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Denise Holland CRM Software Selection Insight & Advice for Call Centers

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 By Denise Holland

Call centers stand to gain a lot from effective use of a Customer Relationship Management software system. But what are the key factors in determining which vendor and product makes the most sense in a call center environment? Price and product feature set are obvious selection criteria. But the software selection decision-making process should go well beyond that if companies are to ensure that a CRM package can deliver what their call center needs.

In terms of selecting a vendor, it’s important to look for a technology provider that has extensive experience serving the call center market. Why? Because those vendors will not only provide the technology features that call centers typically need, but will have the expertise to help integrate CRM applications with the many other components such as the communications tools calls centers routinely use.

When evaluating vendors, contact centers should also ask for customer references in the call center market and look into how the vendors have helped those customers improve their call center operations, boost revenues, reduce costs and directly contribute to their clients most strategic objectives. A key topic that is often brushed over far to lightly is vendor training. Ask what sort of training and support programs does the vendor have in place that are particularly geared to the call center environment. Experienced call center providers will offer highly specialized agent classroom training as well as web-tutorials and computer based training for a more individually paced learning environment.

An important consideration when looking at customer management systems is knowing the types of system integration capabilities offered by the CRM solution. Call centers today use a variety of multi-channel communication methods including email, instant messaging, online portals, community forums, social networking and IP telephony, and they need to link CRM solutions with other technology components such as Voice over IP, computer-telephony integration (CTI), interactive voice response (IVR), automated call distribution and other telephony technologies. In order to give call center representatives visibility to inventory availability, customer sales history, product warranties or permit agents to process sale orders, credit memos or return merchandise authorizations, CRM systems should also be integrated with financial software or back office Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. Implementation time will be accelerated and costs decreased if your CRM system provides out of the box integration, an Application Programming Interface (API) or well documented web services for the various system integration requirements needed in your contact center. Also, software as a service CRM systems previously lagged behind on premise applications when it came to system integration capabilities. However, today's hosted customer management systems provide facilitated integration to call center tools and ERP systems and have closed the gap.

Verify any CRM application being reviewed supports mission critical features such as multi-channel contact management, call scripting, self service portals, online dynamic request or incident creation, automated request, incident routing, automated incident escalation, knowledge-base repositories and computer telephony integration. CRM systems designed for the call center market will include these feature sets, however, more generic customer management systems may lack several of the basics.

Another major factor in the software selection process is how long it takes to deploy the solution. Call centers are in a competitive market, and the speed with which CRM applications can be implemented is important. Not only do longer implementations cost more money, they also increase implementation risk and disrupt the normal business operations. Quality of customer service is a competitive differentiator, and there’s pressure on call centers to deliver the benefits of CRM quickly.

Ease of use is a major CRM software selection decision making criteria at many organizations, particularly those with high agent turnover and tight budgets for training and support. The solution must be easy for call center representatives to learn and use, otherwise productivity will suffer, user adoption will become challenged and implementation failure becomes a significant risk. Even when minimal use is achieved, customer service agents will avoid advanced features if they’re too complex or require lots of additional training time, thereby lowering ROI on your software investment.

Another consideration is what types of customer analytical capabilities are offered by the CRM system. Too many call centers suffer from poor access to information and very limited information reporting. Analytics capabilities should be such that call centers can easily and effectively leverage data derived from agent and customer interactions. Providing real-time operational metrics, digital dashboards, flash reports and trend reporting allow call center managers to implement course corrections more quickly and align call center performance with the company's strategic business objectives.

Software customization is often a salient decision factor. While some argue that the contact center should adjust its business processes to accommodate the business software system, most would suggest this is putting the cart before the horse. While business process improvements should always be considered, enterprise software that is to rigid, and cannot be easily customized, will under deliver for the users. Flexible CRM software solutions enable call centers to customize the business system to fit their needs. And in this fast-changing business environment, call centers need to be able to support fluctuating demand and to cater applications to the changing needs of customers.

Finally, call centers need to determine whether it makes sense to acquire customer relationship management systems via a software-as-a-service hosted offering or through a traditional licensed product. This decision can have a huge impact on the total costs of ownership of the technology, maintenance and support. SaaS offers a lower capital expenditure, faster implementation, on-demand scalability and outsourced system administration, however, may or may not be less expensive over the life of the application. You'll need to do your own five year total cost of ownership projection to understand the financial implications.

Deciding on which vendor and CRM product to go with is something call centers can’t take lightly. This is a strategic decision that cannot be easily changed or undone. Choosing the wrong solution will certainly result in wasted time and money as well as missed opportunity. Selecting the right enterprise software can be the impetus in advancing customer relationships and achieving significant financial and operational gains for the organization. End

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Verify any CRM application being reviewed supports mission critical call center features such as multi-channel contact management, call scripting, self service portals, online dynamic request or incident creation, automated response, incident routing, automated incident escalation, knowledge-base repositories, computer telephony integration and social media integration. CRM systems designed for the call center market will include these feature sets, however, more generic customer management systems may lack several of the basics.


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