Voices of CRM

May 31, 2012  5:49 PM

Benchmark your CRM initiatives

Albert McKeon Albert McKeon Profile: Albert McKeon

Here’s your chance to have a say in what you read.

That’s right. TechTarget has released its annual survey about all things CRM to better understand its readers.

The 2012 SearchCRM.com Reader Challenges and Priorities Survey attempts to get a sense of the staffing and operational challenges facing CRM professionals this year.

Answering the questions will enable the editors of SearchCRM.com to write articles and create online resources that are targeted to your CRM needs.

For instance, the survey asks what CRM system your call center uses, how your organization will approach customer experience management and what kind of analytics technology your CRM, sales and marketing departments use.

Additionally, survey respondents will receive copies of the results and get a chance to benchmark CRM initiatives against their peers.

All survey responses will remain anonymous, and no personal information will be shared with advertisers or other third parties. TechTarget simply wants to better understand your role as a CRM professional.

So don’t hesitate. If you complete the survey and provide your email address, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a special gift.

Click here to take the CRM survey.

May 16, 2012  6:08 PM

New social CRM review site may pose a threat to industry analysts

Albert McKeon Albert McKeon Profile: Albert McKeon

A new Web service that allows users to analyze social CRM products and companies has garnered some attention for what it could do to Gartner Research Inc.

Ombud is still in beta form, but registered users can already submit reviews, statistics and more about anything and everything in the social CRM field.

Ombud intends to eventually cover other fields in the IT industry. But for now, it hopes its user-driven offering will become the go-to venue for advice and observations, supplanting the thoughts of paid analysts like those at Gartner.

The product review section at Ombud already features 366 products, with most of them related to social CRM, including software suites and services such as Salesforce’s Radian6. Most of the products haven’t been reviewed yet, but web pages already illustrate how users can provide details on a product’s strengths and weaknesses.

Ombud takes a poke at research companies by remarking on its site how its industry research is “transparent.” Computerworld is even wondering if Ombud could one day take down Gartner.

Users of Ombud must use real names and their accounts can be tied to their LinkedIn profiles. The site promises to vet its user community with the hope of keeping commentary pure.

May 7, 2012  8:18 PM

Take that call: ACCE conference underway

Albert McKeon Albert McKeon Profile: Albert McKeon

SEATTLE – They’re taking a break from customers, but haven’t forgotten them.

More than 1,100 call center agents have gathered at the annual ACCE conference and expo to review trends, learn new tricks and share ideas on how to deal with the never-ending task of helping customers.

On Monday, the opening day, former ICMI President Brad Cleveland led a workshop overviewing basic strategies to make contact centers effective. Cleveland’s session focused on contact centers, and not call centers, for a simple reason. More than half of the 60 people at the session identified themselves as contact center employees. With social media and email, they’re not just answering telephone calls.

But no matter the means of contact, Cleveland reminded the audience they work for time-driven organizations that can’t keep customers waiting.

Customers have by now established patterns, or set times, with which they reach out to contact centers, Cleveland said. An efficient center should break down to the half hour when the most and best agents should be available.

No agent has a 100%-occupancy time, Cleveland noted. Calls come in randomly, he said, and companies need to accept that and prepare for it.

Veteran agents picking plum hours can help morale, but that doesn’t mean new hires should work peak calling hours late in the evening, Cleveland suggested. He also urged the audience to handle customer interactions as they arrive and not to delay communication.

Cleveland also warned those not yet handling social media to get ready. “Social media will begin to work (its) way into your environment. Be prepared and start following the patterns you follow now for calls,” he said.

“It’s a crazy level of dialogue. People are using all kinds of language…You’ve got to meet them with quiet and confident service. There’s no alternative.”

Janea Janke is attending the conference in only her third month managing a 100-employee contact center in South Jordan, Utah.

Her company, MonaVie, sees very little social media contacts; mostly the organization gets calls, and all at random times. She hopes to learn some call center basics, such as what to track and how to coach.

When Janke returns home, she’ll have an opportunity to use some new knowledge. As she attended the conference, MonaVie was installing a new call copy system that will record agents calls and screen interactions from start to finish.

April 30, 2012  6:30 PM

CRM Idol’s second season promises drama

Barney Beal Barney Beal Profile: Barney Beal

Paul Greenberg and his band of merry CRM consultants are at it again, bringing back CRM Idol for a second season.

They haven’t done anything so dramatic as having Jennifer Lopez replace Paula Abdul or Steven Tyler replace Simon Cowell, but the sequel of CRM Idol, Paul promises, will be even better than the first.

