EXPERT ADVICE

Beyond CRM: 5 Steps to Outfox Your Competitors

Imagine this all-too-common scenario: A customer needs to add a new line to his cellphone plan. He’s had a number of reception and phone issues, and he will stay with his current company only if offered a very good deal. However, the agent — unaware of the prolonged dissatisfaction and insensitive to the customer’s tone — suggests an expensive upgrade plan and rushes the customer to some type of decision. The customer, just trying to get his issue resolved, realizes his voice is not being heard and responds with a termination request.

Now, wouldn’t it have been nice if the call center system had been able to analyze this individual’s profile, together with his current intent and state of mind as well as past interactions with the company, and then suggest the best next action for the agent to take — perhaps recommending a different plan or offering a free service — to keep the customer from submitting a termination request? The agent, driven by a series of dynamic next-best recommendations, could have salvaged the relationship and retained the customer and his revenue.

Unfortunately, most large businesses have no way to analyze a customer’s needs and past behavior and make recommendations on the best next action automatically and in real-time. Companies that rely on a typical customer relationship management (CRM) system are really focused on products, not customers. However, a newer breed of technology called “customer experience management” (CEM) allows companies to see in real-time the impact of decisions on customers and immediately respond in ways that balance the customer’s experience with the organization’s business objectives.

Continuing to use a telecommunications company as an example, let’s look at five steps companies must take to move from CRM to CEM.

1. Change What You Measure and How You Motivate

A typical telecommunications company measures and compensates agents based on how many new customers they sign and how much those customers agree to spend — no matter how frustrated the customer might end up being or how quickly the customer decides to leave.

Think of a restaurant and the position of waiters and waitresses. Most of their compensation comes as tips, and they typically get a bigger tip if they are friendly and attentive throughout the meal than if they are abrupt and surly until they put down the check with a smile and a “thank you.” Customers are far more likely to return if they have received continuous, consistent, and personalized customer service.

It’s the same with telecommunications companies, which too often deliver continuously dreadful customer service, then try to keep the customers with an expensive retention effort when the contract is expiring or a customer threatens to terminate.

A better, customer-focused approach is to measure the quality of customer service throughout the contract, including “right-sizing” the initial contract to ensure the customer is fully satisfied and making sure every follow-up interaction with the customers is equally rewarding. In the end, it’s far less expensive to invest a little in delivering great customer service from start to finish than to rely on a costly retention cycle that customers often perceive as too little too late.

2. Put the Customer Experience First

A single bad experience in a commoditized industry like telecommunications can quickly drive customers away. That’s why CEM is about delivering a consistently excellent customer experience for every interaction, not just for sales and retention.

Consider the simple case of a frustrated customer who calls twice in one week to make sure his daughter hasn’t abused her text-messaging usage. Wouldn’t it be great if the system could analyze the customer’s profile and interactions, so when the customer calls in again, the system directs the agent to recommend the best solution to the problem? Even better, shouldn’t the system be able to detect a pattern of overuse and recommend a solution before the customer even calls in?

3. Make the Employee Experience a Close Second

Customer satisfaction directly impacts agent experience and vice versa. When the experiences are bad, there’s a snowball effect. Agents who constantly deal with angry and frustrated customers feel increasing stress — and then turn around and ensure a poor customer experience for the next callers.

Agent stress leads to high turnover and high costs for hiring and training. High turnover means call centers and stores are continually staffed by less experienced employees who can’t deliver a top customer experience — leading to more frustration all around.

In a CEM environment, the system relieves the agent of the burden of having to be an expert in plans and devices, as well as having to figure out the best way to deal with a customer. The system drives the context and content of the conversation, providing answers quickly and determining for the agent the next best action that will ensure a balance between the customer’s expectations and the company’s business objectives. In this environment, agents feel empowered and can focus on being consistently pleasant and helpful.

4. Understand and Act in Real-time

To ensure the focus on customer experience delivers direct revenue benefits, management must be able to assess and optimize in real-time the impact of customer interactions.

Let’s say our example company launches a new phone and allocates 50 percent of its spend to target the 16-to-24 age group. A week into the campaign, reports indicate uptake is very weak in the targeted group, but much better in the 25-to-30 age group, which had received only 20 percent of the spend — a significant missed opportunity for both the company and customers who missed out on the new device.

In a CEM environment, management can see in real time where the uptake is and immediately shift dollars to the better opportunity. Using a dashboard, management can quickly change what products and configurations the agents should be targeting to which customers, and the changes appear on the agents’ screens immediately. This optimization capability can be completely automated as organizations gain trust in the results of such monitoring tools.

5. Include All Customer Interactions in the Customer Experience

CEM ensures the system captures and learns from every customer interaction, not just the most talked about retention and selling activities.

Take a customer in the process of resolving a collections matter. Unlike a CRM system, the CEM system includes these experiences in its analysis and shapes the next interaction to ensure the agent makes appropriate recommendations.

Even an interaction as simple as an address change becomes part of delivering a continuously excellent customer experience. For example, if the move is to a state with higher or lower telecommunication taxes, the system ensures the agent explains this to the customer, pleasing the customer if the bill will go down, avoiding surprise and frustration if the bill will go up.

In any industry, maintaining a base of satisfied, long-term customers will result in far more revenue and cost the company far less than constantly acquiring new customers — and then losing them despite expensive retention measures.

By optimizing the customer and agent experience around every customer interaction, and providing management with tools to analyze and respond in real-time to the impact of decisions on customers, CEM breaks this destructive cycle, delivering a win-win-win outcome: satisfied customers, happier employees and a stronger company.


Ray Gerber is chief technology officer of Chordiant, a provider of customer experience management solutions.


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