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predictive dialers and crm software

DSC Tech Library

Customer Relationship Management

CRM Customer Relationship Management This section of our technical library presents information and documentation relating to CRM Solutions and customer relationship management software and products. Providing timely customer service information is vital to maintaining a successful business. Accurate information provided in an organized and thoughtful manner is key to business success.

TELEMATION, our CRM and contact center software, was originally built on this foundation. The ability to modify Customer Relationship Management software is important in this ever changing business environment.

Telemation Customer Relationship Management solution and contact center software is ideally suited for call centers throughout the world.

A Guide to Evaluating CRM Software

by Jay Chang, Structured Chaos, Inc.

One of the most popular questions I receive is "How do I evaluate CRM software?" Many seek a detailed checklist of functional specifications against which every package can be measured and weighed, and the winner easily quantified and defended. This is a typically IT-oriented viewpoint. The easy part of a CRM evaluation is boiling down a wish list of functional capability into a series of yes/no responses. The hard part is trying to figure out that list in the first place. A product may have everything you want on that checklist, and more. Like they say on TV, “It slices! It dices! It cuts through cans!” Of course, such lists are typically missing the most important question, which is “what is the business need?”

CRM projects are highly complex. With CRM, you are attempting a sea change in the way you relate to your customer, much like ERP was a sea change in how you organize and operate your business. However, unlike ERP, which dealt with primarily back-office functions that required customization of a set of fairly structured systems, CRM deals with a series of processes and functions that every company considers unique. After all, there are only so many ways to manage your supply chain and a general ledger is a general ledger no matter what the industry. But how a company markets, sells, and manages its most important asset – its customers – is highly variable. This can be seen in the wide variety of vendors in the space, and the variation between similar products in the same market niche.

The Evaluation Process

So how do you evaluate a universe as varied as that of CRM? The most important evaluation criteria have nothing to do with server platform, processor requirements, or any of the other usual “techie” criteria. Instead, CRM requirements definition starts with business need. More importantly, it requires an envisioning of “to-be” processes rather than “as-is” processes. Once the envisioning process is stable, you can begin to decide what the product-specific functional needs may be. Product selection is almost ancillary compared to the process change that a large scale CRM implementation will bring to multiple organizations within your company. Once those are resolved, it becomes a matter of wading through the CRM product marketplace in search of appropriate vendors.

CRM Customer Relationship Management This figure represents CRM functionality as it applies to a prototypical enterprise. While simplistic, it allows you to focus on either specific aspects of CRM or look at overall functionality. It also shows how the various organizations fit with each other and illustrates why CRM projects are so complex. Note that the traditional front office stovepipes can (if desired) have common but separate definitions of “customer,” and that the stovepipes can be extended thru to all levels of the graphic. Thus, for example, I can examine a marketing package in terms of its interaction management capabilities, its marketing-specific workflow functions, and its data repository. I can also look at that package’s ability to do marketing-specific analysis and integrate with legacy sales, CSS, and back-end applications. However, it is the merging of these definitions and functions into one common repository that brings CRM’s true power to light. The areas in blue are what are typically viewed as being CRM functions; the gray areas are expansions of CRM that some vendors are using to sell their packages. I’ll start with the areas in blue and then discuss the gray areas later.

At the heart of the CRM solution is data. That data represents an organization’s customers and it is vital to the success of a CRM effort that everyone has the same understanding and definition of “customer.” A simple concept, but long hours and many dollars have been spent defining this to the satisfaction of the various data silos that comprise most companies. Supported by the customer data are the functions that are specific to Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service/Support (CSS). Each has a stake in what comprises a customer. Each views customers through different lenses. And each has specific requirements around what it takes to properly manage and support the business processes surrounding their view of “customer.”

Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service

Marketing tends to look at customers through macro lenses. Despite all the talk about one-to-one marketing, marketing campaigns are targeted at relatively large classes of people. The granularity of these classes can vary, but they are still aggregated groups of demographic characteristics. No marketing department ever created a campaign for Jay Chang – they created a campaign that targeted Asian males between the ages of 25 and 35 who have a propensity for buying the latest electronic gadgets, much to the consternation of the family budget. It just so happens that I fall into that demographic and so am highly susceptible to those types of pitches. While personalization is an aspect of marketing, it is not marketing in the true sense – crafting a specific, individualized pitch to woo the prospect. Personalization is more like targeted browsing. From a marketing perspective, it allows the marketer to simulate a closer bond between the company and the prospect.

Sales functions tend to be much more individually focused. To the sales rep, it’s all one-to-one interaction and a good salesman is a master of personalization as well as targeted pitches. Sales reps only care about tools that help them sell. Tell a rep a tool will help the central office track his activities and I can almost guarantee that tool will never be used. But tell a rep the tool will let her make three extra calls a day or spend an extra five hours a week in the field meeting her customers and you stand a fighting chance of getting her to use that tool. The biggest bane of SFA projects has been that the tools don’t aid in the selling per-se – rather, it assists in the management of the sale, an important but distinct concept.

CSS agents look at how to maximize their time. Since call centers are typically monitored by throughput (number of calls per hour and the like), agents want to be able to close calls as efficiently as possible. Secondary measures such as cross sales presentations and up-sell volumes can also be used, but outside of the financial services industry, these are not common. Thus, for CSS organizations, the critical components are those that present relevant contextual information quickly and efficiently. Also critical are simple interfaces that allow rapid training. This is due to the high levels of turnover associated with many CSS organizations. To the agent, a customer can exist in a total vacuum – with no prior knowledge, the good CSS agent establishes a connection with the customer, resolves their issue and cements a solid relationship association to the corporate entity. This is a huge challenge since most interactions start out non-committal at best and antagonistic at worst.