That’s seldom true of movies, but having overseen a few technology awards at SearchCRM.com in the past, I can attest that they get better with time. Processes get smoothed out, entries are more concise and coherent and the publicity of the previous year generally leads to a better and more engaged contest.

CRM Idol seeks to highlight smaller, up-and-coming software vendors in the CRM marketplace and give them some exposure, some advice and a voice in the discussion about trends in CRM. Last year’s contest produced two winners in Get Satisfaction and BPMonline. 

It’s certainly a great deal for the vendors involved, but it offers some benefits to CRM practitioners as well: The contest uncovers professionally vetted CRM software that CRM practitioners otherwise may not have heard about — and that just might help solve a business problem.

In fact, last year the public influenced the outcome of the contest by voting on videos created by the semifinalists. OK – maybe it’s not millions of text votes like contestants on the real Idol get – but it’s a chance to be involved in picking the software that’s truly innovative and interesting. This year promises the same.

That’s why SearchCRM.com is once again serving as a media partner for the contest. We’ll be offering up some links and commentary here on the Voices of CRM blog – and you’ll find more resources and most of the contest news on the CRM Idol website.

For now, it’s up to the vendor community to submit their entries, but stay tuned. The next CRM star might be out there – but just like Idol, if you don’t vote for your favorites, they may not win. Stay involved for a chance to see your favorite vendors get started and help them on their way.

April 10, 2012  2:34 PM

Salesforce relents, unveils its free CRM analytics enhancements

Albert McKeon Albert McKeon Profile: Albert McKeon

BOSTON – Salesforce.com customers liked what they saw: a detailed view of the most recent enhancements to the company’s CRM software.

But they loved what they heard: The improvements would be free of charge.

This was old news. Salesforce.com announced in late January that it wouldn’t charge to upgrade its new analytics features – reversing course after customers complained about the company’s initial plan to sell the enhancements.

Still, hearing a Salesforce.com executive acknowledge the company’s changed stance triggered applause last week at the most recent gathering of the Salesforce.com Boston User Group.

Kevin Sciolino, a Salesforce.com senior customer success manager, told the audience of several hundred people that the company heard the complaints loud and clear.

The company planned on tacking on an additional $40 per user per month for the new functions, and had packaged the new functionality as an Analytics edition. But Sciolino said Salesforce.com saw what happened last year when Bank of America customers revolted at a proposed $5 debit-card charge, prompting the bank to not implement the fee.

“We listen,” Sciolino said before demonstrating how to use the upgrade.

Even though Salesforce.com announced its reversal earlier this year, and made the enhancements available in February, not everyone had tried them.

Ed Ruzzo, the director of shared financial services for Open Solutions – a Glastonbury, Conn., company that develops software for banks — said he didn’t realize how simple the new options were to use. He also appreciated that they were free.

The changes apply to Salesforce.com’s CRM software packages Enterprise (which costs $125 per user per month) and Unlimited ($250 per user per month).

The new features include:

· Bucketing: This allows users to group data and place the information in categories.

· Cross-filtering: This filters related objects. For example, in a report on accounts, it shows all contacts in open accounts. The update allows three cross filters per report and 5 sub-filters per primary filter.

· Joined reports: Users can merge reports to show multiple children of the same parent. For instance, a report on a product can now be joined with one showing team members working on the product. As many as 5 reports can be merged. The drawback to this function, Sciolino said, is charts can’t be merged into other reports.

The half-day-long user conference also featured a talk by Jonathan Jenkins, the senior Salesforce.com administrator for the consumer deal Website Groupon.

Jenkins touted Groupon’s implementation of the AppExtremes Conga suite and the EchoSign program, both for Salesforce.

Conga has simplified data for Groupon, and EchoSign has made ordinary sales contracts “living, breathing” documents, Jenkins said. The programs have allowed salespeople to concentrate on sales and not worry about programs, he said.

March 30, 2012  7:09 PM

Tweeting about the health of the call center

Albert McKeon Albert McKeon Profile: Albert McKeon

For a brief moment Friday, around 12:30 p.m. EST, “the death of the call center” ranked alongside Justin Bieber’s Danish fan base and National Cleavage Day in the Twitterverse.

Electronic chatter about the demise of the decades-old call center industry took hold thanks to a Mashable column written by Zor Gorelov that predicted mobile phones will make the call center all but irrelevant.

