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Everyone is talking about great customer experience. It’s practically ubiquitous in most magazine and TV ads. It’s the topic of countless articles and books. If only you could order it from a menu and serve it up at the next staff meeting.

Translating good intentions into actionable strategy requires a vision-to-action plan that you and your business can deliver.

The good news is that you can put your ideas on the fast track with a people-process-technology strategy designed from results to execution. You need start with what you want and work backwards.

Construct goals based on what your customers experience today. Take the time to act like a customer and interact with your company. See for yourself what works and what doesn’t, and from there, you can assess what people, processes and enabling technologies you need.

Understand Customer Communication Trends, Needs

A good strategy starts with knowing your customers. What are they buying? What are their demographics? How do they make their purchasing decisions? Are their interactions with your company consistently good? At what point in your customer lifecycle are you at most risk of losing them? Are you listening to their complaints and ideas to continually improve your products and services? It’s common sense, but keeping a pulse on this can be significant challenge.

So, put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Have your staff engage in a sales and service environment across all channels, and chart the process, steps and experience. Conduct focus groups and hold online customer forums. Supplement this with ‘hard’ data by surveying your customers on satisfaction, product usage. Also, review quantitative research on industry trends, what your competitors offer, and how you stack up. Evaluate how technology — including business intelligence solutions — that will give you the ability to glean actionable insight from across your organization.

Together, these inputs help you analyze the customer’s experience from their initial interactions through their service experience, what they expect from you, and areas where you can improve. You’ll quickly see where your intentions, staff and CRM strategies fall short.

Customer-Focused Strategy

Have you ever had a call center agent tell you that they couldn’t help you because the system was down? Or experienced a bumbling and painful process with a company, and, upon complaining, learn that it’s due to company policy or industry standards? Does this make you feel nameless, faceless, and worthless to the company?

Too many companies still design CRM strategies to fit the limitations of their technologies or internal processes. This is a classic mistake. It’s imperative that you have the qualitative and quantitative customer insight to drive your whole organization to truly serve the customer.

Remember, CRM isn’t just a technology — it’s a business philosophy. Don’t assume that a knowledgeable sounding IT staffer has all the answers to your CRM issues. They don’t. Neither does the customer advocate with a propensity to default to manual ways to solve problems.

Your company needs someone senior who can look at all dimensions of the customer experience, and brings all of this input into clear focus. This CRM champion must be able to look holistically at all the issues, and determine strategies to address them. For example:

— Do frontline employees need to bear more responsibility for the customer experience? Then look at how you incent them to deliver service.

— Are the employees’ great, but the products fundamentally flawed? Then, sit down with product management and show them the data. Help them see the problems with their product with greater clarity.

— Is customer experience lousy because there are complex processes common to your industry? Does every company do it this way? Find a better way to achieve the same goal, and your company will set itself apart from the market. Differential advantage comes from customer experience and products and services.


Deliver Choices and Channels

Based on your customer research and organizational self-assessment, pick the top 10 most important customer interaction processes, and optimize them by channel.

To deliver the same experience and yet adapt to channel limitations, bring frontline users and managers together with your IT team to make sure the right content is available. Test and reduce the steps it takes to process common activities — and compare notes across channels. Leverage new technologies like real-time decisioning to guide decisions, and process-optimization tools to better manage customer data. Use CRM programs to consistently have a 360-degree view of the customer, and serve them accordingly.

Give your organization flexibility by leveraging an “on-demand solution” for sales and call routing, and link it to your ‘on-premise’ service management systems. This allows you to quickly deploy feet on the street without compromising the critical systems that manage your business.

Channel Strategy, Customers and Cost-Avoidance

A good multi-channel strategy is essential to supporting, driving and delivering great customer service. With the wide range of CRM technologies available, you have more options than ever for a complete and integrated channel strategy.

When designing or re-evaluating your channel strategy, focus first on customers and then on cost-avoidance. While everyone wants lower costs, forcing customers into a one-size fits all channel or process may drive customers away. Customers have choices, and if you make them feel devalued, you may lose far more in repeat customer sales than you save in costs.

To achieve satisfied customers and optimized resources, design a multi-tiered customer strategy. This will allow you to deliver exceptional experience to your best customers, and good service to the rest. Consider strategies such as evaluating the costs/benefits of giving your ‘gold-standard’ customers a special number to call that reaches your best agents, or fast-track call, email, chat routing to experienced sales and service teams. For good baseline service, analyze reasons for customer interactions, and provide enhanced service in those areas-whether it’s accomplished by conducting outbound service campaigns or by improving Web site navigation and content for a more complete self-service experience.

Cost-containment comes with delivering an optimized “one-and-done” sales, order, or service process across channels that your customers prefer. Again, start with your insight on the customer-why they contact you and channels they prefer. Then, optimize the experience so that you can serve more customers in seamless, low-cost ways.

No matter what channels you offer to customers, make sure there is an ‘exit’ option. Enable customers to reach an operator, allow online chat with a sales or service agent. While you may want to have customers visit your Web site for answers before placing phone calls, think twice before burying your phone and e-mail so that customers feel like you don’t want to engage with them.

Again, a good business intelligence solution can help you optimize your CRM strategies by identifying channel usage and volume, sub-optimal wait times, half-completed interactions, and much more. Getting this information to managers, can support continuous improvement strategies and help lower costs. For maximum impact, this analytic data must be presented to your employees at critical junctures in customer interactions.

Listen and Measure

Make this all a continuous process. Praises and complaints are ideal opportunities to improve products and services. Leverage “social networking” communication tools to engage customers in telling you what they think.

Online customer forums moderated by product and service leaders can help continually connect with customers. Informational tools such as wikis can help customers help each other. By incorporating online survey tools and interactive, live sessions with customers, you can keep a better pulse on customer satisfaction. However you track customer feedback and satisfaction-online, by e-mail and after an interaction-make it repeatable. By listening and then acting on change, you’ll be able to continuously improve customer experience.

Mike Betzer is Vice President of CRM Product Strategy for Oracle Corporation. He has overall responsibility for CRM product strategy for Siebel, Oracle E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft Enterprise and Oracle Fusion CRM product lines. Prior to this role, Betzer served as vice president of product management for CRM service products with overall responsibility for contact centers, service, field service, help desk, knowledge management, mobile, wireless, handheld devices, computer telephony integration (CTI) and software as a service (Saas) products for Siebel and the Oracle E-Business Suite product families.

In 1999, Betzer founded Ineto Services, a provider of hosted intelligent routing software for incoming calls, voicemail, IVR and chat. Ineto was acquired by Siebel in 2004. Prior to his roles at Ineto and Siebel, Betzer spent 14 years in telecommunications, serving in sales and operations positions including vice president of information technologies and vice president of operations with MCI. He also spent two years as vice president of sales for Pioneer Technologies.

Betzer holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Northern Iowa, as well as a master’s of business administration in telecommunications from St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas.

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