CRM – time to rethink

CRM – time to rethink

It might not have been described as such at the time but Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is probably the second oldest profession in the World.

CRM helps business from the big to the small to manage their interactions with their existing and potential future customers. It holds our buying history, and uses data to predict future opportunities.

With an explosion of communication channels CRM needs to consume and digest enquiries and sales from all channels, be that the company’s website, telephone, email, live chat, marketing materials, or social media, and more. Trouble is there’s increasing amounts of evidence that this omni-channel ‘front end’ is lagging miles behind the omni-channel ‘back end’, meaning the buying experience is not being matched by the fulfilment experience. Customers request, nay demand, multiple channels of communications and these channels must move seamlessly, from smart-phone to laptop, from tablet to telly.  Therefore, it is increasingly important for companies to deliver a cross-channel customer experience that can be both consistent as well as reliable.

The problem is that CRM is only half the story.

In large corporates the world of CRM is dominated by 4 major players – Salesforce, SAP, Oracle and Microsoft. These might be nasty big ‘on premise’ solutions with all that entails or nicer, nimbler Cloud based Software as a Service models.

The clue to the problem lies in the way that the software is paid for. Don’t get me wrong I love our CRM (Salesforce), we manage all of our client relationships there, we make sure all our datasets are connected, shared, organised and that our colleagues can gain access to the information they need swiftly and accurately whether they’re in Birmingham or Brazil. Thing is we pay a per seat licence, a fee per month per colleague. For a few dollars extra we can have some more toys to play with – or we can play about a little ourselves and make the CRM spit out glorious reports that tell us what our pipeline looks like and where we’re likely to be quarter by quarter. Lovely…….. but we’re an easy business – we only have dozens of big clients rather than millions of individual customers, so whilst Salesforce don’t become rich by selling us their software – we don’t get too upset by the fees as it’s fit for (our) purpose.

However, and this is where the waters muddy, if I ran a business like some of the businesses I work with, where I’d have millions of individuals to manage I’d need literally thousands of licences to manage the masses. We know of several companies that have over 1000 Salesforce Licences to manage their existing and potential customers. That’s expensive in licences but that’s a drop in the ocean compared to the cost of all those people. In the UK costs for call centre staff – those people to whom the seat of the ‘per seat’ licence belong – are typically in the order of £20-£25k pa or, if outsourced to third parties then often over double that amount. And what’s more these people want to work sensible hours, at sensible times and take sensible amounts of holiday. All fair and reasonable. However, there is increasing evidence to show that customers are becoming dissatisfied with the whole contact centre experiences due to lags and wait times and an ‘unjoined-up-ness’. Whilst statistically irrelevant, only last week I had a series of calls from such a call centre about a broken (new!) car which came from an unknown number and the caller left me the call centre switchboard number to call them back – 30 minutes wait time each ruddy call! Happy? I was not. Still not spoken to them yet – epic fail.

So does today’s model of CRM have a future?

Well yes and no. Yes of course it does – we need to keep tabs on our customers and we need all that lovely data to help us improve our existing and future products and service. But what most companies don’t do well is a: automate conversations with customers and b: have a ‘single view of the customer’.

With regards to the latter, challenges arise when customer data is put into siloes around a business. Maybe the marketing guys get their own data, then the ops guys keep some and if things go wrong then the service/repair people keep their own. And gawd only knows why anyone would want to keep that altogether! So one lots in SalesForce – one lots in SAP and another one is in their own special system that the built years ago and we can’t even remember who first wrote it! This mess is common, we see it often, and when this happens it leads to poor customer experience, long wait times, poor contact at silly times of the day and frequently lost customer confidence.

So what’s the solution?

It seems to me that there should be a two-fold approach. The first is to consider your CRM in the context of a single customer journey.

From marketing and sales, through delivery/install and onto service and repair – your customer doesn’t care about your systems, all they care about is you holding a single instance of their relationship with you that’s got all the right data. I appreciate that this isn’t a simple thing to solve overnight – but at least with ‘off premise’ solutions that the cloud offers – you can start to integrate legacy systems and make an attempt to unify all data into one ‘mother ship’.

Secondly, address the challenge of omni-channel communication post sale, approach the fulfilment side of the business with the same commitment as you would the sale. This demands a shift in thinking so that your CRM system should have automation on both sides – sales and fulfilment. I’ll give you an example – ContactEngine are working with a large utility company who sell domestic boilers. A sale begins with an appointment with a customer and a salesman. The customer may have requested that visit from a variety of channels – however the CRM system approach was to present the call centre operative with a list of customer visits and they then gamely tried to make contact by post and phone to confirm that the visit was a: wanted and b: convenient. Contact rates were ok – maybe a third of customers were reached – but given that the volume of calls were high, the number of call centre people was low and they were trying to make contact between 9-5 – when the customer was most likely out – it was never going to be an efficient process. We automated that process.

Once the customer appointment was confirmed – using all available communication channels and some sensible business rules (respecting out of hours, not being too persistent, switching between channels etc etc) were achieved 90% contact rate and have reduced appointment failure rate from 1 in 4 appointments not working out to less than 1 in 12 given that the sale is valued in the £thousands that is transformative development.

But what’s most interesting is this turbo-charges the CRM system (which happened to be Salesforce) so that the Call Centre guys didn’t have to do anything – as we were fully integrated into Salesforce. The comms just happened at the right time, in the right way and no people were required to make this happen other than the customer confirming all was well. This saves wasted Call Centre time – optimising the Call Centre for more important and complex tasks, and making the customer much happier as they were kept in the loop during the whole journey. A win, win, win.

Dr Mark K. Smith

Founder & CEO