BY CASSANDRA MILLHOUSE, OVUM
Look outwards. How does your support organization interact
with and relate to other customer interaction points in your firm? How does the support
technology you are looking at fit in to the overall vision of customer management in your
Look wide. All customer service software products can record
a trouble ticket, route and escalate the basics of call management. A demo based on
these features is not showing you what is different about this product. Ask why you should
buy this product when all products can provide these basics. At the same time, for every
unique feature, ask yourself, Do I need this? and Would we
use it? Fancy features come at a price only pay it if you will use them and
they bring benefit to your organization.
Look deep. A Web-based interface is not a big deal. Anyone
can do it. But how? Look for how products automate the process of providing Web-based
support to customers rather than a browser-based interface alone as evidence of Web
Look forward. How do the customization and integration
facilities the vendor offers enable you to meet future requirements?
Be annoying. Demand reference site visits. Since the vendor
will want to show its product to best advantage, these visits allow you not only to see
the product in action, but understand its strengths what support situations is it
most suited to? If the product is outstanding in support operations that are nothing like
yours, then think long and hard about whether or not it is possible for the product to
provide best fit for you.
Be very annoying. Demand to see the vendors own use of
its product the vendor has customers it needs to support too, right? The advantages
are twofold: You can see how the product is used in practice and how you would be
supported if you bought products from this vendor. However, keep in mind that a product
that provides ideal support for the vendors own support operations might not
necessarily fit your situation because you may be in a different industry (not high-tech),
are of a different size or have consumer rather than business customers.
Be wary of vendors that dont use their own products.
Look at the market. Where does each of the vendors you are
considering fit in? What are their aspirations marketwise (e.g., to be the market
leader) and targetwise (vertical industry and size)? Are they travelling in the same
direction as you?
Know yourself. Under-stand the types of problems and queries
your support operation is dealing with. This will determine whether or not, and how, you
can benefit from problem-resolution technologies.
Many vendors in the support software market are expanding to become vendors of CRM
software either by acquisition or internal development. There are two aspects to
software used for customer-facing functions one, productivity gains from
automation; and two, achieving the aims of CRM.
You might be looking at buying support technology purely to improve the productivity of
your support operation, process queries faster or ensure you meet the terms of support
contracts and SLAs. Support technology enables these productivity gains, and hence
contributes to the bottom line by reducing costs.
But you might also be looking to achieve some of the benefits of CRM. This is a
different proposition because although software deployed in CRM has productivity benefits,
the key contribution to the bottom line is from business expansion; that is, increasing
When productivity benefits are the key drivers for buying support technology, it is
possible to look at the support operations requirements in isolation. But when the
organization is looking to expand the business with CRM, it is necessary to look at the
customer-related requirements of the entire organization. This doesnt mean that the
organization should rollout its complete CRM software in one hit indeed, it
definitely should not! But it does mean that the needs of all customer-facing departments
must be considered in the selection and deployment of support technologies.
The market for CRM technology is booming and there is a vast panoply of vendors vying
to meet your needs. The CRM software market is still maturing, and although there are
seasoned players with stable suites, there is also a raft of vendors who are still
evolving from their base market. Some so-called CRM software vendors still provide just
sales force automation, some just call center software and others just customer service
The market for front-office software will continue to be buoyant and grow strongly for
the next five years. There will be some consolidation as the market matures, but the
potential market is large and growing fast, and will therefore continue to support a large
number of vendors.
However, in the same way that CRM suite vendors eat specialist sales-force automation,
customer service and marketing automation products in their path, universal business
application (UBA) vendors will eventually eat the CRM suite vendors sitting in their path.
Cassandra Millhouse is a lead analyst at Ovum and lead author of Ovums
reports, Ovum Evaluates: Help Desk Software; Ovum Evaluates: CRM Software For The Front
Office; and CRM Strategies: Technology Choices For The Customer-Focused Business. Ovum is an independent research and consulting company,
offering expert advice on IT and telecommunications. Ovums analysts provide reports,
advisory services and strategic consultancy to suppliers, users and policy makers