• August 12, 2011

Success with CRM

How would you feel when you find out that you are paying more than double for your Internet connection?

A connection with an annual plan was absolutely perfect until the same company offered other customers at half the price, similar plans. I was surprised even more at the fact that the company had not send me any offers on the new plans nor did it feature on its Web site.

Being a price conscious customer, whose monthly usage is low (less than 2 GB), was a strong reason to get dissatisfied with this whole episode. I rushed back with my issue to the customer services team. Although the initial talks were friendly with the service teams and they were willing to change, later was a great problem, waiting to pounce upon me. The customer service reps asked me to scan some documents and upload them. Once I was done, they blatantly refused to change and asked me to wait for another year as I was subscribed to a yearly plan. As a customer, I found it to be frustrating and funny, besides the fact that it defied all logic that any sensible human mind can analyze.

What followed next was a chain of email exchanges. This did not yield any result as the responses were merely "cut and copy" of the previous mails. I wrote to their regional head office. They were at least honest and very clear in telling me that since it was being dealt with in the call centre, they would not be handling it. Another blow for me and I kept wondering what the problem could be.

I decided to put an end to this and wrote to the head of customer service, threatening to terminate the services. Barely minutes after I had hit on the ‘send' button, came the reply from his desk. The lady on the other end was courteous, promised to solve the problem, and surprisingly offered me something even better. It just took two more phone calls and an email for the plan to change.

Was it that they did not want to downsell? Or, was it that they did not want to take the extra effort to convert my plan or was it sheer pathetic customer service. I learned three important lessons from this episode.

Success in CRM comes by following these three guiding principles:

1.      Empowerment

2.      Automation

3.      Training 

Empowerment: CRM is a business philosophy and no CRM software in this world can help you if you do not empower your people to take and make decisions. It will not be of any help if the people of the organization do not believe and feel the need for delivering ‘excellent customer service'. That, however, is a byproduct of empowerment. If the customer facing team is tied up to a rule book for handling customer problems, there are high chances that the service team is solving a fraction of customer complaints and passing the rest to the senior managers for their approval. This, however, does not imply they should not have some ground rules, but binding them with ONLY guidelines will never help.

Systems such as these create bottlenecks and result into wasted time. For the customer it is sheer frustration. In the example above, it was very clear that the customer service rep was either very new to the system, or was not empowered to change the plan, because had he changed my plan, the company probably would be losing money on that account and the rules did not permit that.

Most of the frustration of the customer arises, in the call centers, because the role of service reps is reduced to being merely delivery agents. They hear everything that the customer has to say, but do not have the ability to solve. Organizations should reconsider how empowerment can be given to the service reps to effectively cut down on the turnaround time and thereby frustration. It is also important for the company to decide whether to keep a customer happy and lose business or lose business and happiness as well. Empowering will ‘at least' help the former, but definitely not the latter.  

Automation: Companies who are in the traditional mode of handling challenging issues with little or no IT, with very little integration with other data sources do not add any value to the customer nor the service rep. No one in the organization, except for senior managers will be able to get a holistic view unless all the customer touching and customer facing applications are integrated together. Giving the senior managers an overall view of the customer will help for reporting purposes. If this data is not available to the service rep, it will not give any advantage to the service rep. A holistic view, therefore, is equally important for a service rep, as much as it is to the senior managers. Giving access to data to get the right piece of information will make your customer focus even stronger.   

Training: Companies need to invest heavily in training of customer facing groups. Whether the impact is large or small, an organizational culture of training needs to be imbibed. Had the customer service people called to find out the issue, would have reduced my ‘heart burn' to some extent? Had the customer service people offered me something different, would have made things smoother? Things were running just over emails, whereas the basic problem was yet to be solved. Training the people on the CRM package and functionalities would not help, but what would is an orientation towards great customer service and satisfaction by helping customers. That can only happen by training right.

CRM is a business philosophy, and cannot be ever replaced with any technology. The people facing the customers should be enabled and trained with the right information to help bring back smiles to the face of unhappy customers. Until then customer relationship management remains a myth.  

Hory Sankar Mukerjee is an associate consultant at Infosys Limited, India, and author of Industrial Marketing. 

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