REDEEMING CUSTOMER RELATIONS

An emerging combination of speech recording, and analytics could have a major impact on managing customer relationships

By LAMIKA ZUBERI
May 15 - May 21, 2006

After enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM) is probably the most talked-about enterprise business application area. In Pakistan, the earliest users of ERPs were a few multinationals pharmaceutical companies. Their ERP softwares were corporate and linked to their offices abroad. Not many companies could risk or afford implementing such expensive software or licenses.

Talking about CRMs, most analysts and vendors have publicized it as the cornerstone for building customer-centric companies, but at the same time CRM has been tarred with the brush of failure as too many company initiatives were going wrong. The organizations architectural structures were not mature enough to incorporate CRM as a successful tool to enhance customer relations. Now more technologies are coming into the customer relations management systems domain, as companies try again to improve the effectiveness of managing their customer relationships.

Now the pace of change in communications technology is accelerating. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is becoming the preferred choice of communications technology due to lower costs. As such, companies like IBM and Microsoft are investing in speech recognition technology. Oracle has taken over Seibel which used to be a big CRM vendor, with a big market share. Today, CRM no longer is seen as a single application. In the new CRM vision, customer interactions occur throughout the organization and most of it is handled by the contact center and the various departments within the company.

An emerging combination of speech recording, and analytics could have a major impact on managing customer relationships. For years to come, the telephone is highly likely to remain the main communication channel between companies and customers, and call records will continue to be the best source of information about the calls. Now it is easier to derive useful information from this unstructured data. Cisco and Genesys are also entering the field, due to the large potential that they could foresee.

Another good element in the emerging new Customer Relations Systems is quality monitoring and feedback. The sophistication of analysis tools is such that companies can get accurate pictures of how their agents are performing and how customers are reacting. This information helps companies target specific agent training, improve the interaction-handling processes, improve the supporting technologies, get a better all-round picture of their customers, identify the real reasons customers call, make better predications on future behaviors and drive back-office process improvement.

The customer relations world is changing, from both process and technology points of view. Companies need to find all their customer touch points and identify necessary process changes. Companies need to be experts at how to handle all the contacts consistently and cohesively, no matter where or when they occur or through what channel they occur. A single application CRM is no longer viable for organizations. A modern day customer relations system is an integrated family of applications which is capable of supporting all customer interactions. Some of the established vendors are losing ground as others add new features and new technologies to their application. This can only be good news for companies and their customers; their challenge is to keep up with the pace of change.

In the past, CRM has usually been a single company-wide application, such as Oracle or Siebel provides. Such applications typically have been integrated with communications technologies (e.g. automatic call distributors), reporting tools and back-office applications to optimize the handling of customer interactions. In the advanced countries the large corporations can afford such expensive user licenses, and the proprietor company's presence in the country also matters a lot. With such extensive applications companies cannot take any risk. These are the main reason why very few companies in Pakistan use CRM. Surprisingly enough, the technology that is filling the gap for such CRM applications is the contact center software applications. Many banks and telecom companies are using open standards based call center solutions which have no propriety issues. These tend to serve the customer services' requirements; and have an open back end which can be integrated with the legacy system. These solutions are reliable and scalable. They fulfill the documentation need, can record all calls and log customer info into data tables. You can have an extensive database management system in the back end if you want, based on your company's requirements. Such a local solution is more viable in the long run because upgrades are easy and no foreign or expensive dependencies are involved.

CUSTOMER INTERACTION:

When CRM applications fail it is important to improve customer interaction. A lot of the companies have customer service departments that do not run at peak efficiency because their technicians are not properly trained. They lack confidence, are not happy, or highly motivated. This is the main reason why customers are not pleased with the service they get from these companies.

Apart from that it has been observed that in such a scenario, customer service department is drenched in management problems. They have to handle a load of customer complaints and such develop and low morale, because they have to listen to the griping customers who even call them names to get their problem resolved sooner. Management in this scenario has to spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with these "tough" customers. These cases are treated as emergencies that erode the time one needs to spend on management issues.

At such a stage using conventional wisdom, to come up with a new, improved system for dealing with the trials and tribulations of life in customer service department could prove to be very fruitful. For such companies it is very possible to turn the customer service department into a smooth running, well-organized and efficient one, that could actually help the company make better revenue.

Good customers deserve a company's full attention. These are the people that pay our salaries and allows our business to flourish. They make our living easier and more fulfilling. They are entitled to good value and best service.