ASP Makes CRM Affordable For Mid-Sized Firms | Article

call centerPan American Life Insurance is a moderately sized firm. But its future growth depended on creating a customer service division on a par with its larger and better funded competition. The insurer realized it needed to upgrade its existing 20-seat call center and make it more technology based. “We wished to create a contact center that would allow us to do many of the same things that larger contact centers are developing,” said Charles Jorge, second vice president, CRM/corporate sales training and research.

The problem is a common one. Four out of five call centers have less than 50 people, according to Vincent Deschamps, director of marketing for White Pajama, an ASP-based CRM provider.

The executive team researched several vendors that provide stand-alone equipment and software integration. Unfortunately, they discovered this solution wasn’t designed for smaller call centers and was far too expensive. The other option required outsourcing the entire call center, including the CRM reps. Neither option appealed to him, so Jorge continued to search for a company that could meet the needs of his modestly sized department at an affordable price.

Then he investigated a third option: outsourcing to a company that would overlay a Web-based ASP server onto its existing CRM representation structure, in essence integrating the two.

Checking Out ASP Stability

However, the insurance company was concerned about stability in the ASP world. “If they disappear, you’re in worse shape than when you started,” said Jorge. Before choosing an ASP supplier, Jorge investigated the capabilities as well as the general health of the ASPs on his short list.

This process led Pan American to Hayward, California-based White Pajama, which offers Web-based CRM technology for call centers. Its ASP service overlays Web-based platforms onto existing client systems so call center employees can profile their customers’ expectations and needs through e-mail or Web chat.

Integration often involves taking the buyer’s legacy Interactive Voice Response (IVR) method, which uses touch-tone phone buttons to go through a menu of choices, and meshing it with the new ASP technology.

When selecting a supplier, dig down and ask for integration details, suggests the insurance executive. “Everyone says they can integrate. But when you get down to it, things might not work the way they should and that costs money,” says Jorge.

Pan American decided to proceed cautiously. It took 12 months to perform an overlay of White Pajama’s process in carefully planned stages. So far, this gradual implementation “appears to be working uneventfully,” Jorge reports.

The Big Decision: Replace or Integrate Old With New

Pan American chose to integrate its ASP application into its existing procedures. White Pajama’s customers typically use their ASP solution in two ways, says White Pajama’s Deschamps. They either totally replace their incumbent systems or they integrate like the insurance company.

Integrating an ASP CRM model with legacy client procedures is primarily a question of economics. Typically, most of the issues that affect that decision are desired speed of service, the value and depreciation of the system asset already in place, and its existing worth compared to the desired results. Companies building a contact center from scratch with little more than IVR in place have fewer issues to deal with since the company is essentially building a technology-based system from the ground up.

One of White Pajama’s developmental partners is New York-based Globalstride, a turnkey call center service supplier that operates primarily in the Asian markets. Globalstride uses White Pajama’s solution as part of its full service CRM offering. Paul Gaspar, Globalstride’s vice president of business development, says small and mid-sized call centers that have been utilizing basic methods like telephone and IVR are the buyers who experience the most success with ASP overlays. The software “streamlines the customer care process, expands communication channels and moves them off a very antiquated formula of managing customer contact,” he said.

Gaspar appreciates the ASP formula for a variety of reasons. First, White Pajama is responsible for hosting, allowing Globalstride to worry less about IT setup and integration. Secondly, the interface itself facilitates easier training of actual customer service representatives, which leads to the third reason.

“It permits us to focus on providing quality agents and service and less on the integration and IT aspects,” said Gaspar. “It saves us a lot of time and allows us to enhance our value to our clients.” In short, it offers speed to market, which is key.

Meeting Needs, Creating Markets

“At the end of the day,” continued White Pajama’s Deschamps, “it’s what the customer wants that matters.” However, customers must be clear and specific about their needs. “Either we get in line and provide it, or we’re looking at a former customer,” he says. Clear communication of its expectations by the customer and a focus on the solution by the supplier are the vital elements of a successful relationship, in Deschamps’ opinion.

Pan American’s Jorge admits that outsourcing aspects of its CRM has been a learning experience. “We’re generally not an outsourcing customer. We’ve kept things in-house. So it’s something of a culture shock for us to consider sending our CRM contacts to another carrier to then be re-routed back to our building. The open relationship we’ve had with White Pajama as our outsourcing supplier certainly helps in getting past that engagement process.”

Lessons From the Outsourcing Primer:

Deschamps has eight tips for small companies buying CRM services from an ASP:

  • Seek out CRM suppliers who will allow you to sample their service for a few months to prove it works before signing a contract for several years.
  • Understand your needs for the each of the media types (phone, Web, e-mail, chat) you will use to serve customers.
  • Understand your method of data storage.
  • Have clear profiles of your customer needs and how you wish to fulfill them, be they CRM, technical support or help desk. The dynamics are very different between the three.
  • Hire a qualified consultant to help identify your needs if you are uncertain. It will be money very well spent.
  • Do your due diligence when any solution calls for customization in overlaying the supplier’s processes with yours (platform compatibility).
  • Find a CRM vendor you can trust.
  • Select a supplier who will see the relationship as a mutual investment in your success.

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