The Importance of Co-ordinated CRM and Contact Centre Strategies


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Due to different owners and competing agendas,  the relationship between CRM and customer service is unfortunately not always as close as it should be.

Despite this, there is obviously a common element: the customer. Indeed the basis of CRM as both a business strategy and system of record is that the customer becomes the central point of focus. Isn’t it strange then that the so called 360 degree view of customers’ engagement remains beyond most organisations capabilities?

Maybe one clue is the functional mindsets used to describe customers. Marketers prefer the language of segments. Sales teams talk about customers as pipeline categories. While service teams think in terms of open and closed cases.

Tribal thinking dominates our approach to customer relationship management. At least this has been the case to date.

Why do we need a new approach?
The digital economy plays differently. As we know, customers are empowered and expectant.

“The basic premise of how companies sell, serve and support customers now requires new models and methods that meet the behaviours and expectations of a more discerning generation.” source: Brian Solis Principal Analyst at Altimeter, a Prophet company.

Immediate attention, relevant engagement and personalised value propositions are becoming table stake expectations.

“Customers do not differentiate between front office departments – such as sales, service and marketing –and they will not tolerate fragmented engagement.” source: Rachel Barton, Managing Director for advanced customer strategy at Accenture.

Glimpses of such capability are already out there. Some organisations can delight us with their smart responsiveness. But many digital transformations are still a work in progress. Indeed both CRM and contact centre infrastructure upgrades are part of that agenda.

These programmes are often technically focussed. This is not surprising since the combination of cloud solutions and API digital glue has dramatically reinvented the art of the possible in terms of speed, cost and functionality.

Such is their promise, it is easy to imagine that once plumbed in and activated, everything will work as envisioned. But, regardless of how often we repeat to ourselves that technology is no more than an enabler, the implications of this advice are mainly missed. Technology does not make the silos go away. Nor does it deliver stakeholder benefits. All it does is enable those possibilities.

We still need well thought through plans to join the dots, retire old behaviours and reinvent operational playbooks.

Why Does Strategy Matter?
Getting the expected ROI from technology based investments such as CRM has proved an uphill task. Analysts such as Forrester and Gartner consistently report that between 30-50% of all CRM deployments have failed to achieve their objectives or fail outright. Research also shows the larger the effort, the more likely the failure.

Since this has happened over a 25+ year period, the causes cannot be put down to early teething problems. To that end, contact centre leaders currently investing in omni-channel infrastructure should take note. Success requires more than selecting the right technical solution.

Strategy is a process of thinking through what you really want to achieve, so that the most important outcomes stand out clearly and the necessary effort to make each one happen is effectively organised. Even though current approaches to implementation quite rightly emphasis an agile methodology of iterative testing, learning and optimising rather than too much upfront planning, the ability to stay focussed on your intended end game remains the test of an effective strategy.

CRM fails when it becomes little more than a data entry exercise and forgets its real purpose is to enable mutually profitable relationships between organisations and customers. The same is true when the focus of digital customer service becomes an enforced transition to lower cost channels and mutual benefit becomes one sided.

Strategy is developed through conversation between teams. This allows an alignment of ambition under a common set of business objectives. It all depends how your own organisation works but likely candidates for those conversations could include customer service, field support, sales, marketing and customer experience.

When approached collaboratively, CRM then becomes a shared objective and resource. Although most organisations find they need to travel separate paths before arriving at this point of insight and intention.

Growing Up Together
As just suggested, contact centres and CRM have their evolutionary arcs. Both typically start as simple and separate capabilities. Over time they increase in value by becoming more sophisticated and integrated.

For instance, in their most simple format, contact centres have always offered voice based live service. In this state, they typically function as an isolated channel, only accessible by punching out a number on a dial pad.

In a similar way, CRM can start out as just a list. At this early stage, CRM will be one of many sources of information about the customer. Separate lists are probably kept by sales, marketing and service teams. Data gathering is driven by functional objectives. It is therefore likely that these sources of customer information overlap or conflict.

Oversight is difficult. Actionable insights have to be compiled manually, probably by exporting to spreadsheets. Broader understanding of customer behaviour and needs remains limited and infrequent given the effort involved. Real time responsiveness to those needs is almost impossible.

Nonetheless, CRM as a list and call centre as a single live voice channel can still be aligned in order to deliver some value. Long standing examples include:

1. List building for dialler campaigns
2. CTI (computer telephony integration) triggered intelligent routing
3. Checking answers during knowledge based authentication

Even so, the effectiveness of the first two examples is often compromised by poor quality data. This is because the complete picture of most recent customer activity cannot be easily synched across customer facing teams in the absence of common CRM objectives.

