Technology Is Only Part of the Puzzle

Compound the frustration many companies feel about the lack of return they're getting on their hefty CRM technology investments with the frustration that comes when they fail to compensate by using customer service to generate revenue and you have an ongoing vicious cycle filled with chronic fiscal pain. When you break it into component parts, however, it's evident that this is hardly intractable. Take a close look at:
  • Technology--which is not the solution to customer relationship management problems; it's a tool that can help unlock them.
  • People--who are the conduit between the technology and the customer.
  • Upselling and cross-selling--which, however tempting, isn't always the right approach. Companies need a combination of integrated data-mining technology and trained people analyzing both the data and the situation to make the determination, make the sale, and make sure the effort to generate revenue doesn't cost you a good customer relationship instead. The raft of new CRM technologies tells a story high on promises and low on results. Among the promises are tremendous advancements in data collection, data mining, and segmentation. Only most companies don't really know what to do with the data once they have it. Then there were all the new and improved channels of communication--from phone to fax, from Web to email--that promised to streamline customer contact by removing people from the equation. Only most customers still wanted to talk to people. Study after study has indicated that when it came to solving the problems that drove some 70 percent of customers to the call center, most customers (particularly the best ones) were still insistent that real people deal with their real problems. That, of course, has resulted--among forward-looking companies--in rethinking both the role of the customer service representative (CSR) and the skill set that person has to have. The CSR needs to be better and more frequently trained--not only in how to handle the technology, but also in how to handle the customers. Multitasking CSRs need to understand the range of products and services they're offering. They need to be able to solve the customer's immediate problem while assessing the possibility--and advisability--of turning that cry for help into a revenue-generating opportunity. It's the promise of enhancing the ROI of CRM through upselling and cross-selling that has become irresistibly alluring. Unfortunately, that has often translated into a mandate: CSRs must end each customer conversation with an appeal to the pocketbook. But if the call was generated by frustration with a product, and, especially if that frustration wasn't completely alleviated by the CSR, that sales strategy won't work. Worse, it may backfire, creating torn customer relations that are difficult to mend. But it doesn't have to work that way. With the right technology--and the right, segmented data--in the hands of well-trained CSRs who understand when and how to logically add an upsell or cross-sell approach to a conversation, sales can be generated at the same time loyalty is enhanced. First, though, companies have to realize that the CSR's number one job is not to make a sale but to solve the problem. If that's all they do, they've had a successful experience. In fact, data from Seurat Company's Revenue-at-Risk studies indicates that customers who've had a problem solved successfully are better and more loyal customers than those who've never had a problem. On the other hand, the same studies show that poor customer service can put as much as 11 percent of a company's revenue at risk. The trick then, is in first solving the problem. Key to this is making sure the CSR to whom the customer is assigned is the right CSR, carefully matched to the customer by skills and areas of expertise. Step two is using the well-segmented customer-history data directly available to CSRs to make sure that any upsell or cross-sell efforts are logical, directly related to both the conversation and the customer's buying history. Not all companies, of course, are equipped to pool their technology, their data, their people, and their strategies quite so effectively. And that's a large part of why they're still wringing their hands about their ill-fated CRM investments. It's also why they need to partner with companies for whom that pooling comes more naturally--because it's their core competency. More investment? Perhaps. But by leveraging the original investment, it's more likely to bring success, turning CRM into a force that enhances revenue, builds lifetime customer value, and provides companies with the type of service that is a true differentiator. About the Author Bill Parker is president of customer development for Spherion Outsourcing
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