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July 06, 2012

C3: The CRM Landscape is Shifting

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC

TMC (News - Alert) this year celebrates 30 years of covering customer interaction, which means it couldn’t be a better time to look at where we’ve been with customer service and where we’re going. We’re also rebranding and retooling our customer experience effort. In this installment of our CUSTOMER coverage, we talk with Kerry Carstairs, senior vice president of operations and client services, and Ken Condren, vice president of technology, at C3 (News - Alert)/CustomerContactChannels.

Established in early 2010, C3/CustomerContactChannels is a global provider of BPO services. Its services include sales, service, performance optimization, reputation management, and complete customer interaction management via traditional, web, and emerging communication channels. 

We’re celebrating the 30-year anniversary of TMC’s Customer Interaction Solutions magazine. What has been the most important development in the past 30 years related to customer interactions? 

Carstairs: There have been so many developments over the last 30 years that it is hard to pinpoint the most important. Perhaps the most significant is the transition from single channel customer communications – the telephone – to multichannel customer management in the late 90s and then the rapid increase in channels from that point forward. 

In the past decade? 

Carstairs: I think the advancements in CRM and the level of data that we have access to when communicating with customers is the biggest advancement in the last decade. This has driven tremendous personalization in how we communicate with customers, not to mention the sophistication of the reporting that we are able to provide to our clients.

In the recent past? 

Carstairs: In the past decade, it is clear that the emergence of social media channels has been the most significant in our industry. With customers now communicating about brands via indirect channels, leading contact centers, like C3, are stepping up to the plate with response and reputation management capabilities that keep pace with the near instant response times expected in the social media world. As we perfect this service offering, it is fascinating to think about what’s next on the horizon for our industry.

How has the rise of IP-based networks impacted the call center? Customer interactions at large?

Condren: The rise of IP-based networks has been one of the major factors in the globalization of contact centers throughout the world. IP-based networks, and the ability to ensure quality of service, resulted in tremendous cost savings that were unattainable in the traditional TDM networks. Contact centers could now maintain a domestic PBX (News - Alert) presence, convert the calls to compressed data, and route them over redundant circuits anywhere a data network termination was established. A secondary impact was the ability to now service any mode of communication across the same infrastructure including web services, e-mail, chat and most recently social media.

How is CRM changing?

Condren: The proliferation, and resulting competitive landscape, of cloud-based CRM technology platforms such as SugarCRM, RightNow and (News - Alert) has dramatically changed the CRM landscape in the last decade. More recently, the decision to allow crowd sourced application development on several platforms via the use of open source has significantly improved the speed to market for organizations. Companies are no longer tied to long-term commitments with a solitary application development provider; companies can now align their CRM strategy with a platform and manage multiple partners that operate based on the standards of the chosen strategic platform.

How is WFM changing?

Condren: With the increase in more affordable computing power and network bandwidth, and the spread of IP networks, today’s workforce has become as decentralized as it has ever been. Physical and geographic boundaries have been obliterated, freeing customers and agents from brick-and-mortar solutions. As a result, today’s workforce is comprised of significantly more part-time and at-home agents. The challenges of managing a geographically diverse workforce are much different from one tethered to a physical call center. WFM technology has to keep pace with the demands of this fluid workforce, concentrating more on real-time reporting and adherence, automated monitoring and alerts and less on management by walking around. C3’s mandate is simple: Innovation in pursuit of excellence.

How is the rise of cloud computing impacting how businesses target, engage with, and deliver product/service/support to the customer?

Condren: Cloud computing has resulted in a dramatic increase in flexibility for companies in terms of deploying technology solutions. Companies are no longer tied to significant capital investments, drawn out deployment schedules, and long-term platform decisions. This flexibility provides companies with the ability to respond to trends in customer behavior as the needs arises, ramping up cycles as demand sees fit and throttling down as demand wanes. Companies can increase their ability to concentrate on core business functions as a result of avoiding all the support associated with deploying and maintaining these platforms.

How is the widespread use of social networking technology impacting how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?

Condren: There is a significant paradigm shift that CRM must now accommodate – the significance of a customer’s influence in the world at-large. The top tier CRM providers have followed the consumer market trend across diverse modes of communication, realizing that a holistic view of a customer is essential for a truly powerful end customer experience. The tools to identify a customer across all channels, retrieve transactional history, and combine demographic data, have all existed for some time now. The new reality is that companies need to continue to consider a customer-centric holistic view, but also derive their customer’s social clout and ensure that this factor is considered when driving service or sales decisions. The migration of social media monitoring from a marketing responsibility to a customer service or sales is already taking place and is resulting in the next major shift in customer interactions.

What new tools and practices are businesses using to better leverage their own and/or outside data to target, engage, and deliver to the customer?

Condren: The emergence of non-voice modes of communication has resulted in the need for customer interactions to keep up with the standards set in a voice setting. Voice technology platforms have relied on CTI (News - Alert) to capture customers’ phone numbers to drive a number of critical customer data elements to the contact center agent. C3 has developed solutions that allowed us to provide similar functionality across all modes of communication. Contextually relevant information utilizes communication mode specific, uniquely identifiable data elements to drive critical customer data elements to the contact center agent. This information can include spending history, browse history, demographic information or any combination of the above.

How is the mobile boom impacting how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?

Condren: The greatest impact of the mobile boom on customer interactions is the emergence of SMS messaging as a primary mode of communication. Significant market segments, including Gen Y, Gen Z, and a large number of international markets, list mobile SMS as their preferred method of communication. Customer satisfaction survey response rates jump dramatically when utilizing SMS platforms. Recruiting in certain international markets is greatly dependent on mobile technology. SMS outbound alert messaging offers a low cost, effective alternative to agent or IVR-based communication.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2012, taking place Oct. 2-5, in Austin, TX. ITEXPO offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. For more information on registering for ITEXPO click here.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman
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