CRM Thought Leader Esteban Kolsky In His Own Words

Esteban Kolsky

Contact Center CRM—How Cloud and Social Transition Contact Center Strategy & Delivery

Esteban Kolsky, veteran CRM analyst and CEO of ThinkJar, discusses what makes CRM for contact centers different than CRM for other lines of business — and advises how new thinking and new technologies such as the cloud and social are influencing contact center strategy. This is a helpful discussion for aligning strategy, process and technology in the contact center.

"Social brings a lot more data, but from the perspective of the company, about 98-99% of all (customer social) data is inconsequential […] so put your filter strategy in place so you can separate the noise from the signal."

— Esteban Kolsky

Key take away points in the discussion with Thought Leader Esteban Kolsky:

  • Many call center or contact center managers suggest CRM software is different for customer support delivery versus other departments such as Sales and Marketing. Functional software differences aside, Esteban notes a two-fold approach to such differences. First, CRM software tends to be broken out by line of business—whether sales, marketing or service—with unique data capture, feature sets, process automation and reporting to cater to the varying objectives of each line of business. As each business unit has different objectives and different purposes, so to is CRM software different in accommodating those requirements. Second, it's important to recognize that the number of concurrent users in the CRM system (agents or Customer Service Representatives) and customer-related transaction volumes tend to be much larger for contact centers as compared to sales and marketing. This can bring unique needs in terms of data management, scalability, reporting and analytics for contact centers that may or may not be as relevant with sales and marketing.
  • Esteban notes then when contact centers are viewed as cost centers, efficiency becomes the all important objective for CRM automation. However, when metrics such as time per call become top performance measurement criteria, agents are encouraged to sacrifice call quality and completeness of customer resolution with average call duration. Not only does this reduce customer satisfaction, but in the end achieves a false sense of efficiency as the customer is merely forced to make another call or seek out another channel to get their issue resolved, thereby consuming more of their time and increasing costs to the contact center.
  • More forward thinking contact center leaders compliment efficiency objectives with effectiveness metrics. Contact centers expand from just being customer service outlets to being more cross-functional. They may integrate with marketing for promotion purposes or voice of the customer programs, integrate with sales for up-sells or renewals, integrate with R&D for ideation and social outreach, or simply use more proactive techniques such as social listening (aka cloud monitoring) to identify issues and opportunities before a customer initiates communication with the contact center.
  • Esteban identifies the top 3 challenges associated with CRM software implementation in the contact center. First is to become agnostic among customer support channels. Contact centers cannot favor or perform better on some channels than others—and must strive to deliver equally adept service across customer channels such as the telephone, chat, SMS text messaging, email, website self service, FAQs, customer self help portals or social media channels. Similarly, to become channel agnostic, each channel should strive to provide the same array of customer services. For example, if your contact center can issue RMA's (Return Merchandise Authorizations), so to should your customer self service portal.
  • Second, contact centers must integrate all customer data repositories so that agents have all available information when interacting with customers and so that customer directed changes or updates propagate through systems in near real-time. When contact center CRM systems are not integrated with other customer data repositories, transaction cycles become significantly longer, data sharing among customer facing staff is compromised and analysis of all customer data becomes problematic due to delayed aggregation and timing differences.
  • Third, contact center CRM processes and data must be extended throughout the enterprise. For example, contact center activities or transactions may need to integrate workflow processes with back-office accounting or ERP systems, warranty management systems, business intelligence applications or other legacy systems. This will extend business process automation from a line of business to enterprise-wide.
  • In the CRM software market, Gartner research revealed that cloud SFA software far outpaces cloud contact center CRM software. While Esteban suggests that cloud contact center software solutions will eventually follow suit, he notes that SFA has long been the cloud pioneer in part because it's a simpler application, and for many organizations, SFA was a missing, over-complicated or broken process that lacked a suitable (simple and easy to use) application and needed new or first time automation.
  • From an adoption standpoint, while North American companies may have been the early adopters and received the early cloud CRM contact center benefits, Esteban believes that other global regions may outpace North America in future adoption. Reasons for this include a higher proportion of SMBs in other regions, more niche focused cloud CRM systems, less costly SaaS contact center solutions, accelerated deployments and much simpler systems. Esteban notes that the bulk of Latin America CRM contact center implementations now occurring are cloud-based.
  • While Esteban believes cloud CRM in contact centers will become the norm, he also suggests many enterprise-level contact centers are not yet ready for the cloud—for 3 reasons. First, scalability (including high availability, load balancing, continuous peak performance, etc.) has not been proven on a routine basis. Second, there's still more education to be delivered regarding information security, extensibility, scalability and IT management in the cloud. Third, the volume of system integration among enterprise companies is extremely significant. Many times these organizations are still using legacy systems such as mainframes, AS/400s and even discontinued systems which imposes additional integration challenges.
  • Social media is high on the CIO and contact center leader's agenda. Esteban notes contact centers should start with three basic assumptions when considering social media adoption. First, social is about multiple channels where each channel has its own norms and protocols. Second, social is really about getting to know the customer better in order to build a better customer relationship. Social channels deliver more and different data points that help suppliers better understand and respond to customer preferences. However, deciphering the signal to noise among social channels is very difficult. The bulk of customer social information is not relevant to the supplier, so filtering and acquiring that data which is relevant becomes the challenge. Third, social changes customer expectations to accommodate their requests in near real-time—and as customers are making their preferences known to their suppliers, they fully expect those suppliers to respond to their preferences. This also represents a new opportunity for suppliers to leverage social channels in order to become proactive.
  • Looking forward, Esteban predicts that contact centers will become more cross-channel and cross-functional (and less departmental), leverage more cloud deployments and continue their transition from cost centers to strategic partner with business units throughout the enterprise. Further, customers will continue their own collaboration and support with one another.

The next podcast discussion is with IDC analyst Michael Fauscette.