Workflow Automation and Interaction Management

Within and between these various functions is the concept of workflow automation. Workflow is the linkage both within each set of organizational functions as well as the linkage between organizations. These are typified by paper or electronic transfers. Old-line companies tend to use paper processes (whether the papershuffling is done online or off doesn’t matter). More advanced companies use intelligent routing of information to make informed decisions. Using workflow allows business rules to be encapsulated into a centralized repository, rather than distributing it out to the individual organizations. Properly implemented, workflow can allow organizational knowledge to live within the company, rather than within the heads of individuals. It also allows for a centralized point from which to make changes to those processes. Workflow can serve as an integration function as well.

The last component of a CRM solution is interaction management. As organizations have grown and technologies have advanced, the numbers of potential touchpoints between customer and company have grown as well. Before 1990, I would suggest that 75% of all interactions consisted of phone calls, with the remainder being split between letters and FAX transmissions. Today, customers can call, email, FAX, chat, page…the list is rather extensive. To be truly service-oriented, and to preserve a common representation of customer, all of these touchpoints should connect into the customer repository, recording each interaction and its intent.

Note that I make a distinction between Interaction Management and Account Management. Account Management is a more macro process, whereby customer account-level information is shared across multiple business units within the same company. For example, the typical bank may have a mortgage department, a financial services department, and an insurance department in addition to the basic bank branch department. In account management, all these departments share information about the customer using a common customer accounts database. I am reminded of an ad campaign where a mortgage applicant expresses his frustration at his mortgage company’s inability to view his checking account information (held at that same bank) by making a large withdraw and closing his account. Account management would prevent this.

Interaction management, on the other hand, involves recording the details of each contact no matter what the medium into a centralized or non-centralized database. Each email, phone call, FAX, chat, etc. is recorded in a logical thread so that the history of that customer can be recreated at any point. Note that it is eminently possible to have Interaction Management without Account Management and vice versa. Many companies have specific call centers associated with specific departments. The best efficiencies arise when Interaction Management is combined with Account Management.

Data Analysis and Legacy Integration

As ancillary/supporting functions, Data Analysis and Legacy Integration can play large or small roles in the context of a CRM implementation. Analytics is becoming more and more critical to the understanding of customer behavior. As the granularity of data collection and monitoring increases, the ability to detect trends and patterns within that data becomes more and more important but more and more difficult. Highly complex CRM implementations require highly complex analytics capabilities. The more advanced CRM packages either contain this functionality or partner with companies that provide such functionality.

Likewise, CRM packages are starting to extend tendrils to other parts of the organization outside of the traditional front office functions. CRM/ERP implementations are not atypical and indeed any company that has made a large investment in ERP should closely link CRM activities to that investment. This function is typically filled by Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) packages, but some of the more advanced CRM software vendors are including hooks into specific external applications such as SAP, Peoplesoft, or Oracle. This function also serves to tie new functionality into existing infrastructure architectures, primarily around PBX/ACD systems and email systems. This becomes important for companies that have large investments in call center equipment.

Note that this viewpoint basically treats each major set of components as a series of Lego™ blocks. You can examine a package based on a joined set of blocks, or select the best block for each and examine the fit between the blocks. Similarly, the data analysis layer and the legacy integration layer allow you to isolate those functions and use third-party packages as desired to meet those specific needs.

Evaluation Methodology

Finally, when I get to the actual evaluation process, I use a general two-parameter matrix to evaluate functional requirements against product capability. The list of functional requirements provides a baseline. The project team creates the first parameter. Each functional requirement is weighted as “must-have’, “nice-to-have,” and “optional.” The project team evaluates the weighting associated with each requirement.

The functional requirements also serve as the basis for the RFI/RFP process. The vendors create the second parameter. Each vendor is asked to indicate whether their product incorporates the function, requires slight customization to incorporate the function, requires extensive customization or third-party products to support the function, or does not support the function. In the evaluation process, the weight of the function is applied to the vendor’s ability to support that function to give a weighted value for each functional requirement. The sum total of each vendor’s weighted scores provides a way to evaluate the overall functionality of the product against the team’s specific needs. In addition, the functional requirements can be grouped into function sets, and the function sets given weights of their own. Thus, if interaction management functionality is more important than marketing program management, the functions associated with interaction management can be super-weighted accordingly.

Product Evaluation

VALUE OF REQUIREMENT = Requirement Priority x Vendor Capability to Deliver Requirement

WHERE Requirement Priority is:

    HIGH (3 points)
    MEDIUM (2 points)
    LOW/NICE TO HAVE (1 point)
and Vendor Capability is:
Allowing for a range of 0 to 12 points per function.

The advantage of this approach is that it’s general enough to be used for just about any product but can be made specific enough to drill down to very low levels of detail. Good luck in your selection!

About the Author

Jay Chang has over ten years of information technology experience focusing on the pharmaceuticals industry. He has worked for consulting organizations and Fortune 500 companies, serving a variety of roles from developer to architect. He currently works as an independent consultant focusing on project management, technology assessment, and business process analysis. Jay can be reached at