People Side of CRM

Customer Relationship Management companies can provide you with all the technology in the world in an effort to improve revenue, decrease costs, and enhance the customer experience. The truth of the matter though, is that the customer experience will never be truly enhanced without solid people skills to support it. Technology can make our lives easier—it can just never replace the people side of communicating.

So what exactly is missing? Simple, effective communication skills. While technology can give you all kinds of reporting and information that will highlight cross-sell opportunities, it cannot actually do the cross-selling for you. It still takes good communication skills (building rapport, questioning, listening) to complete the cycle. Using the technology properly is Step One. Leveraging the information via effective skills is Step Two. Both are needed if the expected results are to be achieved.

Past articles have argued that CRM should not even be referred to as a technology or software package, but rather as a “strategy” for better servicing customers and increasing business. If that is to be supported, then it has to be both a combination of “mindset” and “skill.”

Let's look at a typical CRM scenario. A customer calls into a company with a service issue after having purchased a particular service. The operator pulls up the customer's information and history on his/her screen and promptly handles the service issue. Case closed. We can all agree to the efficiency displayed here. What is missing, however, is the operator's ability to leverage the situation by using communication skills to uncover broader sales opportunities to fulfill the customer's overall needs. And even if the system itself prompts the operator to a potential cross-sell opportunity, without the required skills to actually address the opportunity, the operator will tend to either ignore the prompt or handle it ineffectively.

In an ideal world, the operator would:

    Show empathy for the customer's situation.
    Confidently take ownership of the situation while building rapport.
    Dissect the information on the client provided on the screen to look for “cues” to fixing the immediate need and uncovering additional opportunities.
    Ask a few in-depth questions to uncover and confirm the potential need and cross-sell opportunity.
    Position solutions to those needs that the company can provide.
    Check for feedback to ensure things are progressing on the right track.
    Close by asking for a commitment from the customer to move the process forward.

On the surface, this seems logical and easy. In execution, the pieces fall apart because the skill set to support it is lacking.

Case in point: While most operators are good at asking questions to uncover factual information to fix the service issue, they are not good at asking questions to uncover additional needs. Perhaps it feels intrusive (after all, the customer called in because of the service issue and we would never want to push another agenda!) or perhaps it is because complacency has settled in (and we are simply going through the motions in a passive, non-proactive manner to collect a paycheck!). Perhaps it is something else completely. Whatever it is, companies need to start investing beyond the technology itself so that the great technology that exists can be fully realized and leveraged by the human beings that are using it. Just because the customer did not call in for the additional opportunity does not mean he/she will not be open to the benefits of it, especially if it will help prevent the service issue from recurring in the future.

Some suggestions for beginning to reverse this trend include:

Putting as much emphasis on communication skills as on the technology itself. This includes training and coaching to the skills on a consistent basis.

Implementing and enforcing a process to measure skill development as well as numbers.

Helping operators to understand the “strategy” behind the system and empowering them to own it as well as use it.

Make skill development easy. Construct a culture that supports incremental change that builds to monumental results. It is amazing what one open- ended question can do for a relationship.

Above all else, operators need to recognize that customers have needs beyond what is on any screen. And, when appropriately uncovered and handled, customers will show their appreciation by giving you more business...