On the Web, a dissatisfied customer is only a click away from a better deal or better service.
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That's precisely the challenge iMotors faces. "Since our product is a big-ticket item, customers need to develop a relationship with us," says Jacque Silver, vice president of technology at one of the Web's first used car dealers. Because iMotors salespeople can't be there in person to woo would-be buyers, customer service is critical to the company's survival.
With that in mind, iMotors invested in a customer relationship management solution from E.piphany. The sophisticated software tracks customer e-mail and fax requests, updates the information with iMotors' order department, and gives the company access to real-time information, all of which allows it to keep up with its customers' every need.
As customer loyalty becomes more important, all kinds of businessesfrom traditional enterprises to Internet-only outfitsare betting on CRM technology to help them do a better job.
The CRM systems they are using range from relatively simple e-mail management programs that help handle customer queries to comprehensive systems of databases, report generators, and customer history tracking, as in the case of iMotors.
The need for more sophisticated customer service tools at most companies is painfully clear too. In a recent GartnerGroup survey of the 50 top e-tail sites, none received an excellent or good customer service rating. Just 23 percent of the companies evaluated were judged average, while 73 percent rated fairand the click-and-mortar businesses in the survey were ranked even more poorly.
So how do you find the CRM package that will best serve your customers, online and off? Ziff Davis Smart Business
So how do you find the CRM package that will best serve your customers, online and off? Ziff Davis Smart Business Labs audited iMotors and three other companies with unique customer service needs. Dollar Rent A Car Systems needed a system to serve both its traditional and its burgeoning Web clientele, while Proflowers.com faced the challenge of keeping up with huge customer demand during the holiday season. And Staff Leasing, the country's largest professional employer organization, had to find a way to better handle its constant stream of phone calls. Here's how they chose the best customer service technology for their companiesand how you can too.
Do you just need help managing customer e-mail, or do you need a full-blown system that lets you automate, track, and respond to every customer interaction online and offline? The first step in choosing the right CRM package is to identify exactly what your business needs are.
Kin Lo, senior manager of strategy and planning at Proflowers.com, an online flower retailer, understands the danger in ignoring this step: "One of the biggest downfalls I've seen in other companies is that the need for a CRM system is driving the implementation, rather than the business requirements driving the requirements for CRM," he says.
Lo opted out of a fully integrated CRM solution because he found it too expensive and complicated. Instead he chose a building-block approach. Christmas was coming up fast, with Valentine's Day and Mother's Day just around the corner. Proflowers' e-mail system, Outlook Express, was designed for regular e-mail correspondence, not for customer service. So Lo's initial need was simple: an effective way to handle a heavy volume of customer e-mail.
Proflowers chose Kana Response, an e-mail management program that allows e-businesses to manage inbound mail and Web interactions. Kana Response also automates the response process and allows Proflowers to generate customized reports to track things like customer replies and purchase history. "We know what they've liked or problems they've had," Lo says. "When somebody calls we know who they are. Every interaction isn't lost after the e-mail is completed, or after they get off the phone, or after they've made a purchase."
In a year or two, Lo expects, he'll need to add to the system so he can find a way to integrate Proflowers' phone, chat, and e-mail service. But in the meantime, Kana Response does the job, and when Lo is ready, it will let him scale up.
Other companies require much more from a CRM system. That's the case for Dollar Rent A Car Systems. In the rental car market, you must have low prices and better customer service if you're going to outdo the competition. Dollar needed a system that would increase agent productivity and customer response time, identify emerging trends, and provide a single system to gather all customer data.
Carol Songe, Dollar's customer center operations manager, shopped for the perfect solution for three years, reading articles, visiting trade shows, and soliciting feedback from colleagues. In the end, Dollar went with Astute's PowerCenter software.
When asked if she's satisfied with the package, Songe answers with an unqualified yes. Among the benefits of PowerCenter is its intuitive, Microsoft-like interface, which made learning the software easier on Dollar's employees. It also provides fulfillment processing for creating coupons and gift certificates, and it tracks the productivity of service agents. Online customer surveys help Dollar get to know its customers and anticipate their needs.
