CRM and Knowledge Management: Balancing Information and Insight

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When it comes to data, corporations continue to struggle with two conflicting goals. On one hand, they want to collect and consolidate information to streamline their operations. On the other, data repositories often sprout up in an ad hoc fashion (especially in large corporations), so it becomes difficult (and in some cases impossible) to make sense of the firm's millions and even billions of records.

That yin and yang is now playing out with CRM and knowledge management (KM) systems. The two grew up as largely autonomous disciplines, but recently, there has been a push for tighter integration between them. "We are seeing a trend toward a single platform for all CRM needs, with knowledge management in-built or integrated with the CRM system," says Rahul Sheth, strategy and marketing manager at CRMnext, a division of Acidaes Solutions.

However, melding the two applications represents a significant challenge. First, firms have to uncover the whereabouts of all of their institutional data, which usually is scattered randomly throughout the organization. Next they need to determine how to integrate their various information sources, a process filled with technical and managerial land mines. Finally, they have to find funding for the project. If the integration is achieved, which could be a multiyear process in large enterprises, the potential benefits are great: streamlined operations, lower service costs, and improved customer satisfaction.

Customer Service Obstacles

The role of customer service in organizations has probably never been as important or as difficult as it is now. Competition has spread globally, product life cycles have been reduced, and customization has become more common. The end result is that products and services have become quite complex, and, in response, firms have generated mountains of documents outlining how their products operate as well as policies and procedures detailing how to support them. Companies are trying to consolidate that information and present relevant data to users on an as-needed basis.

Knowledge management is emerging as a key component in the process. Though they lack a precise definition, KM systems were designed to improve internal information flow and operate as central repositories of company information. In a sense, they are precursors to social media solutions. Initially, KM systems focused on facilitating marketing and sales opportunities. Operating much like LinkedIn and other professional networking sites, KM systems housed pertinent personal information about employees that otherwise would never be known. For instance, if a salesperson needed a contact at a potential client site, the system would reveal which of that rep's colleagues had relationships with individuals there.

The possible uses for these systems recently expanded to other areas, with CRM emerging as a point of emphasis. For instance, if a support technician was very good at identifying quirky software bugs with a firm's gaming application, the system would put customer service agents in touch with that person whenever gaming software problems arose.

The Power of Integrated CRM/KM Solutions

For businesses, the coupling of CRM and KM offers many potential benefits. They can minimize the amount of calls coming into the contact center with an effective Web self-service channel that supports low-value interactions. Of course, this channel will be effective because consumers will find correct answers a high percentage of the time. Building a centralized knowledge platform is at the core of knowledge-infused systems and provides customers with consistent answers.

Recognizing that not all problems will be resolved on the Web, organizations can leverage CRM and KM to reduce call resolution times, an ongoing goal in the call center. Every manager dreams of being able to clone their best agents. While cloning is not possible, providing all agents with access to the knowledge needed to deliver fast, accurate answers is. By melding KM and CRM systems, firms can build robust repositories of tested procedures for rectifying recurring customer problems, and agents can tap into them on an as-needed basis. A byproduct is improved service-level consistency. The range of agent competency is leveled, so more customer service agents quickly and intuitively deliver the right answers.

Ideally, providing quick access to the KM system enables call center staff to locate the right expert at the right time. Many manufacturers, say computer companies, sell a single product that incorporates dozens or even hundreds of components. Businesses can construct a complete library of technical information to help agents resolve complicated customer issues quickly. If a consumer presents a vexing problem, agents have better tools to pinpoint internal, top-notch technical talent.

With faster answers to their queries, customers are more likely to be happy. Increased customer satisfaction leads to greater customer retention and loyalty. Satisfied customers may even turn into endorsers for the product and company, speaking favorably to colleagues about their experience, which in turn elevates the brand.

With an integrated approach to KM and CRM, companies gain more insight into customer interactions and maximize the opportunities for upselling. The odds of customers buying more increase because customer satisfaction has improved. It's always easier to upsell to happy customers.


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