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Is On-Demand CRM Right For Your Customer Service Organization?

By Bonnie Crater, Salesforce.com


Outsourcing all aspects of a customer service operation continues to be a growing trend. More than 15 percent of all service centers are outsourced today, up from 10 percent just a few years ago. It seems that every aspect of the operation is considered for outsourcing: the people, the telephony infrastructure, the management. Even alternative strategies are being considered such as the use of home agents. But what about the service and support applications themselves? Can a high-quality service and support operation be run on an on-demand application?

It is widely recognized that integrating customer data with call center technology brings significant improvement to service and support efforts, and over the years many service bureaus and outsourcers developed home-grown CRM systems. However, this created a challenge for companies in terms of ownership and access to data since the information resided with the hosted contact center vendor. In the early 1990s, carriers and managed service providers began providing network services that eased the flow of information between applications at the company and its contact centers, but companies still grappled with expensive and time-consuming CRM deployments as well as making those investments work with their contact centers.

Like the changes that hosted contact centers brought, the advent of on-demand CRM is now transforming the way companies manage service and support. On-demand CRM solutions ' those that require no premise-based implementation ' eliminate the tremendous up-front software and hardware costs as well as the time required to get the system up and running. On-demand CRM brings together the agents, network and application so companies have control of critical customer data and can provide easy data access to multiple contact centers, no matter where they are located or what call center technology is in place.

Also, like hosted contact centers, all on-demand CRM solutions are not created equal. Companies looking to use an on-demand CRM solution should consider the following requirements:

Access and user interface. Does the system provide a browser-based, high-speed interface? Having a universal interface that can be accessed globally helps ensure consistent quality of service and also greatly simplifies training. A single, easy-to-use interface means agents in Nebraska, India and Australia all have the same data at their fingertips so customers don't get incomplete or incorrect information if they call outside of standard business hours.

Integration. Does the system support easy integration with other applications and provide a comprehensive view across multiple functional departments, such as sales, marketing, service, finance, logistics (order management, inventory management, etc.)? Users of an on-demand application should get a complete view of customer interaction history, regardless of the source. On-demand CRM systems should allow for 'one-click' integration with third-party applications, providing an unprecedented level of service that equates to greater loyalty and less churn.

Data model and security model. Is the system designed to support a single data model? Consistent data structures ensure an easy flow of data from Web forms as well as agent data entry, and support development of leads and customers at any stage. Also consider the security model, as it is important to provide data visibility to global teams and outsourcers without having to put the physical data and/or application on their premises. The solution should be capable of handling multiple roles with specific privileges and profiles to ensure that information is available to the right set of resources.

Customization. Can the system be quickly and easily modified to support specific business workflows? Priority customers, special promotions and product changes are just a few of the many business drivers that require changes to routing and queuing strategies, service escalations and notifications. Managing changes in workforce availability adds another layer of complexity that demands quick and easy responsiveness and a system that supports the process rather than hinders it. On-demand CRM systems that can be instantly modified to meet changing business demands offer the greatest return on investment.

Reporting. Is consolidated global reporting a standard feature with the on-demand CRM system? Monitoring global agents for quality and performance is critical to maintaining consistent service levels. In addition to time-to-response and first contact resolution rates, the system should support customer feedback surveys and provide real-time dashboards as well as historical reports.

On-demand CRM solutions provide an opportunity to optimize service from both company-owned and hosted contact centers. Early adopters of on-demand CRM are seeing tremendous benefits from personalizing service with targeted upselling and cross-selling efforts. Not only do these efforts result in increased revenue opportunities, but customers feel their needs are recognized and their business is valued.

The application of on-demand CRM is not limited to only service and support; many companies are now using the system to support marketing and sales efforts as well (see Figure 1). The single data model mentioned earlier is ideal for enterprisewide, end-to-end customer lifecycle management. From lead-generation to the customer's buying decision to service and support and ongoing upselling efforts, an on-demand CRM system that supports the 360-degree customer view delivers better service and more profitable customers.

Another less obvious benefit of on-demand CRM is its ability to leverage multiple service bureaus and outsourced contact centers without a significant investment. Because on-demand CRM supports complete access from any location without premise-based software, it's simple to dismantle contact centers that are under-performing and work with new centers that will meet desired service levels. Without the heavy investment, companies are not at the mercy of a sole contact center supplier and can better negotiate service costs.

On-demand CRM for the contact center costs less than buying software, is faster to deploy, and provides complete data access around the globe. In addition, on-demand CRM enables companies to maximize their relationships with service bureaus and outsourcers to reduce costs and ensure consistent, high-quality service. For companies looking to gain competitive advantage through superior service and increase profitability of customers, on-demand CRM should be evaluated for its innate ability to deliver bottom-line benefits that cannot be matched by software implementations, and improves both company-owned and outsourced contact center service quality. CIS

Bonnie Crater is senior vice president and general manager of Salesforce Service & Support at Salesforce.com (news - alerts).

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