A Call Center Conversation With Salesforce.com

David Sims : First Coffee
David Sims
| CRM, ERP, Contact Center, Turkish Coffee and Astroichthiology:

A Call Center Conversation With Salesforce.com

By David Sims


The news as of the first coffee this morning, and the music is, above the sound of sirens rushing past my window, the theme song of First Coffee -- "Ol' Milwaukee's Best," by Adam Carroll:

Recently First Coffee heard that salesforce.com was getting into call centers. Intrigued, I sent some questions to Rich Caballero, the call center czar over there, and he kindly took time to answer some questions, excerpts reprinted here. Thanks to Chris Nguyen for facilitating the conversation.

FC: Salesforce.com isn't known as a call center vendor, why do you want this to become part of the company's identity?
RC: Today, call centers are the primary way that companies develop and sustain long term relationships with their customers, and therefore are a key component of any CRM strategy. If you think about your own experience, 80 percent of interactions with your utility company, phone company, bank or other vendors are focused on service. Companies are now asking themselves, "How can I strengthen my customer relationships across all customer touch points, whether it be sales or marketing or service?"

The success of on demand technology in CRM is now expanding to all segments of the software market.  In fact Gartner has predicted that by 2011, 25 percent of new business software will be delivered by SaaS. Service delivery operations are taking notice and want to see how they can leverage on demand technology to improve customer service.
FC: What call center trends did salesforce.com identify as making this a particularly welcoming time for this product?
RC: Service centers are being asked to resolve harder problems with less money, while maintaining a personalized touch. At the same time, rapid technology innovation is opening up new capabilities for service centers. On-premise, point solutions are failing to keep up with these demands, due to their complexity, multi-vendor specialized components, and cost. Essentially, enterprise software has not been creating customer success and has been forcing customers to focus on infrastructure and not innovation.

Companies can take the money they used to spend on hardware, integration, customization, upgrades and maintenance and direct those funds to innovative ways to satisfy customers.  For instance, we are seeing companies freed from infrastructure demands so they can focus on ways to proactively identify at risk customers, or introducing new premium service level packages that provide more valuable support features. 

FC: The "360 view" of the customer is a bit of a Holy Grail in call center and CRM, what usually keeps companies from having it?
RC: Most companies use different applications in different parts of their organization, which prevents them from achieving the 360 degree view. Sales uses one application, customer service uses another, and marketing yet another application.  Integrating customer data between these systems is extremely difficult because each system has been customized to the point where it is no longer compatible with the other system. For example, sales and customer service may have conflicting addresses for one customer , depending on which office they work with.  Integration is a nightmare when these problems exist.
With Salesforce, each department can customize the application as needed, while still maintaining a common core profile for each customer. Customization is easy, and because Salesforce is on-demand and centrally managed, one version of the truth exists.  Most importantly, with customization, each user and department sees only the information that they need.  With this, each department can customize the app without effecting other departments.

FC: Looking at the features you've included in Winter '07, how would you off-the-cuff rank them in importance to your target market?
The great thing about on demand software is that I don't have to guess the answer to that question. We have deployed a Web 2.0 customer self-service application called IdeaExchange. This application allows our customers to vote on their favorite Winter '07 features as well as post ideas for future enhancements. Recently, the two top ideas on IdeaExchange were Call Center Edition and the Business Web Desktop, both of which are included in the Winter '07 release of Salesforce Service and Support. Call Center Edition enables advanced computer telephony integration features such as screen pops, call management functions such as hold, transfer, conference and click-to-dial capabilities to be accessed directly from each agent's computer. The Business Web Desktop is an integrated agent desktop that provides all the information a service rep needs to handle cases quickly and effectively. These features increase both agent productivity and customer satisfaction.

FC: Don't you kind of miss having Siebel to kick around?  Be honest.

RC: Since salesforce.com's founding in 1999, we have always been focused on the success of our customers and providing our customers with the best on demand business services on the market.

FC: Why do you think some companies don't realize the importance of reporting for a call center?
RC: Companies recognize the importance of reporting, but many cannot easily create the reports they need. For an executive, creating a report typically requires requesting a programmer to write the appropriate query and submit it to the data warehouse.

Secondly, data silos prevent organizations from getting a full picture of the service lifecycle. Companies can have telephony reports, case management reports and customer value analysis, but there are no tools to bring this information together into a holistic picture.
FC: If you could wave a magic wand and fix two or three common mistakes companies make with their call centers, they'd be...
RC: Many call center operations still focus on productivity metrics instead of the customer experience, which is more important in the long run in order to retain customers and cultivate new ones. How important is average handling time if customers do not feel that their problems are being properly answered? If companies spend more time understanding their customers and improving their experience with call centers, they would see purchases and profits increase. Providing a great customer experience is also the critical link to creating loyal customers, who in turn help promote a company's products to other potential customers. Of course, the customer experience goes beyond call center interactions and must include input from interactions with sales, marketing, and customer service, bringing us back to the 360 degree view of the customer.
The other behavior that I often see is organizations trying to solve specific tactical solutions, instead of thinking about how to build a platform for the future. Companies can buy the coolest trouble ticketing solution on the planet, but the value is limited if it is not easily adaptable or integrated into the extended enterprise. However, if companies can buy into a platform that can grow with them, they can recognize significant economies of scale.
Finally, most companies are not bringing their customers together to create communities. If they can find a way to connect their customers to help each other and capture all the great, innovative ideas and solutions they have, companies can dramatically improve the effectiveness of their service organizations.   

FC: We see lots of companies trying to balance quality of service with cost savings in call centers -- outsourcing to India, etc.  How important is a positive call center agent experience, really?

A positive call center agent experience is very important. A recent Accenture study found that the most important aspects of a satisfying service experience is the service rep's ability to handle a customer's problem, without transferring the call to another service rep. This means that agents must have all of the company's tools and information at their finger tips to understand and resolve an issue.

If  read off-site hit http://blog.tmcnet.com/telecom-crm/ for the fully-linked version. First CoffeeSM accepts no sponsored content.  

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