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May 2009 | Volume 27 / Number 12
CRM, BPO & Teleservices

CRM: Complex Needs, Challenging Responses

By Brendan Read,
Senior Contributing Editor


Blame the Smartphones

This incredibly user-friendly smartphone has captured the North American public's imagination and their wallets into the realm of mobile multimedia customer interactions. It has pushed competitors to make their handsets more user-friendly and functional.

Blame too the suppliers who are developing new user-friendly applications that are enabling their workforces and consumers to more fully utilize the wireless channel. These complete a virtuous circle that will prompt even more wireless use.

Blame also the expansion of 3G and faster networks and more competitive rates. Wireless has become so feasible and cost-effective that more households are dropping their landlines and that some businesses are not buying or are doing away with bulky laptops. Why have multiple boxes, phones, and connections when one multichannel go-anywhere device does it all?

The faster speeds are prompting more firms and users to deploy and enable browsers to access consumer and work applications in realtime via the web, observes Angie Hirata, worldwide director of marketing and business development, Maximizer Software. More websites are becoming optimized for mobile users while instead of mobile-only browsers more devices now have full browsers that can render desktop applications, adds Vidya Drego, Senior Analyst, Forrester. Full browsing she says makes searches faster and easier.

Martin Schneider, director of product marketing, SugarCRM says that in turn mobile browsers have sufficiently matured to enable bandwidth-intensive consumer activities like e-mail and view YouTube on iPhones and FLASH animations and JPEG files as on fixed computers. That bodes well for business applications which tend to but not always smaller: the exceptions being graphics-heavy fields such as media/entertainment.

"These innovations open the floodgates to anything you can do on a fixed desktop or laptop computer you can do on a mobile browser," says Schneider.

He has also seen mobile applications grow from a very limited set of uses such as warehouse and inventory RFID-enabled devices and management tools to mobile applications that are fully functional subsets of their parent solutions. Mobile CRM is no longer a separate tool anymore.

Whatever the causes, there appears to be a convergence of CRM between mobile and fixed environments. That it will no longer matter where the workers and customers are located to enable their tasks and interactions effectively.

"The environment is not either mobile or fixed location CRM anymore," explains Schneider. "It is becoming CRM whenever you want it, wherever you want it, however you want to experience and use these applications and you as an enterprise are only managing one experience."

Smarter Apps
There are more versatile and user-friendly mobile CRM and related applications on the market and in the works that equal or surpass fixed solutions in their performance. Maximizer's new Maximizer CRM 10.5 Freedom for BlackBerry smartphones enabling one-click, one-touch access to customer and sales information. It offers real-time wireless access to business information through a mobile dashboard, which allows executives to monitor sales performance and service activities from their mobile devices.

Virtual Hold Technology's MobileConnect callback solution helps companies identify their buyers—the linchpin of CRM--before making the calls. It is connected to customers' cell numbers which may be referenced in order to pull up individual account data prior to the calls. Virtual Hold will down the road offer a visual IVR built into the smartphone interface. This will allow customers to select specific departments and to submit additional personal identifiers such as account numbers and passwords ahead of time so that companies can easily identify them and their needs before calling them back.

Bernard Drost, Chief Technology Officer, Innoveer sees a set of business apps that he thinks has considerable potential: linking mobile workers to available nearby resources instead of having to find them in the field or going back to the office to place orders. The way these work is this: a field service rep is called out to a customer's home to fix a water heater only to find out that a part that needs replacing is that not their toolkit or truck. The rep puts the name of the piece into their smartphone and it finds the nearest distributor.

"With such mobile apps there is increased customer satisfaction because of faster service and first visit resolution plus the firm comes off as more professional because did what it took to get the job done," explains Drost. "The solutions also boost efficiencies and lower costs through less running around resulting in lower labor, fuel, vehicle wear and tear, and avoided shipping costs."

Mobile presence and connectivity
There are new presence/unified communications (UC) applications that are breaking down the walls between fixed and mobile environments in both consumer and business marketing and support.

