If you’re considering adding more contact solutions into your organization’s existing customer support strategy, you face two options:

  • Integrate solutions and cross-train employees on your own.
  • Outsource your customer support services.

This article will explore how to decide which option is right for your organization. In addition, we’ll describe how two vendors offer ways to implement these options.

Determine your contact points
Connected organizations can be reached through a variety of contact points, including:

  • Internet Protocol (IP) telephony
  • Web chat
  • E-mail
  • Fax

Organizations that integrate these contact points give customers easy access to a wider variety of product and service information. Integrated solutions give customers the option of communicating via e-mail or through Web chat, where they can receive instant answers to their questions.

The key is determining how your customers prefer to contact your organization, whether you provide an in-house “contact center” or decide to hand the responsibility on to another organization.

“The goal of any company is to deal with the customer with the way they [customers] set, not with the infrastructure you set for them,” said Robert Kugel, an analyst with FAC/Equities, the Boston-based banking investment division of First Albany Corporation.

Study integration methods
Ask these questions before you decide whether to outsource or provide new services in-house:

  • How are customers contacting the organization now?
  • How are customer interactions being handled?
  • Is there a backlog of unanswered inquiries?
  • Is the current solution(s) creating deeper customer relationships?

An organization can determine how customers want to contact customer service representatives (CSRs) by taking a poll of the existing customer base or by tracking current contact points such as call center and e-mail usage.

If one contact point is busier than another or has a backlog, it may be time to look at integrating more solutions into an existing contact center or cross-training CSRs to handle multiple contact points.

One in-house solution
Training CSRs can be an obstacle for an in-house integration project. CSRs with inadequate training can harm current customer relationships and hinder new ones from forming.

Training CSRs to handle multiple contact points can put a kink in new implementations. Training programs that combine different communication methods demand more time and resources on the part of the organization. Before adding strategies, it is important to make sure they will blend with current methods. It is also important to pick a solution from a vendor that provides integration and training support.

Keeping a new solution simple and user-friendly is the first step to integrating products, said Michelle Assum of Talisma, a customer relationship management (CRM) solutions provider. Many of Talisma’s clients purchase a conjoined e-mail and Web chat management system that is supported by QuickStart, Talisma’s analysis and training program.

Part of Talisma’s QuickStart program includes comprehensive training provided in-house.

“Our trainer is there from day one with the QuickStart program so we understand [an organization’s] business processes today, what they’re using today, what’s working for them, and what is not. Then, we as trainers look at that information, analyze that, and integrate that into our training,” said Assum, Talisma’s director of education services.

Assum said Talisma’s products are easy to understand and can be up and running in a matter of days. Also, the user interface for the Web chat and e-mail management programs resemble Microsoft Outlook.

“It’s a common application that most people are familiar with, which is great from a training perspective,” said Assum.

The outsourcing option
Organizations may choose to outsource customer support services for a variety of different reasons:

  • Low unemployment makes it difficult to find skilled workers.
  • Organizations experiencing rapid growth may want to focus their attention elsewhere.
  • Budget concerns may prompt managers to look for alternatives to in-house solutions.

“There is a significant cost savings by outsourcing customer support,” said Sudhakar Kosaraju, vice president of business development and marketing for 24/7Customer.com, a customer support outsourcer.

With an outsourcer like 24/7Customer.com, an organization can focus on its core capabilities while 24/7Customer.com handles all voice, e-mail, and Web chat services.

24/7Customer.com runs their support services out of a facility in Bangalore, India, that can accommodate 2,700 around-the-clock CSRs. The amount of skilled CSRs available puts them ahead of similar services, said Kosaraju. “A lot of outsourcers are ‘mom and pop shops.’ They have 20 people they can provide to you, but they don’t necessarily have the ability to scale,” he said.

Ken Noonan, 24/7Customer.com’s vice president of sales and marketing, said that in many outsourcing models, CSRs are split between different accounts. With 24/7Customer.com, each account has a dedicated team of CSRs. Also, each client has an in-house 24/7Customer.com representative that interacts directly with the client and the facility in India.

The winner is…
Whether you select in-house services or choose to outsource, the transition toward new CRM solutions should be invisible to customers. A bump in the road during implementations can damage current customer relationships.

“One thing that we really try to emphasize is making sure that no matter what point of contact the customer comes in on, we’re getting the same [customer service] message across [the contact points],” said Assum.

Also do not outsource customer support services just for the sake of outsourcing.

“If it’s not broke, don’t attempt to fix it. If [organizations] have very good customer satisfaction, then they’re probably doing a very good job. If they don’t and they’re not getting the loyalty they would hope to get, then they may want to consider outsourcing,” said Noonan.

Is your organization looking for CRM solutions?

Is your senior management team talking about implementing CRM? What issues are surfacing because of the talk? Post a comment or drop us a note to tell us what you think.