Businesses can maximize the effectiveness of CRM systems in creating more intimate, intelligent, and profitable customer relationships by using a new approach: giving customers control over a subset of the information stored in CRM systems. A customer-directed layer in an existing CRM system allows the customer access to important, account-specific information when, where, and for whatever reason the customer specifies. This further reinforces the development of one-to-one relationships with customers, a major objective of CRM, as noted previously. By incorporating a one-to-one approach, the CRM system can deliver actionable response options tuned precisely to a customer profile and related specifically to a company's call/contact center infrastructure.
An additional benefit in extending CRM systems to provide proactive outbound customer service from its call/contact center and relevant inbound response options is that unnecessary inbound calls will be reduced and customer satisfaction and revenue increased—without increasing staff. When customers are forced to place a call or e-mail to a company about their account, they most likely have a problem with a product or service or require information. Providing an outbound CRM resource helps save customers' time and effort, eliminating or reducing the voice mail syndrome that has become a fact of everyday life. (see Figure 6.12) When a company proactively or preemptively provides information that is relevant to and frequently requested by an individual customer—monthly account balance, shipping status, itinerary changes, and so on—the company solidifies a positive, helpful image in the customer's psyche. Customer surveys reflect the fact that consumers appreciate doing business with companies that provide personalized attention and service.
Figure 6.12: Automated e-mail response process.
An alert platform provides, as the name implies, an alerting mechanism that enables customers to communicate with supplier companies about their products or services, for example, to place or change an order or to advise of problems, defects, or other aspects of the supplier's product or service. To provide adequate coverage of alert/response applications to the widest market, an alert platform must support a broad range of communication media, including
High-quality voice via land-line telephone and cell phone
Properly formatted text and interactive applications for e-mail, pager, Internet, fax, and wireless devices
Proactive communications from companies to customers need to be through their existing preferred communication devices. Offering only one contact mode is not adequate for the media-diverse and mobile customer base that is characteristic of today's marketplace. This is not to say, however, that the land-line telephone should be neglected. Voice alerts governed by detailed customer preferences are mandatory in every system. Although the use of wireless text devices and e-mail is rapidly accelerating, voice is and will be the dominant communications channel for delivering timely alerts that require immediate response and interaction. An alert formatted for voice delivery reaches the broadest audience and enables the business message to rise above the flood of e-mail. Voice formatting adds a human quality and time-sensitive value to a message. Voice alerts are also the most conducive to eliciting a customer response because of their familiarity and simplicity ("press 1 to speak with a customer service agent" or "press 2 to buy"). Given the option, customers will select voice delivery for many of their alerts, and the responses associated with these alerts will be higher than any other media.
Although voice will serve the broadest customer base, some customers will insist on other media formats. With a call/contact center platform that supports mixed-media alert/response applications, a business may decide to include chat or call-me-now functionality as a feature of an outbound e-mail alert. The business could decide that certain outbound voice alerts will offer the customer options linked to a variety of services, for example, two-way messaging or wireless text messaging. An alert/response platform should continue to evolve to support the latest consumer devices when the volume of customer requests justifies it.
A sophisticated alert/response platform is the perfect companion to a company's existing call/contact center systems to augment and integrate with the CRM system. The recent evolution of CRM to supporting outbound customer contacts may mean that traditional CRM hardware and software cannot support the new applications, however. The typical CRM system does not have the built-in capability to enable companies to anticipate customer calls and to reach out to customers with information tailored specifically to them before they call.
If a CRM system is capable of being integrated with alert technology, the alerts typically do not contain the customized, deep-enterprise data that customers want. For example, they may offer only limited syndicated content that is individually addressed and broadcast, making the alerts more like generic spam messages. Or, if the information is deep and customer-specific, these systems typically support delivery via a single medium only, usually e-mail. Moreover, those companies that have already made the initial foray into alert systems rarely table an integrated approach to managing responses to alerts. There is a critical void when it comes to delivering customer-specific information in a variety of mediums, enabling intelligent two-way interaction, or making the most of a company's existing data to serve customers better and successfully involve them in one-to-one outbound interactions.
Armed with their existing customer systems and the right outbound alert/response platform, companies can learn from their customer interactions how to offer a continuously higher level of successful customer service, adding customer input to enhance their CRM system. Existing customer contact systems need to be integrated with an alert/response program. With a touch of the keypad or a click of the mouse, customers must be able to connect easily to the business, talk to a live agent, transfer to an automated transaction system for purchasing, or add personal comments and forward the alert to others who may be interested in the information.
For customers to find alerts useful and to respond to them in a positive way, the alerts must be triggered on detailed, account-specific information and governed by the preferences of each customer. The data that trigger these alerts could be stored in a variety of different databases or even in multiple databases within the same organization. XML, one of the newer computer languages and one that is rapidly becoming a developer preference, can handle this problem. XML-based technology seamlessly integrates many disparate back-office, call/contact center, and database systems, including computer telephony integration (CTI), voice processing, collaboration, legacy, CRM, and Web-oriented systems. An XML-based extraction platform is a powerful, flexible way to trigger alerts.
Alert content must be dynamic, easy to create, easy to manage, and appealing to the alert recipient. To maximize the application and create the highest value for the customer, administrators must be able to change alert content and create new alerts as business conditions change—via a packaged management solution, not via customer development. Contact center management and nontechnical administrators need to be able to "tune" alert/response systems on an application-by-application basis. The administration components should include the following:
Prerecorded voice content
Rules for conditional use of text-to-speech, retry frequency, and logic
Links between alert behavior and call center hours and real-time load
Given these requirements, companies strapped for IT resources will look to vendors to provide graphical user interfaces that incorporate easy-to-use, drag-and-drop alert development and maintenance.
Preemptive alerting has both operational and strategic benefits for the business. It eliminates unnecessary, costly, non-revenue-generating inbound customer contact, resulting in increased customer satisfaction, dramatic cost-per-call savings, call elimination, and better service levels, as well as a reduction in the number of agents required in call centers. On a strategic level, proactively giving customers the information they want increases customer satisfaction and gives companies a competitive advantage. In addition, offering alerts with intelligent response options enables companies to combine sales and service initiatives that increase revenue, generate highly qualified inbound traffic, and make the most efficient use of both customer and company time. Companies are recognizing that their call/contact centers are a vitally important part of their overall business strategies and operations and are particularly critical to CRM strategies. As noted elsewhere in this book, customer service has become a major competitive differentiator in many business sectors. By using an enterprise alert/response platform to leverage existing legacy systems, CRM systems, and Web investments, large businesses with many thousands or millions of customers, can now engage customers in an intimate, trusted, two-way dialogue that creates measurable improvements in customer loyalty and profitability.