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Get Smarter with Knowledge Management
CRM + KM = smart CRM.
Posted Aug 17, 2009
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Today's Customer Service Challenges

Most customer service organizations have recently seen a 20 percent cut in their operational budgets. Internal reorganization, bankruptcy, and mergers are exacerbating traditional customer service challenges, such as ensuring consistency across global support organizations and handling increasingly complex products and customer environments.

However, the customer service show must go on. In good times, delivering effective service and ensuring customer satisfaction are vital. Today, it's a matter of survival.

So can you deliver the same levels of service with fewer resources? Certainly not by applying the same technologies and operational approaches.

What if your support organization could do more with less -- delivering more advanced, responsive, and effective service -- while all of your competitors are busy treading water?

Customer Service Needs to Be About Answers

The bottom line in customer service is that consumers want answers. Old CRM methods, however, have been unable to adequately respond to that demand. In fact, despite annually increasing CRM investments, customer satisfaction, first-contact resolution rates, speed-to-answer, and other key performance indicators (KPIs) have continued to decline.

Traditional CRM often fails to deliver on several key customer-service requirements, as it lacks:

  • a centralized intelligence system that delivers innovation and consumer-driven interactions from which support agents can learn, serve, and collaborate more effectively;
  • the capability to power forums, wikis, and other social tools to become more self-sufficient and to foster a community that can generate its own answers; and
  • analytical insights that help organizations better respond to customer needs and enhance the customer experience.

CRM + KM = smart CRM

Today's organizations can not only weather budget cuts, but overcome the limitations of traditional CRM solutions, improve service levels, and strengthen their competitive position. How? By harnessing the capabilities of "smart CRM" -- an intelligent integration of CRM and knowledge management (KM).

By leveraging a smart CRM strategy, companies can benefit in the following ways:

  • Enhance agent efficiency and effectiveness: When you lose experienced support agents, their knowledge and expertise often leaves with them. A collaborative support model in which solutions are developed, managed, and shared on a daily basis can not only help overall morale and confidence, but also empower new agents.
  • Minimize training efforts: By integrating a KM system into the CRM interface on every desktop, agents can do everything in one application. Instead of investing in time-consuming training programs, management can focus on developing the essential content required for basic problem resolution and knowledge retrieval.
  • Minimize call-resolution time: Call center consolidation often results in longer call times, increased escalations, and decreased first-call resolution (FCR) rates. By arming agents with one-click access to answers, problem resolution becomes faster and more seamless.
  • Improve consistency: A centralized knowledge platform ensures that customers are receiving the same, accurate responses, regardless of the channel they use. Variety may be the spice of our personal lives, but it quickly becomes the death of customer service.

Smart CRM Yields Breakthrough Gains

Seeking to improve operational performance, support executives have typically turned to workforce optimization, skill-based routing, or outsourcing, which typically only yield a 2 to 5 percent improvement in efficiency. In an environment where companies are undergoing 20 percent budget cuts and staff and line-of-business consolidation, the old strategies are proving to be ineffective.

That's why introducing a progressive knowledge approach to this problem makes much more sense. This new approach includes several initiatives:

  • Right channeling: Develop an effective, online self-service channel to push low-value interactions to the Web. The only way to meet increasing service demands is to enable access to answers through more self-sufficient channels.
  • Smart agents: Until cloning becomes a more viable option, companies must provide every agent with the knowledge they need to deliver fast, accurate answers. Equipping agents with the necessary knowledge not only decreases their time to resolution, but also helps eliminate repeat inquiries. Now, every agent has equal access to important information, thereby leveling the effect on service times --  the key ingredient for effective workforce management.
  • Collaborative services: Social collaboration is quickly becoming mainstream. Discussion groups among peer-to-peer networks within service communities share everything from service tips and product feedback to buying advice. Helping customers help each other not only better serves the customer, but also contributes to the knowledge-feedback lifecycle, or smart CRM.

By accomplishing any one of these knowledge initiatives, organizations can see a 20 to 30 percent improvement in operational efficiency and deliver better customer service.

Smart CRM: Fundamentally Changing the Market Landscape

In recent months, there has been evidence of a rising momentum toward smart CRM. In its 2009 "Magic Quadrant for CRM Customer Service Contact Centers," research firm Gartner boldly states that the most pressing CRM objectives are to:

  • support online communities;
  • integrate Web self-service into agent desktops;
  • adopt analytical applications that understand customer intentions; and
  • provide agents with tools to search swiftly and accurately for action-oriented answers.

In other words, smart CRM.

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About the Author

Christopher Hall has over 20 years of business experience as a senior marketing and product strategy professional in the enterprise software industry. Prior to joining InQuira, Hall was the vice president in charge of the global product strategy initiatives at KANA Software. Earlier, Hall was vice president of worldwide marketing for Chordiant, where he pioneered the company's customer experience (Cx) branding. He was senior director of product management for Silknet Software, which launched a successful IPO in 1999. He can be reached at chall@inquira.com.

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