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Technology, and especially the technology enabled by the Internet, has had enormous repercussions for CRM (customer relationship management). In many cases, technology has helped streamline many CRM processes as well as cut the costs of CRM initiatives.
It is amazing how much technology has changed the ways we communicate with each other. In the same way, it has changed the way that organizations and companies can communicate with us.
Perhaps one of the first customer service developments to come from the Internet is customer service over e-mail. It is standard for Web sites to have contact addresses as well as telephone numbers, adding an additional channel for customer contacts. E-mails can also be automated to keep customers informed of progress of a transaction, whether it is shipping goods bought online or the progress of an insurance claim. Each action within an organization can trigger an automatic e-mail, serving to ensure customers feel informed at every step.
Similarly to automated e-mails, the mobile phone is also being used to keep customers informed of the progress of transactions. Short message service (SMS) messages can be automated in the same way that e-mails are, again ensuring customer peace of mind.
Technology such as VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) means that voice calls can be routed cheaply over the Internet. Thousands of people keep in touch around the globe with services such as Skype (http://www.skype.com), and this has impacted call centers as well.
Using similar technology, phone calls can be routed to call centers in any location around the globe. Many companies in developed nations have located their customer call centers in developing nations, where staff and other overhead costs are far lower. The Internet means that these calls can be routed for a lower cost than in-country calls, with minimal loss of call quality. That means that a UK customer calling Lastminute.com to book a flight, for example, could in fact be speaking to someone in India.
The staff in these call centers undergo extensive training on the culture of the people they will be speaking to, as well as on the ethos of the company they represent. Even though a customer is speaking to someone on another continent, it is imperative for the business that the experience matches its brand as closely as possible.
Instant messenger (IM) allows fast, instant text-based chat. Services such as Windows Live Messenger, Gtalk, and Jabber keep people around the world (and in the same room) connected. IM can also be an effective customer service channel.
Figure 17.2 Example of an IM Pop-Up on the Rackspace Web Site
When potential customers are on a Web site, they may have very quick questions or concerns that they need to have addressed before proceeding with an order. Sending an e-mail with these questions can mean a lengthy period before these questions are answered, and they may be loath to pick up a phone to have the queries answered. In instances such as these, an IM service can easily, quickly, and inexpensively solve these queries.
There are two main ways that IM is integrated onto Web sites. The first is customer initiated, and the second is initiated by a script on the Web page being viewed.
Customer-initiated IM involves indicating clearly to a customer that the IM channel is available, while giving clear instructions on how to use it. Many free chat clients may be easily integrated in this way, such as Skype and Meebo (http://www.meebo.com).
A script can also be used to initiate a chat with a potential customer. When a Web visitor has been on a Web page for a fixed period of time without performing any action (such as clicking on a link), a window can appear in the browser asking if he would like to chat with someone about the products offered. The Web visitor can then either close the window and continue on his own or choose to chat. If the latter is chosen, a customer service representative will then commence to chat to the consumer.
This can be extremely effective for complicated or expensive purchases. At the point of decision making, the organization can provide personal support and reassurance.
CRM software can be used to automate lead and sales processes and to collect customer information in a centralized place.
Organizations are large, and a customer may speak to any member of an organization, depending on the nature of the communication. It would be extremely frustrating for the customer to have to explain all previous dealings with the organization with each communication, and it can be extremely frustrating for an organization not to know who has spoken previously with a customer and what was dealt with.
Fortunately, there are many technology options that help record all this information in one place, whether it be related to potential, current, or past customers.
As well as enabling recording of data, most of these services can also schedule elements of the sales process and set reminders where appropriate for follow-up action.
One of the most powerful features of interactions and transactions over the Internet is that everything is tracked and recorded in server logs, providing a wealth of data that can be analyzed to make business decisions.
Importantly for CRM, this means that the acquisition source of customers may be recorded and analyzed against sales data for customers from the source. This leads to a very accurate ROI (return on investment) calculation and indicates where CRM and marketing efforts should be focused.
The key to effective use of technology in CRM is integration. Ensure that all channels can be tracked and that that information is usable to all parties within an organization. Knowing where your customers come from but not what they purchase is pointless: these two metrics need to be compared in order to produce actionable insights.
Vendor relationship management (VRM)The emerging school of thought that incorporates the tools, technology, and services that make it easy for customers to manage relationships with vendors. is the reciprocal of CRM. VRM in this context describes an emerging, progressive school of thought, technology, tools, and services that help customers to manage relationships with vendors. VRM tools and services are still very much in their infancy, as is the concept of VRM.
If you are interested in reading further about VRM, the article “VRM in a Nutshell” is a great place to start: http://www.vrmlabs.net/vrm-in-a-nutshell.
VRM seeks to address the imbalance of power when it comes to customer and vendor relationships. Traditionally, vendors collect and hold information about a customer and use it to get the most out of their relationship with the customer. For many vendors, “get the most out of the customer relationship” translates to making the most revenue for the lowest cost from a particular customer or group of customers. VRM notes that customers can be far better custodians of data that are very useful to vendors. For example, Amazon.com collects data about a customer’s purchasing and browsing history and makes recommendations based on that history. However, the customer possesses information that Amazon.com doesn’t: for example, the customer knows which books were purchased as gifts and therefore are not indicative of personal preferences.
The goal of VRM, however, is not to make sure that vendors have access to this information; instead, it is to give customers the power over the information that is shared with vendors. Traditional CRM locks that data into a single relationship, while VRM seeks to give the customer the power to share pertinent data with vendors as he sees fit. These relationships can be controlled by the customer as opposed to being controlled by the vendor.
VRM is a dynamic way of looking at customer-vendor relationships. Although the terms and tools may be new, the principles and the frustration with current practices are not.
For more information on VRM, visit the Project VRM wiki at the following Web page http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/projectvrm/Main_Page, read the blog for the project at http:// blogs.law.harvard.edu/vrm, or visit VRM Hub at http://www.vrmhub.net, or VRM Labs at http://www.vrmlabs.net.