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Improving Customer Experience CRM Is Dead, Long Live CEM
Mehdi Quraishi
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Nowadays many companies are failing to meet customer expectations, often because they simply do not understand or even realize these expectations. Companies are out to take a leaf out of the book of the renowned Swiss hotelier César Ritz who, in 1908, said that "the customer is always right". Clearly Ritz –just as the chain of hotels he has inspired – made a mission and a successful global business out of putting his customers at the center of everything his business did.

Understanding customers is still an aspiration rather than a reality – especially in the telecom service provider business. However, it is essential to building and maintaining a consistent view of the customer, which can then be translated into a comprehensive understanding of customer needs and behavior that guides sales and marketing activity and product and channel development.

Although sales and marketing professionals these days have a full CRM toolkit at their disposal, they often ignore one of the most important aspects of CRM – the customer experience. Customer experience is what counts in the long run – because it gauges whether you provided the customer what he needed, in the time he needed it, and in the manner that was expected. Customer experience captures the feeling that a customer walks away with, after an engagement or after dealing with any organization.

Simply put, 'customer experience' counts for everything (even more than ‘customer relationships’) in the way customers choose long term partners.

Organizations that are serious about CRM (and by extension, the needs of their customers) are therefore serious about designing and maintaining a quality customer experience. They recognize that a poor customer experience is a step toward customer defection, whereas a good experience encourages loyalty.

What is CEM? And Why it Matters The key aspect to remember is that every time a customer comes in contact with an organization, through any of its channels, he has an opportunity to form an opinion, be it good, bad, or indifferent. Through time, this collective set of customer experiences forms a picture in the customer’s mind of the brand and its values.

But, what exactly is a customer experience? This definition by Colin Shaw, author of CRM industry bible ‘Revolutionize Your Customer Experience’, seems to have become the industry standard: "The customer experience is a blend of a company’s physical performance and the emotions evoked, intuitively measured against customer expectations across all moments of contact."

Enterprise organizations are looking to attract and secure customers while also addressing market growth and new opportunities in emerging economies, such as the new mass affluent, small businesses, and the rising social aspirants (first time users of services such as banking, tourism, etc).

Industry research has shown, quite obviously, that by addressing customer experience, organizations can fulfil almost every sales, service, and support related metrics that they aspire for (such as increase up-sell and cross-sell opportunities, ensure consistent messaging to target audiences, be easy to do business with, increase customer retention, increase profit, reduce costs, and so on).

There is even more sector specific research available from Gartner, which shows that the Financial Services sector is placing an "increased emphasis on revenue generation goals through nimbler product development and innovation, expansion into new geographies, and improved and actionable customer insight."

At the heart of all this is the need to differentiate on service and to create customer satisfaction. This is a key metric for organizations aiming to nurture their customer base through the entire lifecycle and ensure maximum take-up of their policies across their customer base.

Meeting Customer Needs at the Point of Contact
The most effective means of creating a successful customer experience is understanding your customers’ problems (behavior). This can be achieved by extracting meaningful insights from your customers at every stage of your interaction with them.

To do this, you need to put all your channels, including your contact center, at the core of your customer experience delivery and empower your workforce to address customer demands.

The advent of IP-based contact center technology has made interacting with customers much easier, as it allows for multi-applications from voice and data networks and the consolidation of all customer interactions on one system. As a result, organizations are able to gather the information and insights they need to meet, and even anticipate, customer needs. The new technology further gives them the ability to gather rich business intelligence for unparalleled cross-selling and up-selling opportunities.

Equally important, an IP-based contact center means more choice in the way customers deal with an organization, including voice, video, and data and channels such as Web collaboration and email. This interoperability between traditional voice and IP channels means less waiting time and a seamless experience when customers deal with contact center staff. In other words, increased customer satisfaction.

Best of all, a hosted contact center solution is more cost-efficient than the TDM (Time Division Multiplexing) technology traditionally used in contact centers, as infrastructure costs are significantly lower and fewer IT specialist staff are required.

The bottom line is that organizations concerned about maintaining and building their customer base should incorporate 'Customer Experience Management' into their CRM activities. Although there are many tools available to do this, one of the most effective is a flexible IP-based contact center solution.

The thing you ought to look out for – harking back to the time of César Ritz – is to make the commitments that bring you closer to customers and allow you to understand them better. It’s about what the customer’s experience is – and the customer is always right!
Author is Director, Strategy & Business Development, Cable&Wireless
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