Next-Generation CRM Trends

As CRM infrastructure becomes more widely accepted, we anticipate that customer needs and expectations are going to change subtly across various channels.

The Rise of the Call Center as a Powerful Customer Contact Point

A call center is a group of agents and voice response units (VRUs) that assist customers with support, inquiry and transaction functions. As the call center evolves into a sales-and-service channel, understanding the dynamics of this channel will help us prepare for the future. Why? Because the Web is also evolving into a self-services sales and service channel. While it’s currently a tiny market, we expect the Web to be one of the fastest-growing portions of the CRM software market, leveraging the rapid growth of the Internet. However, the trick is identifying where the changes will take place and where growth will happen in the near future.

Listening to the Customer

The call center and Web channels must be transformed into listening outposts that keep track of what customers are talking about. However, be careful to listen to the right set of customers. Most organizations fail to maximize their sales potential because they make the mistake of asking the wrong customers for feedback on how to improve their performance.

Customer Loyalty: Luke-warm or Fanatical

In this changing and challenging environment, customers have more choices. Once-apathetic customers are becoming increasingly engaged, well-informed, and demanding. Customers are beginning to ask companies, “What have you done for me lately?” This may be the biggest challenge corporations face as they move forward in the call center and Web channels. Like it or not, the juggernaut of change driven by the Internet has made people smarter, more aware of the business landscape, and better able to find information about you and your competitors – what you sell, what you don’t sell, and what people have to say about you. Take a moment to think about this. How can your call center help you build customer loyalty? When your customers call you, do they get courteous service? Are they delighted when the call is over? If you did not respond with a quick yes, you need to think about how loyal that customer will be to your company.

New Integrated Service Experience

You are still undecided which car in the $15,000 to $20,000 range you want to buy. You visit the Web home page of a car manufacturer and browse the features and options of their latest model. You click a button and an agent from the manufacturer calls you within a minute. She answers your questions and schedules a test drive at your home on Saturday morning.

The very same technologies that are raising customer expectations can also be used to meet and exceed them through integrated solutions that offer superior customer service at every contact point – the Internet, call centers, storefronts, ATMs, kiosks, and person-to-person selling. No matter how or why customers reach you, or you reach them, you can offer a uniformly effective (and therefore positive) customer experience. Ask yourself, is my company creating an integrated service experience?

Higher Service Expectations

Customer dissatisfaction with service is widespread, and expectations of customers interfacing with call centers are higher than ever. Consider what’s possible in customer service. For example, you call your insurance company with a question about your homeowner’s policy. The agency’s telephone system identifies you and greets you by name. The agent knows your policy, answers your question, and asks if you would like information on a new line of auto insurance that could save you money. You say yes and begin to rattle off your address, but the agent already has it and says the information will be in the mail you that day.

New Competition Creates New Headaches

Are new startups creating new value propositions for your customers? Globalization and deregulation are opening up new markets, increasing the reach of competition. New and nontraditional competitors are entering established market as industry lines become blurred. Enabled by e-business technologies, these companies often have lower cost structures and broader geographic reach. At the same time, they are very creative in addressing customer needs.

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