Gorelov is CEO and a co-founder of SpeechCycle, a provider of self-service solutions for customers. So it goes without saying he benefits from a diminished call-center industry much as Ma Bell cheered the end of the telegraph.

But Gorelov’s column echoes an ongoing conversation in the industry, one that examines how mobile and social CRM have become crucial forms of customer engagement – so much so that call centers are now being called contact centers.

Experts – including those at the recent Gartner Customer 360 Summit earlier this month – predict that companies that fail to harness customer interactions on the Internet and through mobile apps will lose ground.

Consumers like to do business online, preferring to deal with a quiet Website instead of a talking call center agent, the experts say. And people increasingly like to tweet or post on Facebook a question or social commentary about a company’s offerings and service, more than they do calling the company itself to share praise or complain, experts say.

In his column, Gorelov remarks that with consumers always on the go, mobile CRM functions will define a company’s fate, possibly rendering the call center to secondary status.

Then again, similar sentiments were voiced when FAQs, email, and chat came about. Yet companies are still spending to staff contact centers and train the employees who work there. In fact, in some cases the addition of technology only served to make the cases agents did handle more complicated, demanding stronger skills – and more pay.

Is the call center on its way to a death bed, or will it still have relevance in the future?

March 21, 2012  8:26 PM

Microsoft to add Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook to CRM, shows off Beer Rangers

Barney Beal Barney Beal Profile: Barney Beal

Microsoft is committed to social, executives at its annual Convergence conference promised this week, placing it among the holy trinity of technology trends along with mobile and “big data.”

But it’s going to have to wait a couple of releases before it shows up in the business application giant’s CRM product.

While Microsoft released Activity Feeds, a Facebook-like social networking program, with Dynamics CRM last year, but that is used primarily for internal collaboration. Meanwhile, the forthcoming release, which is scheduled for availability in the second quarter, focuses on multi-device and multi-browser support.

The fall release, however, will feature integration into public-facing social networks like Facebook and Twitter for customer service processes as well as LinkedIn and InsideView integrations into sales, CRM executives said.

While there were few details on the Twitter and Facebook integration with customer service — and those are areas Salesforce.com, SAP and RightNow already provide — executives were happy to show off the LinkedIn and InsideView features, something we haven’t seen much of from other enterprise CRM vendors.

InsideView feeds social media information, news and other data about leads and opportunities into the CRM system and is available as an add-on by most major CRM providers. However, with the release of Microsoft Dynamics CRM in the fall, it will come free and integrated out of the box.

The LinkedIn integration essentially serves up LinkedIn Premium from within the CRM application. Sales reps will be able to click on a lead or opportunity and, through the LinkedIn network and the TeamLink feature, determine if someone else in the organization knows that person to help with an introduction. LinkedIn could also potentially be used to hunt for prospects, without leaving Dynamics CRM.

“This is basically taking premium LinkedIn and wiring it directly into CRM,” Craig Dewar, director of Microsoft Dynamics CRM said. “[Sales reps are] probably doing it in LinkedIn premium today but they’re not tracking all that information in CRM.”

Microsoft Windows 8 Samsung tablet wins out over iPad?

Microsoft was also eager to show off a customized CRM application for Windows 8 on the Samsung tablet at the event.

Microsoft’s Beer Ranger CRM app

New Belgium Brewery's Microsoft CRM Beer Ranger app

The New Belgium Brewery, makers of Fat Tire Ale, among other brews, recently began piloting a program with its “Beer Rangers.” The Beer Rangers act not only as salespeople, calling on bars, restaurants and liquor stores in their territory, but also act as quality control, testing taps, lines and generally making sure the beer is prepared and served correctly. They need to sample it to ensure it tastes the same in all locations.

If that job wasn’t hard enough already, now they have shiny new tablets to access the CRM system. Designed in conjunction with a pilot of 10 Beer Rangers and Sonoma Partners, a Microsoft partner, the application is stripped down to show only what the employees need. That includes custom images for the type of business that they call on (bottles for liquor stores, glasses for bars and restaurants), pictures of key decision makers at client locations and a fairly standard Google Maps mashup directing them to nearby clients when they’re out on the road.

Additionally, the app lets them access quality assurance documentation and the Samsung tablet lets them take and share pictures of the places they visit. Rangers capture things like creative marketing displays within the CRM application or post pictures from events to the brewery’s Facebook page. The mapping, GPS and camera capabilities of smartphones and tablets is something sales organizations are beginning to take advantage of.

Perhaps the biggest draw for Microsoft: The Beer Rangers chose to build out its application on the Windows 8 tablet instead of Apple’s iOS and iPad.