Another company with a lengthy list of requirements for its CRM system is Staff Leasing. A provider of human resources services to small businesses, Staff Leasing lives and breathes customer relationship management. It handles everything from fielding the calls of small-business owners who want to purchase HR packages to answering the benefits questions of their employees.
Among Staff Leasing's needs, says Lisa Harris, senior vice president and chief information officer, are that the system has to fully integrate phone, fax, and Web service and have closed-loop customer service capability, meaning that no question or concern from a client is left unaddressed. To meet all these needs, Staff Leasing chose Oracle's E-Business Suite, which includes call center, customer care, and telephony management. Now whenever Staff Leasing receives a customer inquiry, whether by phone, fax, or the Internet, it's automatically routed through the CRM system. If the query isn't addressed within four hours, the system sends an alert to a manager, who makes sure the customer gets an answer.
In deciding on a system, it's important to consider the needs of your whole company. Sometimes the most helpful system will affect more people than just your customer service agents.
"Look at CRM as a companywide objective," says Proflowers' Lo, "so it's not just a customer service function, it's not just a marketing function, and it's not just a merchandising function." Lo points out that with most companies, the various departments tend to keep their information to themselves. He suggests that "if there's a way to get everybody onboard with a unified solution that everyone can share and invest in from the get-go . . . that will be a key advantage."
Dollar Rent A Car took the same tack when choosing its solution, forming a cross-functional team that reviewed the different products. Says Songe, "The decision was unanimously for PowerCenter, which was the best overall fit."
And as with any new system, expect a learning curve with CRM. After iMotors installed its E.piphany software there were some bumps. "There was about a 60-day time frame where productivity dipped, then rose, and finally greatly exceeded pre-CRM productivity rates," says iMotors' Silver.
Songe of Dollar Rent A Car reports a similar pattern: "When you weren't doing [CRM] right before, and you start taking the time to log everything, you quickly find out it takes more time to do things right." But in the long run, an efficient system can save time and headaches. "Paper was everywhere," she says. "An entire wall was nothing but file cabinets. The days of filing at Saturday overtime pizza parties are history."
Another critical factor for both companies is vendor support. iMotors' Silver says, "CRM solutions are probably the most complicated business applications there are. Do not underestimate the vendor[-buyer relationship] that you will need in order to succeed."
Good support is one of the main features that led Dollar Rent A Car to choose Astute's PowerCenter. From the beginning Astute was able to answer complicated IT questions with ease. And since the system went live, Astute has provided "wonderful support," Songe says. Also find out about annual user conferences, which offer training, updates, and the opportunity for you to network with other users.
A short-term dip in productivity following setup might be well worth it. A mere 5 percent uptick in customer loyalty can increase profitability by 25 percent to 95 percent (depending on the industry), according to Bain & Co. Some of the companies we audited were still waiting to see a return on their investment, but they were able to gauge the success of CRM in other ways. iMotors has increased order volume by 50 percent, while Proflowers is able to handle more sales without increasing its customer support staff.
"We are definitely working smarter and . . . providing better service to our customers," Songe says. "Gomez.com [a company that measures e-commerce customer experience] has rated our Web site No. 1 for the fourth time in a row."
Since Dollar rolled out Astute's Power Center, many transactions are paperless, and undeliverable mail is reduced thanks to the software's address verification feature. The company has also established a connection with its Hawaii satellite center that makes it "as if we are operating in the same office," Songe says. She expects that awards and improvements like these will lead to the best return of all: greater customer retention and loyalty.
Staff Leasing projected just over a year for a return on its investment, but Harris was pleased to find that the company had achieved its goal ahead of schedule. Average talk time has been reduced, because when a customer calls in, "all the information is right there, and the flow is right, so we no longer have to bounce a customer from one person to another or do things multiple times," Harris says. "It's one-stop customer service."
Your company's pursuit of better customer service doesn't stop when your new CRM system is in place. Songe points out that one of the most important lessons she learned from Dollar's CRM experience was that you need to "solicit more resources and funding to dedicate to 'after' implementation." She adds, "Technology is changing so rapidly that once installed is not the time to sit back and enjoy. You have to keep updating and tweaking the system. In today's competitive market, you can't afford to get comfortableespecially in the area of technology." Words for any 21st-century company to live by.
Kristina Blachere is a San Francisco based freelance writer.