use the website as the first point of contact before phoning next time, or mention that they have just used the web themselves to solve the customer's problem during the call, and that it is a simple process.

Promote the website
A website address should be promoted in the same ways as an 0800 number, for instance, in all advertising material and on every piece of customer literature.

Repeating problems
Channelling simple customer queries away from call centre staff leaves them free to concentrate on deeper problems and new customer issues. Customer support staff can identify repetitive problems and make sure the ability to solve them is transferred to the web quickly and with minimal disruption. The company must also ensure that all customer-facing staff are familiar with the website so that they can recommend it with experience and credibility.

Deflecting customer enquiries to a functional website that won't let them down (therefore prompting them to ring support staff and complain!) will alleviate considerable stress for call centre staff.

Job satisfaction will rise as employees will be able to get their teeth into more interesting problems and experience a wider range of issues.

Let the web bear the brunt
Customer queries will be solved more quickly, as queues are reduced by self-service methods. Inevitably, these efficiency savings lower costs to the business, as the web begins to bear the brunt of customer questions.

The problem
A large high-tech company started to roll out a CRM software solution in its customer support department six months ago. It has not delivered the expected benefits and both employees and the original business sponsors are becoming disillusioned with the whole concept of CRM. This in turn is starting to reduce morale and lower the level of customer service. A vicious circle is starting to emerge. What could have been done to keep the initial enthusiasm and momentum going?

Negative effects
The problem with most CRM implementations is that they involve a lot of up-front integration work and data-gathering by many behind the scenes workers. During this period, which can be over a year, it seems outwardly as though nothing positive is happening.

Employees notice no benefits, only disruptions amongst their colleagues as processes are streamlined. This can have negative effects, ranging from a distrust and unwillingness to use a new system, to an open and sometimes malicious desire to ensure the failure of the project by sabotage or tardiness.

The crucial part of the problem could be the employees' attitude to CRM itself. Here, a CRM software solution was rolled out six months ago - but are the staff aware of the concept of customer relationship management and the theories behind it?

Back to basics
Software is one of the tools for implementing successful CRM, but if there is no sympathy for the theories of successful customer management, it is unlikely that an IT system will succeed.

First, go back to basics and educate staff, old and new, on what managing and maintaining customers means, and then teach them how CRM software can be a solution to the problems the company is experiencing.

Quick wins
What the software needs to do is to get some quick wins - for customers and employees alike. 'Quick wins' in this context means two things.

¥ Firstly, the software needs to make some friends within its user base, friends who can improve its reputation by spreading the word - a proven way to increase uptake of a new service.

¥ Secondly, it needs to show the people who paid for it that it's having some positive impact on customer relationships, however small.

Demonstrate the returns
Once the personnel / internal issues are ironed out, it's worth thinking about how to demonstrate some returns on the CRM system. Adding an extra layer of the CRM solution, which gives customer representatives more information to be able to handle enquiries, can enable quick wins and give agents more confidence.

This is known as a knowledgebase, a software solution that creates a deep and detailed store of customer questions and answers. Adding a knowledgebase to a CRM implementation gives it the capability to create many of these quick wins, especially as it can be up and running within 90 days.

The knowledgebase can change things instantly:

¥ For the call centre and helpdesk agents who are providing assisted service, the knowledgebase quickly enables them to handle a greater variety and complexity of caller. Their role becomes more interesting.

¥ For the customers accessing the knowledgebase directly on the web, they quickly find a much richer source of answers than before. Diverting customers to the web also alleviates some of the pressure on the call centre and helpdesk agents.

¥ For the business, happier and more productive employees, as well as more customers serving themselves, all translate into a quick return on investment.


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