Multichannel, Outsourced Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
BY DOUG PALLEY
Web-enabled contact centers are today's solution for providing
cutting-edge customer service and technical support. Internet-savvy
customers and high-tech companies expect immediate services and information
from their Web connection, as well as intelligent, informed telephone
interaction, and quick response to orders and requests for information. From
yesterday's telephone and e-mail response organizations, corporate
services have evolved to encompass the complete life cycle of customer care
by attracting, acquiring, maintaining and enhancing customer relationships.
Contact centers perform customer interaction activities, including sales,
marketing, financial transactions, order entry, account maintenance,
technical support, help desk activities, service dispatch, scheduling and
general information. The evolution to Web-enabled contact centers requires
the conversion of traditional teleservices agencies focused primarily on
telephone customer service into facilities and processes capable of handling
all channels of communication, including chat, e-mail and voice over IP
(VoIP). It allows multichannel customer inquiries and order entries to be
processed correctly, quickly and consistently via e-mail, fax or telephone.
Conversion is a complex task, requiring massive changes in the
recruitment and training process to ensure that every customer interaction
specialist (CIS) can professionally and efficiently meet customer needs and
performance requirements. The introduction of new skill sets to current,
valued employees presents another challenge. All current employees, from CIS
to business development professional, are forced to move outside their
comfort zones into new territory, learning new CRM software, new monitoring
procedures and an entirely new service offering. A step of this magnitude is
exciting, but is a constant test. Also involved are extensive technology
infrastructure and hardware upgrades, quality assurance scope and capability
realignments, additional security considerations and policies, and
comprehensive transition plans to smoothly execute the conversion, all while
attempting to maintain current service levels.
The addition of online services provides clients with a comprehensive
solution. The benefits of multichannel CRM are enormous. Analysis of the
valuable data collected in the process enables businesses to make informed
decisions concerning market strategies, product development, necessary
modifications to business practices and revenue opportunities.
Call Centers To CRM Solutions
One of the most obvious changes is the upgrade of the technology
infrastructure, requiring the appropriate software, hardware and bandwidth
in each customer interaction center, along with the requirement to interface
with existing technologies. This requires a careful evaluation and selection
of partners providing all aspects of the operation from switches to backbone
to workstations. Cost plays a vital role in this selection, since
redundancy, disaster recovery and scalability are so important to a 24-hour
support environment. Leveraging the scope of a nationwide virtual private
network (VPN) and volume of monthly telecommunications charges may assist in
the negotiations for bandwidth and telecom carriers to support requirements
in a more cost-effective manner.
Another upgrade involves providing Internet connectivity and the related
memory to support multimedia, especially for VoIP. CISs also require larger
monitors in order to see the contents of multiple windows, including various
databases, responses to FAQs and order information, simultaneously.
Corporate e-mail and chat software can be easily incorporated, but the
back-end of these services is not as easily created. Required for both chat
and e-mail response programs is the creation of a knowledge database of
responses to frequently asked questions. Here it is clear that the more
comprehensive the response, the less time to correctly answer the customer
query, making the CIS far more efficient. The entire e-mail and chat service
selection needs to be in place from the beginning of the enhanced services,
requiring a thorough implementation phase for database development and
Quality assurance activities grow substantially: outgoing e-mail and chat
sessions now require monitoring in addition to telephone conversations.
Monitoring of chat sessions and viewing e-mail responses can be built into
the software, so that only setting of quality standards and training of
supervisors are necessary. Also needed are policies curbing employee use of
the Internet and e-mail, along with tracking mechanisms to prevent abuse.
The standards for providing quality service do not change, only the means to
monitor the standards.
Effective CRM solutions rely on professional, well-trained CISs ' there is
no substitute for a real person. State-of-the-art automated systems assist
the CIS in responding quickly, whether by telephone, e-mail, mail, fax or
Initially, each CIS must undergo extensive training ' to learn the
product or services being supported, as well as the tools and systems to
provide that support. Customers are looking for intelligent answers to
various questions ranging from product ingredients and service specifics to
billing questions. Questions concerning billing may require access to the
client's internal billing database. Knowledgeable CISs may be instrumental
for a cross-sell and upsell initiative, significantly increasing sales
Outsourced services providers today have a variety of enhanced tools that
allow for a well- integrated CRM platform. They include:
- Telephone services: A sophisticated call processing system of
data-directed call routing that can immediately scan available CISs and
route calls to the most appropriately skilled agent.
