To help avoid mistakes, use better process management practices and the technology that is currently available.
Posted Nov 1, 2005
For years enterprises have tried to combat customer service issues with technology. For example, a call center manager approaches an IT manager and says, "We need a database," because the organization does not have a central location to keep all of a customer's information. Email requests are stored in one location while records of phone conversations are located someplace else.
After spending much time and money researching and getting a knowledge base up and running, the system doesn't seem to run smoothly. The call center manager goes back to the IT manager and complains that the CRM solution is not working properly, to which the IT manager protests that the technology is working fine, the agents are not using it properly--not inputting data regularly so information is often stale, incomplete, or inaccurate. The ensuing result is another piece of technology not being used to the best of its ability.
You are probably now asking how this problem could have been avoided. The solution is quite simple--process planning and automation. Customer service failures are often a process problem rather than a technology one. CRM was created to carry out simple tasks--online searches, automatic responses to emails, logging and maintenance of client information, and so on. However, behind each of these tasks lies a laundry list of workflow processes that need to be captured and automated before CRM can work properly.
For years users have been trying to extend the capabilities of CRM to capture the work that really needs to be done by BPM--defined as the automation of processes using a rules-based system with the appropriate tools and supplies, necessary information, checklists, examples, and status reports to the user. BPM bridges the gap between technology and the people who need to use the technology.
In the case above the IT manager and call center manager need to work closely together to identify the processes that are involved in capturing information. The CRM system was purchased to capture customer data from multiple locations, which it can do. However, it can't make the agents input the data they gather throughout the day--a problem of process. All too often, organizations think there are processes in place, but then find out that there are deviations from the process, causing hiccups in the overall system.
Additionally, the technology that is implemented needs to adapt to the business rather than the typical scenario of the business adapting to the technology. This will sound basic but people don't like change and the more an organization tries to force change, the more likely that the project will fail. That is why too often perfectly capable CRM systems become shelfware.
In our example, once the IT manager and call center manager outline the processes that need to be addressed, they should look to add BPM to their existing CRM systems. By automating some of the more basic functions, it will aid the overall adoption of the new technology. For example, when an agent receives an incoming call, a trouble ticket should be launched automatically. It could include a form that the agent fills out during the phone conversation. Once that call ends, or if the call needs to be escalated, the agent can submit the form to the system so the data is automatically saved, and a notice is sent to the person who is responsible for following up on the trouble ticket. Additionally, if further action is not taken, reminders are automatically put in place. If those reminders are not met, the trouble ticket is elevated to the next in command to ensure resolution of the customer's request.
By automating this process, the system ensures that the customer inquiry is seen through to fruition. It also forces those agents involved in the process to fill out the appropriate paperwork in a timely manner. This keeps the knowledge base up-to-date, and customers happy.
CRM is very useful and can have a major impact on bettering the business when used properly. It is not meant to solve process problems. Rather, CRM is meant to better the customer service experience. Therefore, businesses need to take a step back and review the entire situation before making a decision to purchase a new technology. More often than not, a solution can be found by using better process management practices in conjunction with the technology that is currently available.
About the Author
Rashid Khan, author of Business Process Management: A Practical Guide, founded SINTECH a start-up that pioneered the use of application software for mechanical testing automation. He sold SINTECH to MTS Systems Corporation, and in 1994 founded Ultimus. Currently Ultimus employs 270 people in 17 offices across the globe. Khan holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, an MA in computer science from University of California at Berkeley, and a BS in computer science from M.I.T. Visit Ultimus.
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