Selecting CRM software to enhance your company’s customer service capabilities

Earle Tutanjian
Channel Sales Manager, Pegasystems

As utilities struggle with the implications of re-regulation, enhancing customer relationships becomes increasingly important as a market differentiator. In recent years, CIOs and business unit managers have been asked to implement solutions that increase productivity and enhance the quality of customer interactions. But today’s competitive landscape is changing, and they are now being asked to take that challenge to the next level. Customer relationship management (CRM) is critical to achieving success in a re-regulated market. Selecting the right CRM software has moved from a tactical departmental solution to an enterprise-wide strategy. The software that is selected will be the foundation of the utility’s customer service strategy, and the means by which the company can advance that service. Therefore, the stakes have never been higher. Companies have many choices and alternatives, so you must think seriously before you purchase CRM software for your company.

According to industry studies, the most successful organizations will be those with a strategy that automates and makes consistent their service, sales and marketing business processes throughout the entire enterprise. Developing a strategy is not a simple departmental task. An effective CRM strategy may require a dramatic shift in organizational focus, from a departmental- or product-centered view to one that is customer-centered. Development of this strategy requires participation and buy-in at all levels, especially senior management.

As you begin to develop your strategy, you should incorporate the following concepts and requirements:

The strategy must extend across all channels. While one particular channel may be a first priority, ultimately, all channels must be involved (call center, Web, kiosk, remote billing and service departments, partners and more).

Service delivery must be consistent across all of these channels-service-level quality and timeliness standards that differ from the Web to the contact center to the individual bill payment offices portray to your customer that you are not serious about providing them with consistent, reliable service options.

The solution should result in a holistic view of the customer, while providing contact personnel with all of the information needed to handle each individual customer interaction.

The solution must actually improve the level of service by performing real work rather than merely tracking and routing service requests.

It must provide the highest degree of accuracy and reliability. When the answers to billing questions or credit arrangement options differ based upon who the customer speaks with, the seeds for confusion and dissatisfaction are sown.

Effective self-service options must be included:

  • It must seamlessly integrate the front-office with back-office systems.
  • It must accommodate unique and ever-changing business requirements.
  • It must anticipate the likelihood of growth through mergers and acquisitions.

Once you are comfortable that you have a well-thought out strategic vision, that vision must be translated into evaluation criteria that can be applied to your search for appropriate CRM software solutions. Consider the following:

  • Extending your solution across all channels – A robust CRM solution must integrate customer service representatives, voice response units, automated trouble reporting systems, Web self-service, billing offices and back-office personnel.
  • Delivering consistent service across channels – Look for an integrated solution that enables you to share business rules and processes across the organization wherever appropriate.
  • Creating a holistic customer view – CRM solutions must bring together all of a customer’s transactions into a single view so that the context of their activities is always visible to whoever is dealing with any aspect of that customer relationship.
  • Improving the level of service by performing real work – Workflow is integral to CRM applications. Look for robustness and beware of vendors who exclusively equate workflow with routing. Today’s data driven systems can do much more. Again, be sure to select a system in which rules define and drive the business processes. A CRM solution must incorporate workflow and support product and service delivery at each touchpoint, allowing critical tasks to not only be initiated, but actually performed.
  • Match interactions to the people best suited to handle them – With access to customer’s information and contact history, CRM systems can automatically determine how best to match customers and contact center personnel.
  • Providing the highest degree of accuracy and reliability – Delivering a superior level of service means that your sales and service personnel must have access to real time updates, complete information, appropriate customer and transaction history, and audit trails that monitor each step in the service process. Unfortunately, many CRM solutions do a good job at gathering, organizing and presenting data, but the responsibility for knowing how to use that data and the knowledge of what steps are necessary to satisfy the customer’s need remain responsibilities of the CSR.
  • Including effective self-service options – Self-service is a “win-win” concept for both you and your customers. You win by lowering the cost of providing service; they win by gaining a new level of convenience and autonomy.
  • Integrating Web and Contact Center Interactions – As the use of Web based self-service grows, so too will the need to provide assistance to people using that channel. Emerging technologies such as interactive chat and shared browser capabilities are becoming more important to ensuring the acceptance and quality of service interactions.
  • Seamlessly integrating the front and back office – Utilities today are often large and complex organizations. But you cannot provide a superior level of service if your customer is forced to wait while your contact center agents navigate this complex maze.
  • Accommodating unique and ever-changing business requirements – Every customer is different and every business is different. Therefore, every CRM solution must also be different. For that reason, it’s impossible for a CRM solution to be used “out of the box.” Customization will always be required, and as the solutions get bigger and more complex, the amount of customization will grow.

To summarize, don’t limit your solution to your immediate business objectives. This may result in some short-term benefits, but eventually it can interfere with your ultimate success. Start with a thorough customer service strategy that is driven from the top. Be sure that your strategy is comprehensive, broad and defined. Once that strategy has been defined, use it to define your software evaluation criteria.

Make sure that the CRM solution you select supports your long-term strategy, and be clear about how you will shift your focus to a customer-centric approach. Then you will be well positioned to quickly implement the solution in areas where you will achieve immediate benefits and gradually extend the solution across the enterprise.

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