- Self-help initiatives: Automated e-mail response, interactive
voice response (IVR) and fax-on-demand as cost-efficient alternatives to
processing customer requests without the assistance of a CIS.
- IVR: To allow customers to access data by speaking or pressing
the appropriate digits on a telephone key pad, providing the means of
handling thousands of simultaneous transactions. Integration of the IVR
with the automatic call distribution system enables seamless information
transfer to the CIS with the appropriate skills.
- E-mail response: An e-mail management software that can
automatically respond to customer e-mail without a service
- E-fax-on-demand: Another self-help initiative for customers
needing instructions, receipts or other documentation. Routing to the
appropriate menu and means to input a 10-digit fax number enable an
- Personalized e-mail response: Custom response solution services
for inquirers when standard answers are not sufficient. The system
routes inbound customer e-mail inquiries to the most appropriate CIS and
also suggests answers to facilitate a quick response.
- Click2BCalled: The customer enters a telephone number to
receive a call from a CIS. The customer may request an immediate call
back or may request a time for the call back.
- Click2Chat: The customer clicks an icon (on your Web site) to
chat online and exchange instant messages with a CIS. The CIS also has
the ability to 'push' pages of information to the customer.
- Click2Speak (VoIP): Customers can speak directly over an
Internet connection with a CIS (requires Web site visitor VoIP
- Transaction processing: Secure payment processing software is
used to authorize and process all major credit card information. Funds
can be authorized, processed and downloaded directly into the
appropriate account. Customer service is available online, by e-mail or
with a toll-free number.
- Fulfillment services: This is a system that provides a seamless
link between order processing, payment processing, inventory, shipping
and returns. Inventory is received and verified, the right items are
picked by location using a system-generated pick list, then packed,
shipped and billed. Charges, orders and products are automatically
reconciled and returns are automatically credited by the system. For
exchanges, the system creates a new shipping label for the replacement
and ships the next day. Information concerning inventory levels,
delivery schedules, back-order status and out-of-stock items is
instantly available to all authorized personnel.
- Shipping: Daily service by all major shippers, using the latest
bar code technology.
- Inventory management: Clients have the ability to monitor all
aspects of fulfillment, including inventory levels and order status, as
well as selecting and printing their own reports from the Internet.
The systems and processes above not only assist the service or product
customer, they provide valuable insight into a client's product and
marketing focus. The effective analysis of customer profiles and customer
and program characteristics can help a client fine-tune its approach and
maximize lifetime value from every customer. Analyses often include
examining advertising sources, demographic profiles, buying propensity,
sales cycle profiles and profitability. Capturing and analyzing customer and
Web site visitor interaction can help customize a targeted approach to each
In addition to the inbound services detailed above, analysis may lead to
an variety of outbound customer care programs that would increase revenue,
decrease expenses and create loyal, lifelong customers. Examples include
outbound calls to welcome new customers, follow-up resolution of concerns,
verification of services and contact information, offerings of related
products according to purchase history and general inquiries concerning
A Look At The Future
CRM is an ever-evolving suite of services, based on customers' needs and
capabilities. The needs of businesses also dictate the direction of CRM,
with businesses just beginning to realize the value of information collected
during customer interactions. Collection and analysis of demographic data,
purchasing information and general feedback gathered during all multichannel
customer contact helps businesses understand their customers so they may
better meet their needs.
Future enhancements to CRM solutions will include real-time caller
analysis and video over IP services, where customers can see the agent on
their monitors in real-time video, transmitted as data over the Internet
The transition from traditional call center to Web-enabled multichannel
contact center is challenging. It involves changes in personnel recruitment,
training and expertise; hardware and software upgrades, with the necessary
technology interface considerations and requirements; introduction of new
services and capabilities; modification of quality assurance, monitoring and
reporting practices; and a tremendous shift in service focus. However, it is
a change demanded by today's businesses and their customers. It is a
challenge that must be met.
Doug Palley is co-founder and president of CyberRep (www.cyberrep.com),
a provider of outsourced customer service, technical support and customer
relationship management (CRM) solutions. CyberRep, headquartered in McLean,
Virginia, is an outsourced customer interaction center and CRM solutions
provider for customer service, technical support and sales solutions.
Founded in 1991, CyberRep is one of the region's largest employers and
operates eight customer interaction centers throughout the U.S.
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