A Roofer's Guide To CRM
BY MATTHEW VARTABEDIAN, TECHNOLOGY EDITOR, C@LL CENTER SOLUTIONS
Roofs, in a way, are actually quite similar to customer relationship management (CRM)
software solutions - like products from Siebel, Clarify, Vantive or POINT, to name a few.
Just as there are many different kinds of roofs, there are plenty of CRM applications -
the one chosen will as much reflect the need being filled as the character of the person
choosing it - be it an individual or an enterprise. And while it's fairly easy to go out
and purchase some software and install it, that action doesn't necessarily imply that
one's business processes and practices (the foundation and framing of a company) change
with the new roof. Indeed, an elaborate slate roof with flying buttresses and fancy
pediments would look rather silly on a ranch style house - it would probably even make the
building collapse under its own weight.
It's much more prudent (and difficult), however, to first examine one's existing
business infrastructure, identify areas for change, resolve to make those changes and then
actually set about transforming the way in which the business operates. It would be like
gutting and reinforcing a house to withstand the weight of that new slate roof. Rather
than re-forming one's business infrastructure around a given software platform's
functionality, defined business needs should dictate the selection of a CRM software
solution (the roof). Since the primary objective of any software installation or business
process renovation is to deploy a solution that works (fitting both customer and company
needs) in a timely fashion, a real-life situation would probably incorporate both the
top-down (roof first) and bottom up (roof second) approaches.
Implementing strategies designed to build meaningful, long-term relationships with your
customers that will generate revenue growth (a workable, if general, definition of CRM)
entails the unification of all customer data so that each of your company's departments
(sales, marketing, accounting, service/support, etc.) has equal and constant access to
up-to-date customer information. This customer-centric business approach necessitates a
change in the way your company does business - it also requires a change in the way you
measure the performance of your call center agents - your front-line reps in most, if not
all, of your customer interactions.
Call center managers and supervisors tend to live and die by the tried-and-true ACD-based
performance/productivity statistics: average handle time, time per call, calls handled,
percent idle, percent in wrap up - I'm sure you know the litany far better than I. These
measures, however, are only quantitative - they don't speak to the quality of an
agent/customer interaction. And so, quality monitoring was invented and, eventually,
automated. By using these tools, supervisors and managers minimize the grunt work
associated with the monitoring task and get down to what is truly important - coaching and
mentoring the agent to ever higher skill levels.
Viewed separately, however, quantitative and qualitative measures can paint vastly
divergent images of what's really going on in the call center. For example, an agent may
handle a large number of calls quickly, meeting or exceeding the calls-handled metric, but
the customers may leave the conversations annoyed at being rushed off the phone.
Conversely, an agent might score high on the quality side - is courteous, kind, friendly,
forthright, etc. - but takes entirely too long to handle the calls. Schedule adherence is
another area for concern - the agent may have high marks in both performance and quality,
but is rarely logged in when they're scheduled.
Achieving a balanced perspective of operations requires substantial manual effort -
legal pads, spreadsheets and lots of patience. Unfortunately, once the holistic results of
agent and call center performance are in, it's a couple weeks later and the opportunity to
correct or modify operations at the immediate point of need has been lost, and so
supervisors and managers are stuck in a reactive, rather than a proactive, mode.
A few software vendors (CallCenter Technology, Inc., Witness Systems, Inc., CenterForce
Technologies and Speedware) have identified this need and begun introducing products
designed to help supervisors and managers track, correlate and act upon information from
various call center systems in real-time and/or map trends over time.
CallCenter Technology's (CCTI; www.callcti.com)
solution in particular enables users to create, view and report on any combination of data
from any standard call center source. CCTI's product, called Prism, facilitates the
automated collection and display of data which correspond to metrics you design to meet
your business' specific needs. Call handling statistics from ACDs, adherence exceptions
from workforce management schedules, performance scores from quality monitoring systems
and data from information systems (like a database containing customer histories/profiles)
can all be interrelated and cross-referenced to create a concise, one-window, graphical
view of a call center's performance.
Why is this kind of solution important? First and foremost, it soothes a pain felt by
many supervisors and managers. Second, in my opinion, it enables a new kind of real-time
performance benchmark that will help solidify a company's decision to implement a customer
relationship management strategy.
The term "customer relationship" carries emotive undertones, which points to the
need for qualitative measures of such qualities as friendliness, politeness, helpfulness.
Acknowledging that fact, however, does not obviate the need for traditional quantitative
metrics. Instead, it indicates a need for performance metrics that accurately reflect the
business' CRM goals - a healthy balance between relationship-building techniques and
When I mentioned this point to Oscar Alban, product consultant for Witness Systems,
Inc. (Mr. Alban is also a 12-year veteran of MCI's call center division, where he ran a
1,200 person inbound/outbound call center and functioned as a regional sales manager and
regional training manager), he agreed and added the following, "For CRM initiatives
to succeed, they need to be supported at the supervisory level. Supervisors have a
demonstrable affect on the day-to-day business of a call center. They not only need the
right tools to accurately gauge and improve agent performance, the proper training to
coach and interact with their agents, and excellent time management skills, but they also
need management's understanding that they're running a business, not just handling
Moreover, if you boil CRM down to its essence, you're really just talking about
customer retention (making more money at less cost to your company). And once you start
talking about retention, you peel back the lid of a whole new can of worms - customer
satisfaction and loyalty.
