What’s the Best Way to Outsource CRM? | Article

Fitting Human Interaction into the CRM Puzzle

woman on phone at computer

When a company outsources its customer relationship management (CRM), how do its executives know their customers will receive the best service their company has to offer, if its own employees aren’t actually offering the service?

Automation is one way to ensure that your clients are getting the best service you can give them in the least amount of time. Companies such as McAfee Corporation, a Sunnyvale, California security application service provider (ASP) have put everything from self-service FAQs (frequently asked questions) to automated chat agents that are programmed to intelligently answer some of the most asked questions about the company into place.

Automated tools available run the gamut from email systems that respond to simple questions within minutes to “click-to-chat” programs that will not only connect a customer to a representative, but will also allow them to share Web pages.

“Providing a self-service environment is a good thing to do,” says Zoltan Poleretsky, senior manager for San Jose, California based global network solutions provider, Cisco Systems, Inc.’s Customer Contact Business unit. However, he notes, “Some portion of customer need to speak to a live agent.”

For an outsourcing company, that means not only being able to provide the automated service, but also being able to provide the human interaction in the right quantity at the right time. Cerida Corporation, an advanced customer contact center headquartered in Andover, Massachusetts, found that when it added a “click-to-chat” feature to its self-help arsenal, client companies began to see conversion rates as high as 55 percent. “The nature of outsourcing doesn’t mean losing control,” says Bob Baker, vice president of Alliances at Cerida. “The metrics clearly show that human beings want to deal with human beings.”

“We, as consumers, are willing to use a mix that includes increasing amounts of self-service,” says Lawrence Byrd, CRM evangelist for Basking Ridge, New Jersey based communications systems and software provider, Avaya, Inc. “And if you do automation and interaction right, customers will be happier.”

Determining the Right Mix

Providing the right quantity of interaction is different for each company. If your company has an informational product, the majority of your customers may be satisfied looking up their own answers. But an e-commerce company may have an abundance of customers who need to touch a human being before making the decision to purchase.

“The customers help you decide what mix of automation and human interaction works,” says Steve Grossman, senior vice president in Global Business Processes for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). PwC, a global outsourcing provider based in New York, New York, tries to drive its customers to automated and self-help technologies. But the company makes human interaction easily available for the clients who want it.

Companies can also base the division of automation and human interaction according to the difficulty of the questions that need to be answered during the customer interaction. For example, if a customer needs detailed technical advice about a piece of equipment, it’s not likely they will be willing to use a self-service method of finding the answers.

One of the best ways to ensure that the human interaction your outsourcing supplier is providing projects the proper image of your company is to ensure its agents are trained well.

Dave Wilkins, director of tools and technologies for Knowledge Impact, a Wayland, Massachusetts based provider of e-learning and performance support applications, says having the right training approach will make or break an outsourced customer service representative. He suggests that companies look for suppliers with representatives that know how to answer questions and who can adopt the specific flavor of the company.

“The human side of the equation is a big piece,” he says, adding that companies willing to invest in training add value to that piece.

With the correct mix of automation and human interaction, any company can reduce costs and increase revenues. It’s all a matter of coming at it from the right angle.

Lessons from the Outsourcing Primer:

  • Automating the right CRM functions can help companies reduce costs.
  • Empowering customers to decide between self-help automation and live interaction can increase conversion rates to as much as 55 percent.
  • The correct formula for determining the right amounts of interaction and automation depends on company offerings and business processes.
  • Thorough, relevant training of outsourced agents is essential to maintaining the flavor of the company.


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