Feature: CRM breaks out

CRM is reborn with new channels, superior services - and lower costs

The days of the monolithic, high-risk CRM implementation seem long gone, but in fact such projects were the rage until just a few years ago. You still see them from time to time, as in Telecom’s Siebel project that aims to transform the business by linking all manner of legacy systems and databases to provide the elusive “single customer view”.

However, most local organisations do not have to deal with that level of CRM complexity. For them, a range of low-risk, quick implementation options are now available. Yet even better, new CRM functionality is promising a different kind of transformation.

CRM is branching out to use new channels for customer interaction. Text messages, instant messaging, chat and Skype-like voice services are coming into play, along with social networking and real-time data analysis and alerts.

There is also a revolution under way in how organisations acquire CRM systems, with many now opting for pay-for-use systems delivered online as software as a service (SaaS). Companies such as Salesforce.com, NetSuite and RightNow are all actively delivering such SaaS CRM systems to local users.

Steve Roughan, Datamail’s New Zealand manager for RightNow, says its approach is quite different from many other CRM vendors, as the company came out of a customer service background rather than from sales. He says organisations are looking for systems that can help them look after customers and keep them coming back for more.

“Service is the new sales,” he says. “It’s about improving customer service and reducing the operating costs of the business.”

Key to this is managing multiple contact channels and ensuring service consistency, he says, delivering what customers want when they want it.

RightNow has many users in this country including telcos, universities such as Auckland, AUT and Victoria and its software is also utilised in the energy sector and by Sky TV and Air New Zealand among others.

Roughan says a cornerstone of service is a knowledge base, accessible to all those providing service across any channel and even directly by the customer online. Online customer self service is one big area of activity, he says, while chat is growing, with several local users now using the channel or trialling it, he says.

A chat session may cost more than a single email used in service, but it can eliminate multiple emails and therefore prove less expensive in the long run. He says live chat online allows users to cut abandonment rates. Another emerging use is “co-browsing”, where the customer allows an agent to take control of their PC to help work their way through online forms and similar complex areas of service.

TelstraClear recently implemented RightNow’s live chat service to assist with its online sales process, with positive results in additional sales.

In contrast with chat, social CRM is taking longer to gain traction locally, he says. There is a lot of interest, but not a lot of activity at present. One area where this can be effective, he says, is the combination of forums with the knowledge base.

“That can be quite powerful,” he says.

Voice self service is another area of focus, through interactive voice response.

The service focus can cut email and voice traffic to call centres and customer service personnel through allowing self service. It therefore can help reduce operating costs.

Australian company Pronto Software claims numerous users in New Zealand, including the likes of stationery manufacturer Croxley Stationery and Kathmandu clothing. Like many suppliers of modular software, Pronto also offers a hosted product to deliver its technology as a service.

Managing director David Jackman says CRM is about a lot more than managing leads.

He emphasises access to real-time data and analytics, potentially driving alerts, to deliver a superior customer experience.

Jackman says alerts, established by users rather than IT, can help make integrated data come alive and boost efficiency. He says an alert can be set up to call a prospect, for instance, if a given event occurs. An SMS can be sent to an account manager, for instance, if a purchase is made.

“Live alerts empower the user,” he says.

Pronto also emphasises its ability to build workflow controls around processes and alerts.

Pronto’s Alert Intelligence “turns data into action”, the company says. Bicycle retailer Goldcross, for instance, uses alerts to tell customers via SMS when their bicycle is repaired and ready for pick-up, thus improving customer service. Kathmandu uses Alert Intelligence to inform staff about stock outages.

NetSuite, which already claims local customers such as Mobile Mentor, delivers an integrated solution embracing CRM, ERP, e-commerce and accounting. NetSuite is looking to develop its distributor and partner network here and will announce a dedicated local product targeting the SME market shortly.

Marketing manager Daniel Wilmot says this widget-based software will allow easy implementation to enable users to see their costs up-front. The package targets organisations outgrowing the likes of MYOB, he says.

Mobile Mentor is using NetSuite’s top-end OneWorld system to deliver multicurrency functionality and to deliver integration across international operations.

The system comes with preconfigured reports and forecasts, and the ability to build custom reports.

Wilmot says one issue often cited as a barrier to the adoption of hosted services, trusting your business data with an external party, is an issue in some regulated businesses.

He says users have an emotional connection with their data, but in reality providers such as NetSuite are often in a better position to protect data than the companies that own the data.

NetSuite is also courting developers to use its NetSuite Business Operating Systems and develop industry vertical applications on its platform as a service platform.

Salesforce.com arguably created the SaaS market and has seen its US success replicated in New Zealand. Last year the company ran its first user conference here and now claims hundreds of users.

Fronde used to be the exclusive Salesforce.com partner, but several others now offer the technology here as well. James Valentine, prinicipal consultant with Fronde’s strategy services group, says Fronde’s focus is on the integration of CRM with the enterprise to ensure CRM is not a silo and organisations get value from the product.

“Our focus is on the more complex integration and the platform as a service (PaaS) side,” he says.

PaaS is used to create applications that can maximise return on investment in the system, he says. Some of these are industry vertical. In the financial industry some users are creating apps to bring partners into the system and to allow more direct interaction among customers.

More generally, integration with data warehouses and financial systems to enable dashboards is another common application to deliver business value.

Valentine says many of the newer CRM channels are “a bit niche”.

“It has to be solving a customer problem or delivering business value,” he says. SMS can do this for simple standard queries, such as account balances, he says. In such situations it can be “very powerful”.

While Fronde is also a Microsoft partner, Salesforce is the company’s core CRM offering, he says.

There is “absolutely” a move to SaaS for CRM going on, he says. Sometimes this is through guerilla rollouts, where the sales function bypasses internal IT to get functionality it feels it needs. But SaaS also suits the nature of sales, being available anytime from anywhere with software updates arriving as soon as they are rolled out by Salesforce.com.

For the business, it spreads and reduces capital costs, he says.

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