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February 2009 | Volume 27 / Number 9
CRM, BPO & Teleservices

Top Tips To Build and Keep Customer Loyalty With CRM

By Brendan Read, Senior Contributing Editor

Loyal customers are, in general, your most valuable patrons (see this issue’s Logout for a more intensive discussion on loyalty). They provide sales and income at marginal marketing and retention costs, and at a fraction of the expenses entailed in acquiring new buyers. Loyal buyers, in many instances, also help you attract others for no additional outlays through word of mouth advertising. And in today’s challenging economy, with many competitors for limited customer dollars, ensuring their loyalty is key to survival, and future prosperity.

Customer relationship management (CRM) methods and solutions can aid you in keeping your most valuable customers and in doing so bring in others. Properly implemented i.e. enabling you to spotlight on the top tier buyers that generate the most revenues while meeting the needs of the most of your market base, CRM can make your loyalty strategy successful.

Here are the top tips on using CRM to keep your customers provided by several leading expert firms. A similar feature with advice from a select group of CRM suppliers appears on TMCnet.

ClickFox (www.clickfox.com)
Marco G. Pacelli – Chief Executive Officer

• One Experience Does Not Fit All

The first tenet of customer loyalty is about serving customers according to their preferences. Different customer segments tend to have strong interaction preferences—choosing, for instance, to speak to a live agent or to log on to their account via mobile browser to check account balance. Similarly, by analyzing customers’ past interactions, you can tailor the customer experience as well as avoid potential points of frustration or annoyance, such as marketing products that they already own. The caveat: to truly know thy customer requires a holistic, cross-channel perspective. For example, one financial services provider found small business customers were much more likely to utilize self-service options whenever possible and only speak with a live agent when absolutely necessary.

• Treat New Customers With Kid Gloves

You can only make a first impression once. Start the relationship on a bang by exceeding their expectations, not by asking them to jump through hoops. When was the last time you’ve walked a mile in your customers’ shoes? Case in point: a financial services company found that new customers didn’t have enough time to enter their newly opened account number after being prompted. Increasing the window of time drastically boosted the percentage of successful interactions as well as the likelihood customers would continue to utilize self-service in the future. By looking through the lens of the customer and tracking when and why they interact with your company, you can find opportunities to streamline processes to make it easier for customers to quickly get past the learning curve...and kick off the relationship on a high note.

• Don’t Wait, Anticipate

Related to the first tip, this means capturing the right customer data to anticipate the needs of individual customers or customer segments. Again, this requires a sophisticated cross-channel understanding of your customers in order to make it quick and easy for them to do business with you. For example, a leading telecom company determined that about a third of customers making a payment via IVR followed that interaction by checking their account balance using their mobile device. Proactively sending their new, updated account balance via SMS text /e-mail would have delighted customers while at the same time eliminating an additional contact. Similarly, if you know that certain customers always prefer a certain interaction channel for certain interactions, offer it as a default option.

• Be Wary of Channel-Specific Metrics

Good internal metrics don’t necessarily mean that it’s good for customers...or the business as a whole. Look at the big picture to truly understand the overall impact of operations, processes, and policies. For one telecom company customer satisfaction with the automated IVR dropped, resulting in the incorrect assumption that the application had gone ‘out of tune’. However, after linking the customer satisfaction scores with the interactions, the company quickly learned that the drop in customer satisfaction was in fact due to higher service restoration times for customers with outages and had nothing to do with the IVR.

• Strive For “First Experience Resolution”

In the contact center, we know that “1st contact resolution” is a key metric. But how well are you doing across all of your channels? A customer might try to resolve an issue or complete a transaction by first logging on to their account from their computer or BlackBerry (News - Alert), before later calling into your contact center to speak with a live agent. How do individual customers navigate through your service delivery system? Where are the gaps in your customer experience? A leading telecom company found that customers were searching in vain for product support help online before eventually abandoning their search and picking up the phone to speak with a live agent. By focusing on quick issue resolutions—and constantly being on the lookout for opportunities to simplify and streamline customer-facing processes—you’ll go a long way to winning over the hearts and minds of your customers.

Comptel (www.comptel.com) Robert Machin, Solutions Director

• Respond fast to critical interactions

Customers typically interact with an organization at two key points: when they buy products or services, and when they need help. Meaningful and effective communication at these points is critical, but many CRM systems only provide a shallow view of the data that would really support a quick response, meaning problems often get passed down the line until a scarce and costly expert source is found to help the by-now frustrated customer. The answer is to integrate CRM closely with fulfillment and inventory systems so that ‘real’ data can be fed to customer service in a transparent and easily accessible way.

• Learn from Main Street

Historically, the utility services that telecom providers offered, and the relatively closed nature of the industry, meant that the customer experience was a less-than-critical factor in customer retention. Not any more. Ever-expanding portfolios of digital services from an increasing number of competitors mean that providers need to work harder to keep customers on board. Just like GAP or Wal-Mart do, telecom providers can benefit from implementing systems that are flexible and allow a real-time response to customer needs and behavior. Charging systems, in particular, should come out of the back office and onto the shop floor.