What Does It Mean?
Jeffrey Gitomer, in his new book Customer Satisfaction Is Worthless, Customer Loyalty
Is Priceless, suggests that "Satisfied customers are only a measurement that
everyone did their minimum 'job.' Big deal. That's what they're supposed to do.
'Satisfied' (or satisfactory) is another word for 'mediocre.' So, 'very satisfied' must
mean 'very mediocre.' Oh boy, there's a group of customers I want to have out there
talking about me."
To determine the degree of a customer's loyalty to your company, Gitomer suggests
asking a different kind of question: "'Would you recommend us?' is a classic example
of a question that gives you worthless information. The real question is 'How will you
recommend us?' or 'Why will you recommend us?'
And when you get the answers [they
are] real information that will give you insight and direction to lead your company. And
lead you to more loyal customers."
Mr. Gitomer's point is echoed in an article entitled "Strategies for Keeping
Customers" by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers (the full text of which can be found here), in which they stated,
"Studies have shown that it is not enough to achieve satisfaction ratings that are
merely good (satisfactory satisfaction?). Only stellar performance seems to have any
measurable benefit in terms of customer loyalty at all."
The agents of interaction - the call center reps, the field sales and service/support
reps, the agents in the collections and accounting departments
all the members of
your CRM team - affect the customer's perception of how well your company is performing.
From a strictly call center perspective, if the goal is to retain customers, strategies
for so doing must be clearly mapped, responsibilities detailed and assigned, and
quantifiable metrics put in place to ensure those lofty goals are in fact being achieved
with very real results - i.e., money in the bank.
In the aforementioned article, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers also suggested four
strategies for improving customer retention. I think you'll agree that in a call center
environment, these strategies can be easily implemented, from something as simple as
intelligent call routing off of ANI or DNIS information to installing an IVR front-end
that prompts customers for account numbers:
- Customer Recognition - This technique involves treating your most
valuable customers in a special way without appearing to favor a given customer over other
"less valuable" ones. A distinction should be drawn between revenue generated to
date and potential lifetime value, for every customer is a revenue opportunity, the degree
to which they are depends on the selling and servicing ability of your reps.
- Loyalty Purchasing - While it's great to give incentives to loyal
customers, this tactic is probably the weakest of those suggested since it is obvious and
"easily matched by the competition
it often smells to customers like just
another cheap marketing promotion. In the long run, purchasing a customer's loyalty is not
much different from reducing the price to attract new customers." And if it costs
seven to ten times as much to acquire a new customer as it does to retain an existing one,
is this tactic really all that viable?
- Product Quality and Customer Satisfaction - This point should be
obvious. Without a good, competitive product, available at a price the market will bear,
you don't really need to worry about customers and/or their degree of satisfaction.
- Customization and Collaboration - This point is especially compelling
from a call center standpoint. The authors' contention is simple: "If you can
convince a customer to spend some time or energy teaching your firm how to cater better to
his or her individual tastes, then you can keep this customer loyal for a longer period,
out of the customer's own self-interest." From a technology standpoint, this tactic
is well within a call center's sphere of capability and opportunity. Since databases
really drive the whole interaction anyway, you just have to figure out how to convince the
customer to provide the information you need to customize the interaction, which can be
effected through IVR prompting, front-ended, perhaps, with a speech recognition engine, or
a Web form (the contents of which you pledge you won't resell to every spammer in the
country) or through a simple inbound/outbound customer survey in which you ask for some
basic information that can be used to customize subsequent interactions.
The goal is to only contact/disturb the customer when you have something of value to
impart. No one likes getting interrupted by telesales calls during dinner, but if the call
is from the local pizza joint a couple hours before dinner (which was prompted by its
detailed records on your pizza-buying tendencies) then they may very well have contacted
you at a time when you really didn't feel like making dinner, and yes, that pizza does
sound really good. "And, what? You can charge my credit card directly so I don't have
to worry about cash payment and a tip? Even better."
Don Peppers and Martha Rogers are describing what they call a learning relationship,
which is based on the "deceptively simple idea that when a customer spends time
teaching your firm, the customer himself develops a stake in the benefits of this
learning." And thus, the more trouble it will be for the customer to obtain the same
level of customized service from a competitor. The same point, phrased differently,
appears in another article by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers entitled "Smart
Customers, Smart Companies." (Full text available here.) The "real value of a
learning relationship lies not in the one-dimensional information residing in a customer
profile, but in the interaction of company and customer. While defecting customers might
take their own static profile information with them, they can't take the combination of
their stated needs and preferences and the efforts of companies to address them - a much
richer and dynamic form of knowledge."
I hope I've driven home the point that if you want your agents to engage in customer
relationship management techniques, you not only need to provide them with the desktop
tools to manage the interaction itself and access to the information they need to satisfy
the customer, but you also need to institute performance metrics that accurately reflect
the nature of the task you've assigned them. And while the discovery of those new metrics
may prove difficult, their adoption should prove well worth your while in redefining the
way in which your company, as a whole, interacts with its customers.
The author may be contacted at email@example.com.