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An Executive's Guide To Understanding Customer Support Systems

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For most organizations, CRM is about growing customer relationships and there is no better tool for such a purpose than a quality CRM customer support system. In fact, as reported in the CRM Buyers Guide, CRM was initially designed with the express intent of increasing customer satisfaction and customer support modules were often the initial software automation tools to achieve the strategy. Customer support systems objectives normally include improved customer service, higher client retention, increased customer share (more revenue per client) and higher labor productivity of customer service representatives. While the abilities and dynamics of CRM software systems have grown, the heart and soul of the CRM purpose remains focused on servicing the customer.

Customer Support Systems can as easily be called Customer Service Representative Support Systems in that they are designed to leverage the CSR’s time and abilities. An initial element and building block of a Customer Support System (CSS) is communication. Contact points and communication channels have grown from face-to-face, phone and mail to include email, fax and the Internet creating new dynamics in customer communication systems and needs. Unmanaged or without corresponding information systems, an increase in communication channels can stress customer service representatives and their response systems.

A CSS operates with two basic client interfaces; the CSR for human intervention and software user interface for customer self service support. Some CRM software solutions offer call center management features where the customer follows a menu-driven pre-recorded messaging format to select a desired result (for example, send me my most recent statement or account history). Companies that utilize these features are often trying to cut down human resource costs. However, if the effort is short changed or viewed only from the labor perspective, removing the human element will certainly come expense of client service relationships and move the customer relationship in the wrong direction. It is no surprise that the common users of these types of tools are quasi-monopolies like regional electricity providers or telecommunications companies.

When a CSR is involved and empowered by a quality customer support system, they have at their fingertips a series of drop-down menu driven lists they can select from while talking with a customer and exchanging information. This on-demand customer history, along with entry of notes and recording of activities as part of the conversation, maintains a central 360 degree view of the customer relationship so that any member of the organization can respond to a customer and speak with an informed and consistent voice of the company. For instance if the caller is an existing client of an air conditioning company and needs a service call, the CSR brings up the client’s account information and initiates the service call process. Before the caller hangs up, a notice is sent to the appropriate service technician and his or her supervisor. The notice includes what the client needs, if any permits are needed, and notices may be sent to the permitting department to start that approval process as well. The technician’s response, or lack thereof is noted in the system and given to the supervisor as an individual contact record or report. It also goes into a database that tracks average time to response, service calls per area, per technician, dollar value, cost of call or other designated key performance indicators.

Customer support systems user interfaces work in substantially the same manner as with a human CSR, but with the customer entering data and requests through a series of drop down menus or interactive screen mechanisms. With an electronic interface however, many customers will become frustrated if they do not see the selection they want quickly. This is why many CRM enabled websites allow for a CSR to communicate directly to the customer via an internal instant messaging or chat feature.

The focus of most customer support systems is efficient data capture, resource assignment and timely resolution. The data is used to both service the client need and then give management the ability to measure various customer response metrics. Metrics can be related to CSR's, incident types, categories, territories on inventory specific in order to facilitate more detailed response by a supervisor and later analyzed according to root cause analysis and other relationship factors. For instance the amount of customers serviced per day is a metric often used to gauge the value of each CSR, along with one for positive feedback and action/response closes per day. Metrics are also used to identify product issues such as percentage of service calls per product, complaints per product and or average time to solution. Products with abnormally high incident volumes can be flagged for reengineering in order to remedy underlying issues at their source.

A customer support system can also offer automated responses and client interaction features. Examples of such tools are auto-reply acknowledgments, thank you notes, company product announcements, the forwarding of a case to another department or supervisor, and even automated birthday card or e-card distributions. A common and highly valued auto-response handled by most support systems is a satisfaction survey which automatically follows the closing of a case or incident. This can either be sent via regular or electronic mail. This not only allows the customer to tell the company if they are satisfied or not, but also provides another means by which to let the customer know that they are valued and to gather customer specific data which ultimately enhances the customer relationship.

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