•  Keep the market interested

Industries like automotive and consumer electronics learned long ago that they needed smarter and more cost-effective ways to keep the product set fresh. Again, telecom providers can learn a thing or two here. Applying automation to the design process through formal product lifecycle management (PLM) and product data management (PDM) allows telcos to create and adapt products rapidly using reusable components. These systems also enable better internal collaboration with partners to get products to market more quickly. Response to customer queries is greatly improved too, as product data becomes more rational and easier to understand without advanced engineering skills. Expect PLM and PDM to become increasingly common success factors for next-generation telecom providers.

Dimension Data (www.dimensiondata.com) Ali Khan, business development manager, Dimension Data North America

• Really get to know your customer and listen to their concerns

Research shows that the resultant 'service smile' after dealing with contact centers has a huge impact on whether customers make future purchases or recommend the company to others.

• Offer customers multiple options for contacting your organization

The phone is no longer the preferred channel for many customers, especially the millennial generation who are starting to comprise a significant market for many organizations. Today, almost all large organizations offer customers the choice of calling, e-mailing, sending a text message, or mailing a letter to ask a question or obtain information.

• Employ the personal touch

Everyone likes to know they’re special. When a contact center agent seems to have empathy for a problem and has the facts readily available to them, customers often feel more favorable toward the company.

• Implement a caller segmentation program

Even small actions can improve service. For example, if a Caller Line ID (CLID) can be matched against a database before sending the call to an agent, talk time can be reduced and customer service improved.

• Collate customer information and feed it back into your CRM system

Use customer knowledge to see how to best relate to your customers in order to determine which groups of customers to nurture, grow, maintain or divest. For customers that should be retained, choose the optimum approach.

The rule of thumb for great customer service today is: Little things mean a lot, so by really understanding the nuances of the customer support operation along with the needs of the customer, thousands and sometimes millions of dollars can be saved, and the customer experience improved.

Each and every customer interaction is a test of not only customer service, but of the entire organization and the brand as well. So understanding why a customer is calling, how to best handle the query and then how to use that information to enable changes in the process, builds a truly customer-centric company. Often companies miss that last step or are not able to research the customer’s call and resolution, forgetting that the outcome of one customer service experience can leave a lasting imprint – negative or positive – on the entire customer relationship.

InnoPath Software (News - Alert) (www.innopath.com) David Ginsburg, Vice President of Marketing and Product Management

• Make advanced care tools usable for the contact center agents

By making advanced care tools accessible through a user-friendly interface, you increase the power of the frontline agents. This means that issues can be resolved with faster and earlier, with fewer calls transferred across the center: a huge benefit to the customer.

• Increase access to real-time information

The more an agent understands about a mobile device’s current settings, the better care the agent can provide. Mobile device management helps connect the care operator with a mobile device over the air, enabling the agent to confirm firmware updates and configuration settings. A recent study by analyst firm Stratecast shows that the ability to collect this vital device information helps dramatically cut down on call time, meaning that consumers spend less time on the phone to customer care.

• Make self-care easy

A November 2008 study by Pew (News - Alert) Research found that 28 percent of cell phone users tried to correct device issues without calling customer care and another 15 percent sought help from friends or relatives. That means that nearly half of all users resolve issues without dialing the contact center! Easy-to-use self-care portals and one-click configuration reset buttons can greatly increase self-care success rates and decrease call center costs. Furthermore, given the desire to troubleshoot a device independently, good self-care tools actually reduce customer frustration and increase satisfaction.

• Automate updates

Apple (News - Alert)’s struggles in 2008 with iPhone firmware updates were complicated by the necessity of a wired, manual update process. According to Pew Research, half of adults who use cell phones or the Internet need someone to guide them through set up or use; requiring users to fumble through manual firmware updates is problematic for these less-technical users and the call center. One solution is to push firmware updates to device automatically using Firmware Over The Air (FOTA) technology. Implementing this common technology means that upgrades require no end-user action, so the device stays in top condition and the user stays happy.

• Implement mobile device lock and wipe

When a user loses a phone, they lose more than just the device itself; smartphones today often hold contact information, e-mail, business data and even credit card numbers. Implementing device lock and wipe functionality lets the user breathe easy in the event of a lost phone, confident that no one can access her personal data. Nothing is better for boosting customer loyalty than when the operator that can assure the user that private data is secure.

West Interactive (News - Alert) (www.westinteractive.com) Pam Mortenson, President

• Listen closely to the ‘Voice of the Customer’

The positive, or often negative, experience at customer touch points determines the willingness of customers to continue doing business with you. One study indicates that over a recent three-year period 46 percent of U.S. credit card customers, 43 percent of banking customers, and 30 percent of telecom customers defected to competitors because of poor customer service. Having true business intelligence about the customer and hearing their voice in their own words is absolutely critical.

• Connect proactively with your customer

Automated value messaging can be a competitive differentiator combating commoditization in some of the most competitive industries such as travel, telecom, retail, healthcare, and insurance. Proactive communication can reduce calls to the contact center while building a long-term relationship with the customer.

One of the best ways to differentiate yourself is to focus on the end-user. Customers want to transact with companies more effectively. Make the customer experience seamless by applying ease of use methods that deliver needed information with quality and speed. Delivering information ahead of customer requests will reduce inbound calls and enhance the customer experience.

• Learn about your customer needs

Make strategic use of customer service surveys for happier customers, greater revenue, and cost savings. Capturing and applying customer preference data in a real-time environment delivers more efficiency, reduced call time and increased first-call resolution. The customer also feels the information is personalized and you are ready to provide answers to their questions.

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