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An Executive's Guide to CRM Software

An Executive's Guide to Understanding Customer Support Systems


The terms Customer Service and Customer Support are interchangeable in today’s CRM software market. However, in the past when looking at these call center CRM software solutions, it was important to distinguish between the two. Principally because as little as ten years ago, customer support referred to software support (e.g. a help desk function), while customer service meant service management or deploying technicians to physically service either products or systems (e.g. field service support).

Today's global CRM software marketplace has revolutionized and blurred the definition of the two terms, service and support. Because of the interactive and virtual nature of the Internet, online chat, terminal services, Citrix thin client services, remote services and the ongoing transfer of support to other countries, nearly all support issues can be addressed online or remotely. Every consumer in need of a resolution experiences the breath of this sweeping change. Think of a placing a call to a vendor for support. What country comes to mind? India? The Philippines? North America ever come to mind?

It is still critical to understand the nature of the two terms, support and service, and evaluate whether the entity will need features from both types of software programs.

A national retail chain with actual physical outlets and an Internet site services customers from two separate distribution channels. Take Omaha Steaks, for example. The company has actual physical locations nationally. Any support database must incorporate clients for all sites as well as those from other sources, specifically the Internet. While Omaha will not deploy technicians, their system must be able to handle customer complaints, including billing disputes and returns management. Communication channels for service are not limited. A customer can interface with the company using one, a combination, or all channels imaginable such as telephone, email, fax, web site and an actual retail location. The entire client history must be available to the support department irrespective of channel if it is to provide outstanding service. This means real-time synchronization of data is essential.

On the other hand, a business such as Hewlett Packard has more complex customer service requirements. Since the company deals with software issues, complex hardware products, and utilizes remote call centers, the software solution must be capable of managing the corresponding complexity associated with these variables. Software issues and remote locations point to a need for a knowledge base, the ability to use chat or other similar software, and a need to track issue resolutions. A returns management system is necessary to process product or delivery related problems. In addition, most call centers must utilize certain features of telemarketing systems, such as call scripts to handle incident diagnosis or promote cross-selling and up-selling opportunities.

Customer Service software solutions on the market today vary widely in their areas of concentration. Any executive beginning the search for such a solution must know how wide or narrow a range of modules the business requires. Here, the term module confirms to the specific business process, and vendors generally sell modules as part of an itemized software suite. For example, a software support company’s offering can consist of a Returns Management module, a more formal Returns Merchandise Authorization (RMA) module, a Dispatch module, a Routing module, or a Scheduling module. Smaller vendors may not offer these separately, but bundle them under one umbrella. A general rule of thumb is, if a separate module exists, it is usually more full-featured and expansive than a single bundled solution. Before beginning the process to select a service or support system, the company is advised to understand what is necessary for each area and be able to translate primary needs into vendor software suites.

For instance, The Golf Channel has no need for a returns module, but since both their vendors and their clients are revenue sources, must be able to ensure a high level of satisfaction from both types of accounts. A corporation such as this has complex sales and service requirements. Since the business broadcasts in multiple mediums and vendors utilize their client database to actively sell products seen the following weekend in a tournament, they need to track incoming calls or emails, automatically respond to them, and follow up using whatever communication method the client requests. These requirements point to voice recognition software, telephony, and of course, a complete client history. Very different to Hewlett Packard’s pre-requisites.

Other businesses may not cross into all of these areas, but focus on only one. Home Depot, for example, subcontracts all flooring installation to smaller companies regionally. Such a company is responsible for one aspect of a customer interaction, deploying the technician to install the flooring. No returns management, minimum call management, but complex field service management. Similar requirements occur for specialized software consulting companies.

In all cases, the ability to manage the process of the resolution is critical. In other words, an email request for assistance must result in an immediate and automatic reply and a login to the corresponding service technician. Or a complaint to Omaha Steaks must alert a Customer Service Representative (CSR) of the issue, and prompt an appropriate response.

Of course, any customer service system must be capable of monitoring and measuring the quality, duration and satisfaction of the issue. An adjunct to this is the ability to automatically escalate an issue if it is not resolved in a pre-determined period of time, or if the client demands it.

In addition to providing knowledge bases, some entities also provide Internet content as a further incentive for self service and client satisfaction. This type of business requires complex search features and may necessitate narrowing the number of vendors on the short list. Specific industries also have corresponding pre-requisites. Kmart, for example, will only generate orders and or service requests to its vendors electronically in a specific format and a defined process. Before any other software selection criteria can be defined, this single requirement for Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) will eliminate a whole range of service solutions, if the business has Kmart as a customer.


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