The 2014 CRM Service Elite

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Being able to leverage the latest technologies is a key skill for today's most resourceful and successful companies. Though our Service Elite Award winners may operate in diverse industries, their ability to make the most of innovative solutions is something they all share.

Our first Elite winner, a major nonprofit healthcare organization, has raised billions of dollars over the past 20 years, but saw donations increase by tenfold when it added a live chat feature to a fund-raising Web site. A credit repair and restoration company streamlined its telephone sales process, substantially increasing referrals and sales, by integrating an automatic dialer with its existing CRM system. Our third Elite winner, a video broadcast provider whose rapid rise had it struggling to manage an overwhelming amount of customer requests, was able to establish a social support community that not only halved its ticket load but also substantially expanded its user base.

Hats off to our Elite winners, who have discovered that succeeding in business in a recovering economy calls for creative solutions. The lessons they've learned are ones from which we can all benefit.

Needle Is the Right RX for Helping Sick Kids

Engaging potential donors for an annual fund-raiser netted a tenfold increase in donations for Children's Miracle Network

Children's Miracle Network, a Salt Lake City-based network of 170 hospitals across the United States and Canada that treats 32 million children each year, has raised more than $4.7 billion in funds since it was established in 1983. One of its more successful fund-raisers, Extra Life, an annual global gaming marathon that raises money for Children's Miracle Network (CMN) hospitals, recognized significant gains in 2013 from Needle's chat solutions.

Needle's platform drove nearly $100,000 in additional donations, contributing to record-breaking funds raised during the event.

Registrations and donations increased nearly tenfold when Extra Life leveraged Needle's platform to engage potential donors on its homepage.

More than 3,000 visitors to the Extra Life site took advantage of the chat feature, and more than 50 percent of them registered for the marathon, held on November 2, or made a donation. This was compared to less than 6 percent of site visitors who registered or donated without engaging in chat.

Starting in mid-September, the option to chat was made available to all visitors to the Extra Life Web site via a static button at the top of the page. Additionally, a proactive invite to chat appeared to visitors who spent a lot of time on the site or who had made repeat visits without registering or making a donation.

That comes in handy for charities such as CMN, which have found it harder to raise funds in the past few years. "People do not just give to a charity because its URL ends in .org," says Nick Ward, vice president of information technology at Children's Miracle Network.

"It didn't take long to see the value of real-time chat," Ward says. "People had questions—questions about where the money goes, how to register, how to participate.

"They loved that instant communication link as opposed to sending an email and waiting for a response or stopping to look for a phone number," he adds. "It was a real human interaction with a personal touch."

Most of Needle's clients use the chat service to boost sales on their Web sites by engaging brand advocates, called Needlers, who can speak with authority about specific companies and their products. For Extra Life, the question was whether to go with professionals or to staff the chats internally. "We started with an internal group, and as it gained traction, we saw that we needed to get more people to volunteer their time," Ward recalls. "The need expanded even more as we got closer to game day."

Extra Life ultimately relied on seven or eight internal staffers and 20 or so Needlers from outside the organization to engage in the chats.

"We could see how what [Needle] is doing for its for-profit businesses could work in the nonprofit sector," Ward says.

"This was an historic year in terms of dollars raised through this event, and there is no doubt that making Needle's chat platform available to potential registrants and donors played a huge role in that success," said Jeromy Adams, Extra Life's founder and program director, in a statement. "Not only was the platform intuitive and easy to use, but having a volunteer base that was truly passionate about the event handle the interactions was a great way to get gamers excited about participating and motivated to raise money for their local CMN hospital."

This year's Extra Life gaming event drew more than 32,000 participants, almost double last year's total. Gamers register online, then solicit donations for each hour they play their game of choice during the marathon. They can play single-player or multiplayer video games, tabletop role-playing games, board games, and even lawn sports. Registration is free, and players gather the support of their friends and family through tax-deductible donations to their local CMN hospitals.

Gamers could also make personal donations of $15 or more for platinum-level memberships that yielded extra rewards and recognitions. Those types of donations increased by $100,000 last year.

The Extra Life event started in 2008 and has since raised more than $8 million—$4 million in 2013 alone—for Children's Miracle Network.

"We now see Needle as a vital partner," Ward says. "We are in discussion with Needle about what we can do with them outside of Extra Life. We'd like to add this level of customer service across our Web properties."

By adding a chat function to its Web site, Extra Life saw:

  • registrations and donations increase nearly tenfold compared to last year;
  • more than 3,000 visitors to the Extra Life site take advantage of the chat feature, and more than 50 percent of them register for the marathon, compared to less than 6 percent of site visitors who registered or donated without engaging in chat; and
  • individual donations from registered platinum-level participants increase by $100,000.

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