One of the smartest things call center and IT executives can do when considering a Customer Relationship Management software product is ask to speak with customer references—and preferably comparable customers in the call center market. Contact center CRM references are one of the best ways to gauge how effective the CRM technology is at improving contact or call center results and also a good way to pick up some best practices and lessons learned for your CRM implementation.
In fact, vetting the right information with call center customer references is one of the most important steps in the software selection evaluation process, because it provides a look into how an actual implementation has worked and how the software vendor has responded to challenges or problems. It also offers the ultimate litmus test by asking the call center reference if they would make the same decision again - and why.
Once you've identified a few customers to query, be prepared to ask the questions that will provide the most relevant information to help you make an informed decision regarding a CRM software investment. Here are some key questions to consider when interviewing customer references.
Contact Center CRM Reference Questions
How well did the CRM project go in terms of meeting time frame, budget and measurable objectives? Few customer relationship management implementations meet these criteria, however, there's a world of difference between being 10% over budget or being 150% over budget. Similarly, if the project had to be scaled back in order to prevent runaway time frame or budget, but resulted in foregoing many of the project objectives which originally justified the project acceptance, there may be deeper issues which you can learn from.
How well did the CRM implementation go in terms of integration with existing systems and legacy applications? CRM solutions are not standalone applications in the call center. To maximize call center agent productivity they need to be integrated with a host of other software technologies including the website, email, social networks, Voice over IP, computer-telephony integration (CTI), contact center avatars, interactive voice response (IVR), and other common call center tools. How smoothly this system integration process will go and how long it will take are key considerations, and key implementation risk areas, so be sure to ask a lot of questions about the product’s ability to deliver successful system integration and the vendor’s ability to help ensure future compatibility with existing applications.
What role did the vendor play in the implementation? Many organizations lack the in house expertise needed to deploy CRM systems on their own. The software vendor’s experience implementing CRM in call centers is vitally important, so be sure to ask customer references how well the vendor provided leadership and the needed advice and support to achieve implementation success according to a clear plan, in a predictable fashion, with minimal risk and without surprises. Ask how long it took to complete the entire implementation, and whether the vendor was readily available to proactively make real-time recommendations or course corrections.
How easy is the application to use? Find out if the CRM is as user-friendly as advertised, and what sort of staff training is needed to bring users up to speed. If the application or features are overly complex, call center employees will tend to avoid using them, which can render the implementation a waste of time and money. Ask how long it took the company to train the call center staff to use the CRM application, and whether ongoing training is required. Find out how training was done for virtual call center agents. As some staff are likely to resist the new system simply because of perceived change, ask if the customer created a change management program or how they responded to user adoption challenges.
Ask about the user adoption rate. A good measure of how well the CRM application fits into the contact center is how many workers are fully using the features and capabilities provided. If there’s a fairly low percentage of customer service representatives actively using CRM capabilities, or if call center agents only perform absolute minimal usage, chances are the product is not meeting the needs of the organization. Most call centers use only a small portion of CRM software applications, however, extend their utilization over time. Also, inquire what sort of feedback have managers received from end users about the CRM system – and how has that feedback evolved over time? At the end of the day, do the call center reps feel the application is helping them do their jobs better?
What types of analytical capabilities does the CRM package offer and how well does it enable improved decision making? Ask about how the call center has been able to leverage data derived from customer interactions. Are call center managers and knowledge workers able to leverage real time information to better serve customers and make better business decisions? Do supervisors or departmental managers have new visibility to dashboards or flash reports that permit timely resource reallocation or performance adjustments?
What tangible or measurable planned and unplanned benefits has the call center seen from its use of CRM? This is an obvious question for any company considering an implementation. But be sure to zero in on specific benefits that your company hopes to see with its own CRM implementation. For example, have agents improved first contact resolution? Or have call center operators increased up-selling and cross-selling of products as a result of the new business system? How long did it take to achieve ROI and how does ROI trend over time?
How flexible, extensible and scalable is the CRM application? Call centers are dynamic, and they need to be able to reconfigure or customize CRM solutions to meet their changing needs. CRM customer references that have used the business application software for an extended period are in the best position to provide this valuable information. The CRM application should also be able to easily support growth of the call center operations.
Customer references also need to be vetted in order to determine if there is a bias, motivation or allegiance with the CRM software supplier. Some client references are compensated in terms of reduced software maintenance fees, free consulting or VIP treatment at the annual user conference. These references normally have nothing negative to say about their supplier and their agenda can be detected over the course of the call. All customer management software implementations include challenges – and no CRM vendor is perfect. If issues, challenges and lessons learned fail to surface, even after inquisitive prompting, consider the reference of little value and ask for another.