Friday, July 22, 2011

Get the Most Out of Your Call Center with CRM Software

Do you think of your call center as a business necessity? Or do you consider it a competitive weapon.

Companies who view their call center operations as only a necessary part of conducting business are missing one of the best and least expensive ways to improve not just the bottom line but the top line also. Call centers are a wealth of information and are rife with opportunities for improving customer relationships, enhancing customer satisfaction—and increasing customer sales.

Traditional call centers were created to handle the increase in customers that technology helped to enable. As businesses grew and technology allowed them to reach beyond their immediate localities, companies added more and more customers, which, in turn, created the need to respond to their questions and issues. Initially, call centers were small and simple, consisting of agents, phones and terminals connected to rudimentary databases.

Additionally, the call center operated on local time or in some cases would include a contiguous time zone, if the customer base warranted. However, as the business grew, customers were added across several time zones and in some cases across them all. Globalization allowed a company’s footprint to extend far beyond its own borders and the call center evolved into the 24/7 contact center that is the standard today.

Forward-thinking companies began to see the call center not just as an expense but as an intimate view into their customer’s expectations, needs and preferences. The wealth and quality of the data coming in through calls to their agents could be leveraged to achieve two mission-critical tasks: keeping existing customers, and increasing existing customers’ sales. This was a revolutionary epiphany and if leveraged could dramatically change the business landscape. Unfortunately, there was no easy way to capture and harness the information coming in.

Enter the world of CRM software. CRM, or customer relationship management, is an umbrella term for the activities around identifying, acquiring, and retaining the best mix of customers for your business. CRM software or cloud-based applications integrate your back and front office systems and create a database of every aspect of your customer: contacts, purchases, information they’ve requested, technical support and complaints. This level of insight into your customer base, when analyzed, understood and leveraged, can have an incredibly favorable impact on your business.

For example, 24 Hour Fitness, a nation-wide chain of fitness facilities, used CRM applications run in the cloud to increase its sales by over 30 percent from the prior year. The software provided insight into customers in aggregate, not just at the store level, and allowed 24 Hour Fitness an understanding of its customers that ultimately produced a winning strategy for increasing sales. This, of course, is a testament to the revenue-enhancing side of CRM software, primarily the sales force automation component. On the expense side of the ledger, companies can use CRM applications to capture data and automate report generation—tasks that might once have been performed manually. Personnel can be freed up from the administrative tasks that render them less productive. And the IT team that would have handled your servers and hardware can be dramatically thinned when you move your data storage and workflows to the cloud.

Business intelligence creates a competitive advantage for companies who are open to new ways of viewing traditional operating components. CRM applications run in the cloud is one of those rare solutions that addresses both the revenue and expense side of your business. Capturing and successfully managing that priceless information can mean the difference between business success or business failure.