Customer facing enterprises have always had to deal with keeping consumers happy. Some have managed the task better than others, some not all, choosing to concentrate on providing the best products and services in the vain hope that all customers would be happy.
Customer service has taken on many facets over the years. Old retailers worked on the principle of face-to-face contact in a welcoming environment. Time was taken with each customer because there were many small retailers in each town vying for limited business.
When telecoms operators started business they had outlets, usually linked to post offices, but soon showed the potential of their new abilities by providing customer service – over the telephone.
Thus was born the modern era of remote customer care. Banks of customer service representatives (CSRs) manning call-centers, listening to customer request and doing their best to effect orders, solve problems, sort out billing inquiries, etc.
What started as an incredibly labour intensive, manual process, became an early adopter of computer technology with a vengeance in an effort to cope with much higher volumes of inquiries coming into bigger and bigger centralized call-centers manned by thousands of CSRs.
But this approach had the challenge of accessing many disparate in order to provide optimum and speedy responses. Customer relationship management (CRM) systems were subsequently introduced, primarily to provide access universally from one screen.
These CRM implementations proved to be incredibly challenging and ambitious projects that cost many millions to integrate and usually took years to implement and many were unsuccessful. Yet we have, until recently, continued down a path a big centralized CRMs replicating data and attempting to be all things to all people.
However, times are changing and the introduction of Cloud and CRM as a service (e.g. Salesforce, Sugar, etc.) are helping to move CRM functionality out of the back office. CSR’s can now work from home in shifts that suit their lifestyle. Big call-centers have given way to smaller regional and home setups that distribute the functions and lower costs.
Perhaps the biggest breakthrough afforded by the Cloud and the power of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets is the ability to provide customers with applications that allow ‘self-care’. This revolution not only reduces and distributes workloads on CSRs. It allows the customers to look after themselves where and when they want to.
Sophisticated functionality can now be packed into these cloud/app combinations and some CRM vendors have been quick to adapt to this new world. Oguzhan Kivrak, Telaura Mobile’s Project Manager at Etiya, said: ”Mobile CRM allows firms to reach customers anywhere and anytime, in real-time. It is a type of CRM application that has been designed to be implemented, operated and accessed through mobile platforms.”
We are already seeing voice communications being replaced by chat sessions and self-care, and it will be interesting to see where we go from here.