Why Customers Are Still Angry

CRM software revenues are expected to reach US$30 billion in the next several years, according to research firm Cahners In-Stat. Even so, CRM implementation projects are often cited for high failure rates. One point of failure that is hard to measure, even with the best monitoring software, is the unhappy customer who just goes away.

You may have been in this customer’s shoes: You are asked to provide the same account information to four different people — after you’ve just pressed every button on the phone to enter that information and hear it repeated back to you. Or, you suffer for 30 minutes on hold, then receive bad service or, even worse, get disconnected.

To avoid losing customers, CRM projects need to succeed in more dimensions than just company metrics. Forrester Research vice president Erin Kinikin told CRM Buyer that few areas of CRM can be solved with technology alone. Instead, CRM only succeeds when the right technology is combined with the right people, processes and metrics.

Steps to Success

Kinikin described three ways in which CRM technology can help companies establish closer ties with their customers:

  • 1. Meet basic expectations. Use smart call management, balance resources, and put the right agents in place to answer questions effectively. Monitor call response times, and offer self-service options.
  • 2. Give the right answer quickly. This approach is sometimes called “one and done” processing. Use knowledge bases to route each call to the agent best suited to handle it.
  • 3. Get past the common problem of rewarding agents who look good on call completion or call-time metrics, yet achieve those metrics by transferring difficult calls to other agents, actually creating a worse experience for the customer.

Pooling Data

One approach that could help companies gauge customer happiness involves pooling customer data to create a holistic view, rather than isolating it in silos of information, according to Colin Shearer, vice president of customer analytics at SPSS.

As Shearer explained in an interview with CRM Buyer: “Customer happiness is a stage on the way to being profitable. Satisfied customers are often the ones who come back and buy more. Rather than analyze previous loyalty using existing data assets, we suggest finding out which things increase feelings of loyalty.”

He noted that it is also essential to combine data from all customer touch points, including Web site and text data stemming from complaints or call-center conversations. All companies have these resources, he said, but most do not pool them to obtain a true picture of customer satisfaction.

Measure Complaints with Text Mining

In tracking complaint patterns, one prevalent technology that can capture all customer data is text mining.

“Most software can sift through well-behaved data that lives in databases,” Shearer explained, “but text mining allows all text to be analyzed automatically, bringing up emerging topics, pinpointing patterns of complaint or perhaps a product or service flaw that could be quickly fixed.”

According to SPSS, up to 80 percent of an organization’s customer information is contained in text within customer e-mail messages, call-center transcripts and other communications. Without that data, CRM software may not provide a complete view of the customer.

To understand the impact text mining can have on data integration, consider this: SPSS uses LexiQuest text mining within its Clementine data-mining workbench to filter key concepts from as much as 250,000 pages of data (1 GB) per hour, with 90 percent-plus accuracy. This data comes from common file types, including HTML, XML, PDF and Office documents.

We Are Not the Complaint Department

However, Greg Gianforte, CEO of on-demand CRM vendor RightNow Technologies, noted that it is important to remember, “The idea of customer service as a complaint department does not engender long-term and highly profitable business.

“In shifting from the contact center as a complaint department, the first mistake we see is an attempt to measure customer happiness with some kind of month-end or quarter-end survey,” Gianforte said in an interview with CRM Buyer. “When you find someone who is unhappy, they are no longer just unhappy — they are also bitter.”

According to Gianforte, because RightNow knows the importance of measuring whether or not customers believe it has kept its commitments, the company sends an e-mail survey to its customers after each phone or e-mail inquiry. The survey asks three questions: Were we prompt at getting back to you? Were you satisfied with the outcome? How knowledgeable was the individual you worked with?

With only three clicks required to complete the survey, RightNow receives a high response rate of 16 to 20 percent. More importantly, it manages those responses.

“Using work-flow rules, every survey gets routed to key management in the service organization,” Gianforte said. “Those that are ‘less than satisfied’ go to everyone, and the person gets a phone call within hours. We gain insight and do root cause analysis, both to solve the problem and learn how to prevent it from happening again. When we strike quickly, we can usually correct it.”

Recovering the Customer

As Rob Irizarry, director of technical services at RightNow, said: “It’s very rare that we don’t have recovery behavior. Usually, the client is more satisfied because we’ve reinforced that we care. It becomes self-reinforcing as the person realizes we are actually reading these things, and the feedback gets narrower and more useful to us.”

To make sure his company is taking the best care of its best customers, Gianforte said RightNow has developed a business activity monitor to measure customer satisfaction. Using five key parameters correlated to the health of the customer relationship, the company measures such things as frequency of interaction, whether the customer is running the latest version of the software and whether the customer has integrated the solution with other systems. All five parameters are calibrated to a 100-point score.

“By tuning this algorithm over time as our business changes and the client changes, each factor becomes a business driver for improvement,” Irizarry said. “It may then move from a driver to monitoring mode and allow us to add another factor to measure as we grow and change.”

Require the Desire

As in the joke about the psychologist and the light bulb, the first step in pushing toward real customer happiness is simple. The “company has to want to change,” Forrester’s Kinikin said. “A 360-degree customer view by itself doesn’t magically change the customer experience. The first step is being able to answer the phone, address basic questions and get the right answer quickly.”

Citing Lands’ End as an example, Kinikin said: “They moved from great customer processes with fairly simple technology to more technology, and their relationships got faster and more predictable. The process came first, then technology was applied to speed up the process to make it more repeatable.”

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