Alcatel-Lucent's OmniTouch 8400 ICS provides to smartphones full support for enterprise telephony features, presence, instant messaging, comprehensive directory search, call log, dual-mode cellular/Wi-Fi connectivity with seamless handoff. The firm says users can enjoy the same high-quality collaboration experience, whether they are communicating over phone, desktop PC, laptop…or smartphone.

Zeacom's new Zeacom Communications Center 5.0 Executive Mobile solution provides the same presence functionality on Blackberry and Windows Mobile devices as on desktops. Ernie Wallerstein, Zeacom president, Americas uses an example of a call coming into the contact center from a customer who is upset because their product is not working the way it is sold to them to illustrate how integrated mobile presence works.

"The agent in the center that does not have presence would take that customer's information, hang the up phone, get in touch with sales rep, talk to that rep, and calls that customer back, " says Wallerstein. "The one that is in a center that has presence could see the availability of the sales rep who sold that account or the sales engineer who was involved, they can conference in all parties, and resolve the issues to everyone's satisfaction in realtime."

There are new tools that extend to wireless devices the same contact center functions that are available on fixed desktops. CosmoCom's Cosmo Call Universe version 6 (CCU 6) features CosmoGo(tm), a new smartphone application that delivers ACD, CTI, inquiry and transaction enablement for recurring subjects, and tracking and reporting, all via a 2.5G or higher network.

"CosmoGo enables complete CRM anytime, anywhere, by connecting highly valued customers directly to account or sales reps, knowledge workers, and subject matter experts whenever they are," explains executive vice president Steve Kowarsky. "Before CosmoGo, all of these benefits were only available to people who were tied to a desk with a computer and a wired phone."

Core CRM Apps Mobile-Optimized
The standard method of providing CRM tools to mobile users has been deploying mobile-specialized premise-based applications with stripped-down thin-clients, and data, on the devices. The key benefits are that there are many excellent and proven solutions on the market and that the data remains there during loss of signal, enabling work with minimal disruption.

Some suppliers such as SugarCRM are deploying another new method: 'smarthosting': placing standard CRM applications entirely in hosted environments and optimizing access for mobile users. Smarthosting identifies mobile users and connects them to templates that enable them to carry out their work on the core platforms. The data is kept and accessed on the hosted platform. This delivery method minimizes mobile bandwidth requirements without compromising the integrity and functionality for fixed sites or requiring separate solutions.

Smarthosting is also more secure. By having the data resident on the host rather than on the device there is much less risk of having both the information and the applications ending up literally in the wrong hands either accidentally or deliberately.

SugarCRM is making its smarthosted solution more versatile. It will soon come out with Sugar 5.5 that will permit you to make custom applications you had developed with Module Builder for wired-in desktops and laptops available in your mobile. You can do this for existing Sugar applications that come with it.

"With 'smarthosting' you are getting a mobile optimized, not shrunken version of CRM system," explains Schneider. "You are not separating your data sets, not trying to push 'lite' version, you are accessing applications on the server level. You are there when you are connected, you can synch your devices and so can others on your team. It removes headaches on data quality persistency when you are calling the server instead of using a smaller version of the database and then synching every couple of hours. And it gives peace of mind securitywise."

The one key downside with smarthosting is data unavailability during signal loss. SugarCRM manages this issue through its rich HTML client that is always connected to the server if they are accessing the application, therefore no data synching is needed, and no data will be lost. Innoveer's Drost says the only way to accomplish productive work is to store what individuals need on the devices. This can be done with local encrypted databases or possibly through encrypted cookies/files.

Salesforce.com offers a hybrid mobile solution that combines a flexible native client for offline data access with a fully customizable, browser-based user interface for use while connected to the Internet. The client connects to the Salesforce CRM Cloud through a configurable mobile data management layer.

"This product combines the speed and power of offline data access with the flexibility and rapid development of browser-based interfaces," says Chuck Dietrich Vice President, Salesforce Mobile.


The following companies participated in the preparation of this article

Alcatel-Lucent
www.alcatel-lucent.com

CosmoCom
www.cosmocom.com

Innoveer
www.innoveer.com  

Maximizer Software
www.maximizer.com

Salesforce.com
www.salesforce.com

SugarCRM
www.sugarcrm.com

Virtual Hold Technology
www.virtualhold.com

Zeacom
www.zeacom.com

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