Smarter Customers Need Smarter Responses
Moving towards greater levels of competency involve richer CRM data and more than a single voice channel in the customer service mix.

For instance, both list building and intelligent routing are dramatically improved once there is access to more customer data other than just their basic profile. Interaction and transaction histories create new possibilities. Context and intent become more apparent. Responses can become more personalised and relevant.

For instance, interaction history provides insight into a customers engagement footprint. This is something we urgently need given the rapid expansion of choice. Heres a potted history:

  • As e-commerce grew, so did the need to provide a relevant form of live service. Email was OK but could take an age. Chat was better and instant when properly deployed and resourced.
  • In similar fashion, social media uptake and its uniquely public nature gave rise to live service over these channels.
  • The uptake of smart phone engagement introduced apps, SMS and messaging into the mix.
  • Meanwhile, YouTube, FaceTime and WhatsApp culture made video engagement commonplace

As a result, text, voice and video, delivered live or as self-service, has replaced the voice only call centre. Its now a much more complicated engagement mix and one that has to be tightly integrated.

In fact market leaders such as John Lewis in the UK already talk about a post channel world in which customers are able to traverse the physical-digital divide without hindrance. Or engage with both human and virtual assistance without the interchange being a point of irritation.

“The era of channel [either online or store] is over. What we’re really embarking on now is a world, where for consumers, channels are completely merged and we need to think that way” source: Paula Nickolds Managing Director of John Lewis

This quality of customer journey only happens though conscious strategic alignment. In addition to the all important executive leadership that sets direction and vision is a detailed agenda. This comprises many micro instances of conversational continuity that need an aligned CRM and omni-channel approach.

This should be built from real world examples that matter to your customers as opposed to a perfectionist ambition that wants to collect customer data for its own sake or integrate workflow, data and communication just because an API allows it.

What might some of those real world scenarios look like? Here are some that impact a typical contact centre.

1. Can a chat advisor access whatever has just caused a customer to move from self-service to live assistance? Let’s imagine it was the website that has just applied purchase history and known customer preferences to make a personalised suggestion such as a next-best-offer or a relevant cross-sell or up-sell promotion. The customer is interested but wants to be advised before purchasing. In this instance, CRM needs to act as a common platform between the service and e-commerce teams.

2. Can a phone advisor immediately answer product questions based on a live marketing campaign? Maybe with the added complexity of discount codes only being applied for certain customer segments. Again CRM acts as an information bridge between marketing and service teams. Moreover, part of the aligned strategy would have ensured explicit and timely bilateral updates between those teams to ensure the customer experience is seamless and improves with each campaign.

3. Can the social customer service team access and add to CRM? Is previous interaction history visible when it’s an escalation from the contact centre? Twitter handles are not the easiest to reconcile with existing CRM profiles, but it can be done. How can the customer continue their conversation without repetition if there is a need to move onto a private channel such as phone, email or messaging as is common for banking customers? Again it’s a matter of close collaboration over journey service design and common access to customer data.

4. Can CRM trigger awareness and specific responses to mobile customers needs? Can visual IVR, conversational bots for self-service, click to call enhance the experience? Can geo location data be combined with customer data to reduce effort for travel, retail or breakdown services? How have the digital team who developed the mobile strategy integrated with the customer service strategy and capabilities?

5. Does the self-service portal dynamically customise content for repeat visitors? Can it proactively offer escalation to live assistance when the pattern of online behaviour indicates an issue is best solved by people?

6.For the customer who incurs a product defect, is the advisor able to immediately validate the product purchase, check that the product is under warranty, issue a Return Merchandise Authorisation (RMA) and initiate a replacement order – in less than a few minutes and without multiple transfers?

CRM As An Enterprise Platform
Of course, all these contact centre scenarios can be replicated in other customer facing teams. Marketing has its cross functional needs as does Sales. For instance:

“65% of marketers are measured on customer retention, and 57% are measured on cross-sell and upsell. Because of this, marketers need to work with their counterparts in service closer than ever before” source: Bluwolf’s 5th annual State Of Salesforces report (2015)

Social customer service has provided a graphic example of how an aligned approach is required between Marketing and Service. When well executed, ‘service is the new marketing’.

In terms of content marketing, service materials such as tutorial videos, informational diagrams, quick-tip or how-to documents are some of the most powerful lead generation materials and can also serve to speed up sales cycles by reinforcing the level of service and support a would be customer can expect.