March 15, 2012  12:12 PM

And the winner is…

Albert McKeon Albert McKeon Profile: Albert McKeon

Oklahoma City Thunder fans apparently love connecting with their team, win or lose.

The NBA franchise on Wednesday won a CRM Experience Excellence Award for winning with their fans. The team picked up the prize at the Gartner Customer 360 Summit conference held outside Orlando.

The Thunder was one of several big names to score an award at the event. The honors are presented annually by Gartner and 1to 1 Media.

While NBA All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook set the tone on the court, Thunder management “built an enterprise-wide customer-focused organization from the ground up” to win the gold Customer Experience Excellence Award, according to judges. Match.Com was the silver award winner in this category.

The gold Customer Service Optimization Award went to Symantec, which reengineered its service portals, integrated multiple channels and simplified support processes, “allowing the high-tech company to improve its customer experience,” judges said.

Corel, a software company, won the silver award in this category.

GameStop won the gold Integrated Marketing Performance Award. The national retailer of console and computer games won because its PowerUp Rewards program produced customer loyalty and has become one of the company’s primary business drivers, judges said.

Health care provider Highmark won the silver award in this category.

Harry Rosen Inc., a Canadian men’s wear retailer, won the gold Sales Effectiveness Award by giving personalized service to customers in the store and to those outside it, via communications for new items and private events, judges said.

The computer protection company McAfee won the silver award in this category.

The gold Social Engagement Award went to Husqvarna Professional Products, an outdoor power product manufacturer. The company’s AnswerArmy program promotes community and self-service, enabling customers to find the “reliable help they need,” judges said.

Random House Children’s Books won the silver award in this category.

And the Las Vegas Valley Water District won the gold Customer Analytics Award. The water district “used customer analytics to gain an understanding of why contact center call volumes were spiking and proactively resolved those issues—helping struggling customers and cutting its own costs in the process,” judges said.

FedEx won the silver award in this category.

March 14, 2012  2:59 PM

Gartner Customer 360 conference begins

Albert McKeon Albert McKeon Profile: Albert McKeon

The annual Gartner Customer 360 Summit kicked off Wednesday with a simple message: Be there for customers, no matter which way they want you to be there.

Held just outside Orlando, the three day conference will focus on a wide variety of CRM niches – including service, management and innovation – but as the event’s chairman reminded attendees, nothing matters as much as having a solid CRM strategy.

“If you don’t have one, you need one,” said Gene Alvarez, the conference chairman and a Gartner research vice president.

If a company does have a CRM strategy, but it’s a decade old, an update is needed fast, Alvarez.

Yet, companies seem to realize the importance of having a current CRM plan, according to Alvarez and Gartner analyst Ed Thompson. In a recent Gartner survey of CEOs, CRM “shot to the top” of their list of concerns, Alvarez and Thompson said.

Even troubled industries recognize the value of CRM because they’re spending money on it, Alvarez and Thompson said.

Social CRM will be “hot” in 2012, as will digital marketing, they said.

Payments on mobile devices will also be “the next big thing,” Alvarez said. “Payments are going to change the way we behave,” he said.

But companies need to effectively sort through all the customer data they will obtain, Thompson said. He relayed how a mobile phone employee told him that the company had 10 times more data than ever before about each customer, but the company was “drowning” in the information.

Alvarez also looked at “The Internet of Things” – a phrase to describe how connectivity will soon be a common facet of life and be included with the most basic functions.

For instance, Alvarez mentioned a recently-created application that plays music when a customer tires on clothing in a store dressing room. The genre of music is customized to the style of clothing, and the customer is asked to buy the song along with the clothes, he said.

But with all the excitement about connectivity, companies still need to balance empowerment with privacy, Thompson and Alvarez said.

Customers want everything to be easy, and to feel as if they belong, so they will share their information electronically, Alvarez and Thompson said. In fact, 65 percent of Americans said in a recent survey they would give away their personal information for only $20, Thompson said.

But when providing CRM through social media, companies need to consider that privacy norms vary for each customer, they said.

March 12, 2012  6:17 PM

Orlando bound

Albert McKeon Albert McKeon Profile: Albert McKeon

Less than two weeks on the job at TechTarget, I’m off to my first conference, Gartner’s Customer 360 Summit in Orlando.

I’m looking forward to meeting experts, users and vendors, and hope to get the lowdown on what’s new and exciting in CRM.

I’ll post my findings on the blog.

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