SMB's: Create Competitive Advantage by Deploying UM and CRM Affordably!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Every once in awhile I encounter an online company that just gets it right, from a customer service perspective. Unfortunately, More often I have a less-than-desirable customer service experience when dealing with a company remotely via phone, or email. Often my inquiry is answered in a time frame that is not adequate and the answer/information I receive is usually not complete enough for me to make a purchasing decision. When I do encounter a company that gets it right, I try to be sure and let them know - and I have a tendency to go back to them for future business.

Because our business evolves around customer service - I have a desire to analyze my experiences and interactions with the companies in which we do business. I try to learn what it is that allows companies to get it right, and what goes wrong in those that don't.

In those experiences that have had led to a positive result, I have seen no real trend with regard the size of the company. I've had good experiences with large and small companies, and also poor experiences with both. What I do find to be the common denominator in the successful "get it right" experience is a properly skilled representative utilizing efficient communication and CRM systems.

From time to time I track my experiences with online companies. Recently, I tracked the last five transactions that I completed whereby my initial inquiry was initiated either by email or phone. Of those five, one resulted in what I would consider a "get it right". The other 5 required substantial follow-up from me, and two of the transactions still have not been completed - despite repeated attempts (all initiated by me) to do so.

What I have observed over the course of time (many years) is that both small and large companies struggle with delivering good customer service, albeit for completely different reasons. The end result is the same however; a poor customer service experience and a dissatisfied customer. As an example - large companies typically have larger IT budgets and on-staff IT personnel that deploy state of the art CRM systems. However, the representatives are often ill trained, improperly motivated, or have little accountability (sometimes all three). Small companies on the other hand don't have high IT budgets and sophisticated IT systems, but their representatives are often multi-versed in the company's business, have high levels of accountability, and motivation for keeping their jobs. The smaller companies however, largely suffer from the lack of good communications and CRM tools to adequately service their customers efficiently.

I would be willing to actually go out on a limb here and say that poor customer service is so epidemic online, and most people are actually expecting a bad experience most of the time.

When a customer encounters a company that fulfills their needs, solves their problems, and does so quickly and painlessly - they are loyal to them. In other words they gain competitive advantage!

The secret to gaining competitive advantage from a (customer service perspective) is to combine the best of both worlds (people skills and information systems), and wala! good customer service experience = loyal customer gained!

OK - so what tools do I need to accomplish (from an information system standpoint) to compete with the largest of companies in our space, and how much will it cost? The following solutions listed below are all on-premise software products than can run on the Windows computers you already own.

1. A Low Cost, Highly Powerful, Simple to Manage IP PBX Phone System: (Free Version Available - Paid starts at $350)
- This will allow you to take advantage of the latest technology like remote extensions (teleworkers), VM to email, call queuing, auto attendant, and many others. These features are no longer just for the large-budget companies - but are now affordable for small budgets as well.

2. An Email Customer Service / Management Solution: (Free Version Available - Paid starts at $749)
- If you are trying to run your online-enabled business on standard email clients, you are making a big mistake! Email managment tools allow you to answer customer email quickly and effectively, and utilize features such as standard responses, representative load balancing, automatic routing, immediate access to customer voice and email correspondence history. When used in conjunction with an IP PBX even a pop-up box will display on your screen alerting you to whose calling and allowing single-click access to their communications history with you.

3. A Unified Messaging Email Server: (Free Version Available - Paid starts at $1500)
- Will allow you to solve all of your personal and office email, instant messaging, calender, scheduling, and resource sharing needs. Also it will provide a way to integrate all of the mobile devices that your staff is carrying. Combined and integrated with items 1 and 2, you now have a highly functional, yet affordable communications infrastructure to serve your staff and your customers.


4. High Trained, Properly Motivated, Customer Service Representatives:
- At the end of the day, it's humans that make customers happy or not. Invest in your customer service staff. Cross-train them as much as possible, so they can handle a broader range of customer service inquiries. Empower them to make decisions, or take a course of action, hold them accountable. Reward them for a job well done, get rid of them if they are unwilling or unable.