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Smarter CRM

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4th Mar 2008

European companies are falling short in their vision of keeping happy, loyal customers - and the primary reason could be that companies are not using the information they hold on customers and their behaviour to their advantage. David Mills shares the three steps in the evolution of an effective company-wide CRM investment.

By David Mills, Oracle

Enterprises across Europe will all claim that customer satisfaction is key to their success and that their customers all receive exceptional customer service. However, the reality is far from the truth, as demonstrated by a recent survey of consumers’ expectations of contact centres. The research shows that European companies are falling short in their vision of keeping happy, loyal customers.

Driven predominantly by the exponential rise in internet adoption, consumers today are more informed than 20 years ago. Since consumers now have the ability to compare thousands of prices and services at the click of a mouse, having competitively priced and innovative products is important, but no longer enough. Instead, superior levels of customer service, where individuals’ specific needs are catered for, has become a key differentiator for companies of all sizes.

Add to the equation the fact that consumers now expect to manage relationships with companies around their own convenience, businesses are having to re-evaluate the traditional way of managing customer relations. Offering customers the option of using email, the internet and instant messaging to resolve queries, should be the norm for all business. However, many European companies are failing and not giving customers a customised, personal level of service.

Failing expectations

The survey questioned 250 contact centre managers from across Europe to ascertain their perceptions and approaches towards the way in which they interact with customers. Unsurprisingly, contact centre managers rate satisfying the customer as highly important, yet this contradicts actual experiences of the general public.

The survey indicates that over half of the European public do not judge customer service operations to be effective.

The survey indicates that over half of the European public do not judge customer service operations to be effective. Principle complaints include long call queues, repetitive query explanations and being passed between too many departments.

So why are businesses getting it so wrong in managing customer expectations? The primary reason behind this is that companies are not using the information they hold on customers and their behaviour to their advantage. Useful, relevant information is often buried in disparate systems and applications, making it difficult for agents to accurately counsel and advise customers. Not only is this an inefficient approach, but also a missed opportunity for businesses to deliver exceptional customer service and enjoy the associated commercial benefits.

Bridging the gap between the contact centre and customer

Companies need to address their shortcomings by putting in place a flexible enterprise-wide CRM system that harnesses all customer data residing in disparate systems and applications. Such an approach will ensure that contact centre agents have the appropriate information to hand and information that is relevant to their role, whether sales, marketing or services. As a result, customers’ queries will be rapidly resolved, leading to increased customer confidence and loyalty.

The smallest piece of customer information, such as a change of address, could be the trigger for a whole new set of revenue generating services and the business should be capitalising on them.

Furthermore, organisations must turn data into knowledge and capitalise on the information they hold on customers. Since all customer-related information created across the business is stored in a robust, secure central repository, analytical tools can be applied to provide agents and management with visibility of revenue generating opportunities. Agents, for instance, could have up-sell and cross-sell opportunities made visible through an easy to use interactive portal.

The smallest piece of customer information, such as a change of address, could be the trigger for a whole new set of revenue generating services and the business should be capitalising on them.

In addition, an effective call routing system will ensure that all customers are dealt with by the most appropriate agent and if none are available, a different department or agent will also be capable of providing consistent, informed advice. During heavy call periods, customers can also be informed of alternative ways of resolving an issue, by using extended services such as the internet or email. Dealing with a query more effectively will ultimately drive higher-customer confidence and satisfaction and in return, businesses will reap the rewards of higher customer retention.

Three steps to effective CRM

There are three stages in the evolution of an effective company-wide CRM investment and in fact, many European businesses are trapped at stage one - a rigid, ineffective CRM system that offers very little in terms of customer insight. This is highlighted by the research, which found that 34% of contact centres use their own bespoke system for managing relationships.

Stage two, where businesses need to get to, involves taking CRM a step further by providing employees with more than just a static CRM system and instead, give agents access to tailored customer information. Companies are also beginning to see the value in applying intelligence to customer data, whereby customers are offered relevant products and services based around previous interactions. Automated hotlines are another component of stage two and give consumers the power to resolve queries themselves.

The public will increasingly expect more accessible, enjoyable and intuitive ways of interacting with a business. Those businesses able to capitalise on this appetite and excite consumers with new ways of interacting with them, will be the ones that will prosper.

Businesses engaged in self-service CRM will also fall into stage two. Companies already offering self-service CRM to customers are already seeing the commercial rewards. For instance, deflecting high-volume low-value calls to an online portal (where for instance, the contact centres’ top 20 frequently asked questions are posted), frees agents to handle low-volume, high-value calls such as new services or products. Customers also value the opportunity to resolve queries around their own availability and have responded with increased loyalty. However, many businesses are still struggling with stage two and as a result, will fail to capitalise on the next wave of innovation.

Disruptive technologies such as social networking have revolutionised the way individuals engage with technology and manage their lives. They will have a huge impact on how both workers and the public use technology. The next phase of enterprise CRM – stage three – will see an internal Web 2.0 environment, pooling together all pockets of information across the business to yield enormous benefits. Wikis, forums, blogs, surveys and document management can all be centralised on a Web 2.0 platform, encouraging staff to share information, ideas and processes. Collaboration across the business will not only improve communication, but also drive a knowledge-based workforce.

The public too will increasingly expect more accessible, enjoyable and intuitive ways of interacting with a business. Those businesses able to capitalise on this appetite and excite consumers with new ways of interacting with them, will be the ones that will prosper. Getting the right systems in place to distribute information across the business to staff and customers as appropriate is the prerequisite for this scenario.

Companies that reach this stage three however, will find themselves on the cusp of a potential goldmine. Since success lies in a combination of exemplary and consistent customer service and effective internal collaboration, businesses that embrace Web 2.0 will find the key to delivering the next phase of business value from CRM. Companies that do not will fail and be surpassed by the competition and eventually ousted by more nimble and agile providers.

David Mills is vice president of CRM UK at Oracle.

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