More generally, customer service knows what issues customers are facing. They can help marketing and sales by sharing survey data, especially highlights that can be used in campaign efforts and pitches. In marketing’s case, sharing complaints trends can point to inaccurate messaging or improper expectations being set early on. Why make up posts and whitepapers when customers are telling you what matters to them?

Deeper collaboration enables marketing to more easily pinpoint the customers that make great case study candidates, especially if they’re looking for specific examples of customer success. This is why smart marketers regularly visit customer service’s operational meetings.

Furthermore, marketers have the opportunity to harvest large volumes of conversational data to enrich their buyers’ personas with real-time and dynamic behavioural data. Improved customer intelligence enhances customer segmentation with attributes that more accurately predict intent and demand, and enable advanced segmentation techniques such as micro-targeting and campaign triggers.

Improved segmentation helps marketers deliver better messaging and offers that are more personalised, relevant and timely; all characteristics that significantly improve conversions, campaign performance and marketing spend. And satisfy sales expectations for qualified opportunities.

The exchange of mutually valuable data can go much further. Marketing can also make sure that service has access to their intelligence on customers. Any marketing touch point – an email open, an event registration, or a social contest win can provide valuable context and relationship continuity for the customer service team.

A similar set of opportunities can be identified between sales and service and sales and marketing. As these start to yield benefit, further integration and alignment become justified. This is when CRM as an enterprise platform starts to take shape.

Everything known about the customer that has been collected and classified over time by all parts of an organisation is either directly stored or made visible via APIs as a ‘single version of the truth’ to all teams.

This can include interactions, transactions, customer feedback and all third party metadata that helps distinguish individual needs and behaviours. ERP data such as orders, invoices, credit memos, payments, RMAs, credit availability is also made available through CRM integration. In many cases, workflow and communication capability are also embedded into the platform as well.

By this stage CRM has matured into being the single go to source on customers for everyone in the organisation. The benefits for customer service and contact centres are obvious when this degree of alignment is achieved.

To Summarise

Your CRM strategy should engineer customer facing outcomes that align and support the company’s business strategy.

From the business perspective that may include revenue goals such as increased customer acquisitions, customer share, lifetime value, or cost saving goals such as lower cost to serve or higher staff productivity.

From the customers’ perspective, they expect organisations to engage with one voice that can be trusted. That may include smarter and easier ways of doing business, personalised and relevant engagement and a permission based way of exchanging value which GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is accelerating.

In turn, your contact centre strategy should clarify how the expected customer experience is delivered in terms of engagement mix, conversational continuity, outcome, effort and emotion.

Neither contact centre not CRM strategy can work in isolation to achieve this. Indeed it is becoming increasingly clear that in today’s world, all customer touch points need to be consciously aligned in terms of delivering the journeys they are collectively accountable for.

Hopefully this article has helped pinpoint some of the ways you can accelerate your own journey. On a final note, here is a checklist of follow up actions you can take to create greater value in your customer engagement strategies. Each idea is a stand-alone initiative. Choose the one(s) that make most sense for your current situation.

1. Create a joint CRM and contact centre taskforce charged with assessing and then improving the alignment between both strategies. Each team presents how their game-plan measurably contributes to corporate strategy. Using the other team’s feedback, new ideas are generated to improve mutual ties and source new programmes that add customer value.

2. Explore how the big picture ideas that come out of your voice of the customer feedback (e.g personalised engagement, real time responsiveness, low effort engagement) are being tackled in the CRM and contact centre game plans. Improve any gaps that come to light.

3. Organise a number of cross functional workshops between marketing, sales, service and CRM teams that focus on assessing shared objectives across the customer lifecycle and where tighter team work is needed in terms of collaboration, common dashboards and reviews, aligned campaigns and customer insights.

4. In the light of GDPR which encourages a much more conscious and reduced need for keeping customer data, re-assess what customer data is being currently collected by sales, marketing and service teams in terms of its practical value to both customer and organisation. Actively look for opportunities to reduce unused data stockpiles.

5. If you are just embarking on a CRM investment, generate a clear, practical view of how your customers will be engaging with you across all touch points in 2020. Improve that view by adding experiences that matter to customers and will differentiate your brand. Now work out the roadmap to reach that competency.

Please get in touch if you would like to discuss any of these ideas. We’d love to hear from you!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Martin Hill-Wilson, Hill-Wilson
Customer Service, CX & AI Engagement Strategist - Chair, Keynotes & Masterclasses. Brainfood is an advisory and education service. Advice in terms of co-designing practical engagement strategies that balance customer and business needs. These are orchestrated from a blend of live assistance, self service and proactive contact using whatever optimised mix of voice, text and video works best across realigned customer journeys.


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