6.11 CallContact center: driving force behind CRM

6.11 Call/Contact center: driving force behind CRM

The call/contact center plays a crucial role in developing and fulfilling corporate CRM strategies. Companies whose main channel to their customers is through the telephone or e-mail, cannot become truly CRM-focused without putting the center at the heart of any operational enhancements to their CRM strategy. It is both the recipient and disseminator of information, relating to customers and to the business. CRM is about increasing revenues and growing the business aggressively. Industry sectors such as retail, banking, and communications were among the first to implement CRM, and their profit-focused approach toward their call or contact center operations is a model for other sectors.

When incorporated into a CRM strategy, the multimedia "customer contact center" brings both opportunities and problems. Customers still need to be served, no matter what the communication medium is; however, managers may initially encounter problems running a multimedia center in a CRM-focused business. There are a number of channels to manage, training is more complex and diverse, and new CSR skills are required. Chapter 3 described the key issues involved in moving from a telephony-only call center to a multimedia contact center as part of a larger, enterprisewide CRM process. As this shift takes place, the call/contact center becomes less of a cost center and more of an integrated, strategic, and profitable part of the enterprise and a key component of a CRM strategy.

CRM support mechanisms

CRM is not a technology, but few companies can reengineer themselves to be truly customer facing without providing their business and staff with the necessary tools. As for any major corporate project, there should be a defined business need for the technology first, along with a measurable goal. Almost any technology can legitimately be said to provide support for CRM implementations if the wider aim is to provide a superior level of customer contact based on knowledge of that specific customer.

Successful CRM depends as much upon attitude as it does upon technology, however. CRM is primarily an enabler of growth for optimistic, aggressive companies wishing to expand. Business trends bear this out. Consider these two approaches to CRM:

IT-focused CRM

Many first-wave CRM implementations focused very much on putting in technology solutions and improving efficiency. Business processes and employees may not even be affected by IT-focused CRM, and in many cases, the solution is CRM in name only—it may in fact be only a series of point solutions rather than a true CRM implementation.

Business-focused CRM

Business-focused CRM involves a fresh look at how customers and prospects are actually dealt with by the enterprise and focuses on discovering and solving commercial problems, changing the culture of the enterprise as a whole to serve customers more effectively and profitably. Business-focused CRM encourages enterprises to understand the value of an individual customer and to customize interactions to build loyalty and profit.

Much of the difference between these approaches concerns attitude. The solution may end up being the same, but the problem needs to be understood before it can be addressed.

The impact of each of these CRM approaches is quite different on the call/contact center. In the IT-focused CRM approach, a nontechnical customer who contacts the call center and who is likely to be amenable to upselling might be pushed to a Website, which would be counterproductive. In this case, simply employing more sales agents or increasing training would increase profitability. On the other hand, business-focused CRM may use a low-tech solution for the customer—it does not simply look for ways to squeeze new technologies into the existing structure of the enterprise. When considering the impact of each approach on the call/contact center, the following should be taken into account:

  • Two-thirds of a contact center's running costs are CSR salaries.

  • Customers do not care about the IT department or business workflow—they decide whether the company is a good one by the quality of its staff and the services they provide.

  • The common perception of the contact center is that it is a necessary evil.

This latter point is at least as big an issue as anything related to technology. It is possible to run an adequate contact center with a large proportion of semiskilled, inexperienced staff, and this is happening in many organizations. However, the message for those organizations is that it is not possible to provide outstanding customer service across all channels, increase profit per customer, and grow the company's market share—some of the key goals of CRM—without having an experienced and empowered call/contact center team.

Technology and business processes can provide powerful solutions that enhance a center's productivity; however, it should be remembered that one of the most important reasons customers call a center rather than use a Website is that they prefer talking to real people. One of the primary objectives of CRM is to provide customers with what they want. If customers decide they want to talk to real people, then that is what the customer-oriented company has to provide.

CRM plays no favorites

Every company that wants to increase profitability, reduce customer churn, gain market share, provide an outstanding level of customer care, and foster customer loyalty needs to have a CRM strategy. True CRM implementations are complex by nature and also require significant investment. However, because CRM is a long-term strategic goal, a gradual rollout of supporting technologies is possible, as long as the company is aware of where it is heading overall. Otherwise, the organization is just implementing a series of point solutions, which do not have the value of an integrated solution.

At first glance, CRM implementations seem to follow a pattern similar to most projects: analysis of requirements followed by detailed design. After actual implementation comes postproject review. CRM is different not only in the details but in the important role taken by the review stage. For many projects, a successful review is the end of the story. Not for CRM—it is just another stage. CRM is an ongoing process, and so the review stage is fundamental to the success of the project as a whole. For this reason, it should never be undervalued.

Feedback should be given both in the analysis stage (for example, target metrics have been achieved, the overall target is still viable) and also in the design stage, especially on any unforeseen technical issues that may require changes in dependent subprojects. And while the expertise of external suppliers and consultants can be relied on in the actual design and implementation of solutions, reviewing the business analysis stage in more detail can be beneficial, because this is where complex CRM projects can fail through lack of planning or even through failure to set specific targets.

CRM success factors

To sum up, when planning and implementing a CRM strategy, such as the 12-stage strategy described previously in this chapter, the following key CRM success factors need to be considered:

  • Complete the business analysis stage before the design phase begins.

  • Pass on experience from the design and implementation stages in order to integrate it into major changes in company direction and operation.

  • Choose at least one senior company member to drive the CRM initiative both from a commercial and cultural perspective.

  • Get buy-in from senior members of all departments in the organization and establish a steering committee.

  • Benchmark operations before implementing any technology.

  • Consult customers on how they would like to see the business change.

  • Specify quantifiable improvements to the aspects of the business that are most important.

  • Work only with suppliers who have a proven track record and who will be reliable partners for the foreseeable future.

  • Measure the impact of each subproject and feed the results back into the overall analysis and dependent design phases of the CRM project.

  • Consult, inform, and train employees at every stage of the process to move the business culture more toward a customer-focused organization.