High Performance Customer Relationship Management: How a Branded Customer Experience Helps Build Loyalty and Growth

Article excerpt

Over the years CRM has been a blessing and a curse for many organizations. Hoping for the best, they installed CRM programs expecting that technology would be the answer to their customer service problems.

Unfortunately, software in and of itself can't solve a business problem, especially if the company installing it hasn't rigorously defined why it needs CRM and what it hopes to accomplish. Today, this technology-first mindset is changing. "More and more companies are realizing that successful CRM implementations are far more than just installing software," says Cindy Warner, partner, CRM at Accenture. "When planned for correctly, CRM can drive high performance for businesses."

In the best cases CRM implementations can make customer service an extension of the brand. Communications provider MCI found this out first-hand. In an era of industry consolidation MCI has had the formidable task of integrating acquired companies, merging people, processes, and technologies to form one efficient, seamless organization. Through it all MCI endeavored to maintain the highest levels of service to millions of customers.

During this period of mergers and acquisitions, MCI was challenged to keep pace with the proper tools and procedures needed to avoid problems. "The MCI service representative is the connection point with many of our customers," says Tracy Eastridge, MCI's vice president of customer service, "and we frequently fell short of helping them to provide quality service." Manual processes, duplicative technologies, and other system inefficiencies led to problems like poor data quality, inconsistent sales forecasting, and uneven pricing.

Clearly, MCI needed to improve internal processes and planning. It also needed to give customers an experience that delivered consistently on the promise of the MCI brand--in every interaction and across all channels. With the help of Accenture, MCI took a fresh look at the way it served each customer, since every employee who touched that customer had access to the same information at the same time, says John Heveran, vice president of MCI's CRM and order management.

"Our CRM project had three main goals: Improve the sales force's forecasting, reduce the amount of data entry required to manage business tasks, and improve customer exchange of information," Heveran says. "It's really affected the classic process of looking at what products and services our customers will be evaluating in two weeks, two months, or two years. It lets us plan, project, and foresee."

ONE PART INSPIRATION

MCI's experience is just one example of a dramatic shift in the CRM industry. Once lauded as a technology solution that could elicit specific change--cost savings or a more efficient call center--CRM has evolved into a powerful tool to help drive growth and service. "It's no longer just about technology and how technology can change processes," says David Pramer, partner, CRM, Communications and High-Tech. "Instead, it's about focusing on the customer as the vital element of an overall business strategy that helps manage and profitably grow a company's business."

In MCI's case this meant providing a consistent view of internal processes for its sales-people in addition to providing them with a uniform customer view. For example, MCI's solution uses the same name and terminology for products so every department is on the same page. "When we use the same name and terminology we can turn on analytics and allow other groups [outside of sales], such as marketing, to look at those numbers," Heveran says. "If we introduce a new product or service, they can see how it's selling, how many sales teams are proposing it. It's the process of turning a sale into customer revenue."

Accenture's research, a worldwide survey of several hundred top executives, found that MCI certainly isn't alone in its quest to improve customer service and grow top line revenues. …