Now that CRM success is more widely accepted, companies that directly interact with consumers have started to gain some traction with their customer initiatives. As a result, they’re beginning to understand the promise CRM holds when it comes to building relationships, fostering loyalty and creating new sales opportunities. For those companies that sell through traditional retail channels and third parties, however, CRM has not been regarded as a significant weapon in their arsenals, and certainly not as a driver of ROI. Instead, customer service departments and call centers often are viewed as line item expenses—simply the cost of doing business. This notion is incorrect and must be challenged.
Customer service departments drive an organization’s ultimate success or failure when it comes to customer relationships. Because they are the interactive focal point in determining the perceptions of new and existing customers, these departments are largely responsible for sustaining the trust and loyalty that translate into revenue growth.
Companies that realize strong ROI from their call center investment typically can summarize the job of customer service in three key steps:
1. Engage customers and gather information.
2. Use the information to show how customers benefit from a relationship with your company.
3. Interact with customers in a way that makes them glad they’re doing business with you, and ultimately secure their loyalty to your company or brand.
Customer service reps (CSRs) do more than help their customers in a “one-off” situation; they identify new opportunities to engage the customer in continuous dialogue. To do this, they often see customers not only as individuals, but as a member of a household. They have to recognize the revenue potential of every consumer household in relationship to their products or services.
For example, a customer service rep (CSR) who works for a computer hardware company will be much more effective if he knows that his customer has children in college and may be interested in a discount on computing accessories.
CSRs performing at an optimal level also need to have customers’ chronological transaction histories at their fingertips. If a customer previously has purchased tires that are under warranty for 50,000 miles, and already has put 46,000 miles on those tires, the CSR should be able to solidify the relationship with the customer by sending a coupon for new tires. Not only does it reinforce the perception that the customer matters, it presents an upsell opportunity.
Enter knowledge management, a process in which a company gathers, organizes, shares and analyzes its knowledge. Realizing ROI from CRM initiatives does not occur without a custom-built system that, in addition to building a data cube that lets users analyze real-time, chronological customer histories and profiles, facilitates total collaboration between customer service, marketing and market research. Well-designed knowledge management facilitates a customer lifecycle management process that involves holistic contributions from each of these disciplines, and the data cube must drive the appropriate information that makes every touch point unique and relevant.
The cycle begins with the customer interaction in which the CSR gathers new actionable household information at every call opportunity. That data is shared with market research, which runs mathematical models and develops new profiles for marketing. To keep the process running, market research must constantly ask itself, “What additional information do we need to maximize customer value and gain more insight into customer perceptions?” These elements are put into question form and passed back to customer service as guidelines for future customer interactions.
Marketing uses the CRM analytics and enhanced profiles from market research to develop new messages and product sets. Armed with its directions from market research and high-octane fuel from marketing, customer service is able to effectively drive the upselling, cross-selling and marketing machine.
Too many consumer products manufacturers are squandering opportunities. By not recognizing the critical role of customer service in the revenue-building process, they are mired in old-fashioned thinking that it is just a cost center that has little to do with branding, cross-selling and marketing—activities that can positively affect the bottom line.
In an era when customers have options that were unimaginable 15 years ago, the fight for market share has become fierce. Companies that integrate their CSRs into an ROI-based CRM process realize significant competitive advantages in their industries.
Gary Szasz is the senior director of client practice at Connextions, an integrated call center and fulfillment services provider based in Orlando, Fla. He can be reached at (877) 772-6868.