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How Can CRM Tools Manage The Customer Experience?

By Annette Jacobs, SafeHarbor Technology Corp.


'If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.' This truism of traditional business logic starts to fray around the edges when it comes to managing customer relationships. The challenges of integrating multichannel support and corresponding tools create disparate data sources and plague organizations attempting to develop actionable measurements. This is occurring despite the promises from a multitude of CRM tools designed to cultivate the 1:1 customer relationship. The opportunity to develop a single point solution that does it all, for every business, every time, is seemingly at the center of failed delivery and lackluster investment returns experienced by CRM purchasers.

The reality is that different companies and end users all require a unique solution for these challenges. The battle within customer service support organizations is not how much data can be collected and parsed (there is plenty of data), but rather how efficiently customer issues and questions can be solved, and at the right cost. Everyone assumes that if you analyze the data, the answers will make themselves clear. But which data do you analyze and how does the information integrate with which other sources? It is not a clear path. The result has led to the belief that purchasing more advanced CRM tools will build those efficiencies and solve the data dilemma. While tools are certainly important in building the data foundation, it's time to take a fresh look at the evolving service layer that may well be the better solution for customer support management.

The Customer Experience Triangle
Support organizations struggle with three dimensions that define the customer experience: 1) the promise of advertising and product marketing campaigns; 2) execution through multiple sales distribution points; and 3) various support channels for pre- and post-sales. The first challenge is to create a consistent experience across disparate customer touch points. It starts with the company brand definition and how the brand attributes consistently deliver against the promise at the support level. The support channels bring the promise to life with every customer interaction, but not without significant limitations and process gaps that impact customer satisfaction.

Customer support must adapt to these customer segmentation complexities. Every customer expects attention to his or her specific issue and flexibility ' 'Serve me how I want it and when I want it.' But how do you deliver and still retain a repeatable work flow? Your customers don't necessarily want to conform to processes that make it easier for you to reduce service and support costs, and you want to expand that flexibility without adding chaos. So, the first step is to deflect incoming calls to a Web self-service option to serve customers but also create significant cost savings (see Figure 1). But what topics are prioritized for self-service? How do you promote Web self-service and truly serve customers versus adding costs? How do you measure customer satisfaction with online support?

The challenges are not solved through technology or tools, but rather with the acknowledgement that support has been revolutionized and subsequently stymied by knowledge bases, portals, desktop tools and Web sites. Couple those issues with the perennial need to trim support budgets and realize a return on investment sooner, and the results are unhappy customers, high employee and customer churn, and a tarnished brand promise.

Unified Customer Channels And Other Red Herrings
The daily pace and mobility of most customers and the myriad support choices for service create frustration on both sides of the contact. Customers can pay a visit to a retail store down the street, research products on the Web, call about the product or billing charges, send an e-mail or engage in real-time chat, all within a matter of hours or days. This can easily increase support costs and create tremendous ill will when the support 'trail' has multiple tools or databases to answer questions. A friendly contact goes only so far if every support mechanism provides a different answer. So, the support channels turn to enterprise IT organizations to unify these varying channels for information, consistency and reports. Then you receive the bad news ' expensive re-tooling, limited budgets and staff ' so a solution does not seem likely in the near future. So now what do you do to truly make a difference?

These competing views indicate that contact center unification is, at least for now, a red herring in comparison with the real work of meeting customer needs on time and under budget. In some ways, customer analytics and measurement fall into the same category. On paper, it is perfectly logical to tie customer inputs to customer outputs and create a better customer experience ' much more easily said than done. Unfortunately, the capabilities needed to capture, compile and analyze data from disparate channels are still evolving.

That doesn't mean that these goals should be abandoned. Contact center unification and in-depth analytics are both promising areas that offer value today. Unfortunately, not every company has transformed its support channels to these high levels. So the question remains, where do companies invest to advance to the best-in-class customer service today?

The Service Layer
The answer is counter-intuitive. In the rush to automate as much as possible, support organizations have generated mounds of raw analytical data. So what do you do with it all ' especially when it is all driven in different formats and by different metrics? How do you navigate throughout the politics inherent in every organization to gain support for fundamental change in customer service?

The answer can be in developing a critical services layer. But where? How do you apply the analytics most efficiently? The critical concepts in evaluating the customer experience need to make sense out of seemingly disparate data. But how? We are aware that support environment analysis can drive good decisions on satisfaction and cost reduction. But how do you gain the internal support?

To begin, examine the internal landscape and answer the strategic questions every customer support organization must answer:

' Are too many low-value customers using high-cost channels?

' Are there high-value customers experiencing poor service integration?

' How does an entirely new channel (such as real-time chat) affect my support costs? How does it become integrated?

' Are there simple ways to move customers to lower-cost channels?

' Are there ways to increase the productivity for all support channels?

' And, when it comes down to the foundation, the knowledge base and content, how are those components managed?

' Is the content authored and presented in an efficient, user-friendly way?

' Can it be easily changed and updated, based on customer usage patterns?

' Are there gaps or duplication of information silos between support channels?

Once a clear picture of the whole support environment emerges, the service layer can produce actionable information, a 'dashboard' of measurements and a process to implement cross-channel change.

That is when analytics become valuable, when you have actionable and valuable cross-channel information that can increase customer loyalty at the right cost.

As the service layer evolves, keep in mind that there are several critical factors. First, find experienced personnel who have a deep understanding of how multiple support channels operate and deliver best-in-class results. Second, provide automation tools to weave together a customized system that addresses the organization's unique needs to create the dashboard metrics. Third, be prepared to take action on the recommendations and results.

To sum up: Technology alone doesn't create a great customer experience or an efficient support organization. It can start the process, but it is the service layer that truly understands how to map customer requirements against business goals and appropriately apply technology solutions. That is the only path for CRM and customer support organizations to be prepared for the future. CIS

Annette Jacobs is CEO and Chairman of the Board for SafeHarbor Technology Corporation (www.safeharbor.com), a Web self-service customer interaction and business intelligence service provider.

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