Customers today are empowered. They want to decide how they interact with companies that they do business with. That means that not only does a company need to provide the goods and services but also the tools and culture to make customer service a value-add to their customer base.
Here are some basic but key steps to take to move in that direction.
Know Your Customer
When a customer contacts a company, agents should have full access to the customer’s information. They should be able to view past and pending requests made across all available communication channels that you support (like the phone, email, chat, SMS) as well as interactions over social channels like Twitter and Facebook.
If a request has been escalated from a Web self-service session, agents should have access to the full session history so as not to repeat questions or searches that the customers has already performed.
Couple Your CRM System With Others
CRM systems should be more than just the front end of a database of customer information and cases — they should also be integrated with back-office applications. Real-time data integration means that the system can make calls to third-party systems to retrieve a real-time answer to a question such as “When did my order ship?”
Some companies deeply couple knowledge management with CRM. While agents are gathering the details of the customer’s issue, under-the-covers searches are being executed so that an updated list of relevant solutions can be presented to the agent, which helps minimize handle time.
Microsoft was kind enough to invite me to Microsoft's Dynamics Fall Analyst Event — a two-day event packed with product, strategy, customer, and partner information. The focus was clearly on Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011. This product and the go-to-market strategy are clear and focused. Here are my thoughts:
The Dynamics CRM 2011 product is good. Today, Microsoft Dynamics CRM is used by 23,000 customers, 1.4 million end users in 80 countries and 40+ languages. That in itself is impressive. However, Microsoft wants to do better. It has focused on the user experience and UI in the 2011 product in hopes of driving increased adoption. Dynamics CRM 2011 is deeply integrated with Outlook, Office Communicator, SharePoint, Office 365, and Bing. It can be easily personalized. A business user, without the help of IT, can set up a dashboard. It has rich reporting analytics. It works on mobile devices, including the iPhone. Microsoft realizes that this product still has limitations, especially around Web self-service customer service capabilities. Its near-term plans are to address this, as well as adding capabilities around support for the phone channel and for social customer service. However, right now, these holes offer a chance for specialty customer service vendors to make inroads.
Consumers generally hate email for customer service - so much so that some analysts have said that email is dead, and has been replaced by the live assist channels like chat or SMS/MMS. Or in the new world, there is Twitter and customer service from Facebook.
Why does email get such a bad rap? It's because we don’t trust this channel – we have all had the experience of emailing a company’s customer service department and not getting an answer back. Or getting an answer that addressed only half of our question.
Email’s poor performance as a customer service channel is typically a result of the tool’s history. These systems were typically deployed years ago and have had little care and feeding to maximize their productivity, or align operations to best practices.
Yet, customer service managers want you to use email. It’s a cheaper alternative than live-assist channels. And the automation features built into modern tools make email processing quick and reliable.
So, even with history working against you, if you are offering email to your customers, make sure it works. Follow these these basic steps to restore your customers' faith in this communication channel.
Make email part of your multichannel strategy - Don’t think of email as a siloed channel. Provide escalation pathways between your web self-service site and email, and be sure to have a single source of knowledge that is used across all your communication channels. That means that your customers will get the same answer across all touchpoints.