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The channels businesses use to communicate with customers have changed over time. Early business practices relied on face-to-face interactions and written communications. Modern businesses have added electronic communications to the mix, including telephone, email, live chat, and social media.

As the number of contact points has increased, the challenge of aggregating and organizing that data has also increased. The details and purchase history of a single customer may now be spread among several channels and multiple employees. While the challenge of managing that data has grown, the importance of maintaining access to it has remained constant.

Businesses working to improve their customer support services may benefit from a customer relationship management (CRM) system that can help make customer interactions much more efficient and effective. This article covers what a CRM offers and how it can improve customer support.

What Is a CRM?

While the term CRM didn’t become an industry standard until the 1990s, the concept of a CRM is as old as business itself. The modern CRM is a digital (and far more sophisticated) version of a Rolodex—a technological leap over the pen-and-paper customer records of decades past.

A critical development came with the introduction of ‘mobile’ CRMs, which took advantage of the expansion of high-speed Internet access during the late 1990s and early 2000s to make a company’s digital customer records available to employees on multiple devices in multiple places. This development had considerable benefits for companies with various offices or remote sales staff.

The mobile CRM has become the standard for CRM software. Real-time access to data has also shown itself to be critical for multi-channel customer support services, which benefit from the efficient handling of diffuse consumer touchpoints. A CRM ensures consumer interactions via email, live chat, and telephone exist in a single location.

The Benefits of Using a CRM for Customer Service Support

A CRM has benefits for multiple business sectors. It has a significant role in lead management and sales, which makes it valuable to marketing teams and sales staff. Both can use the CRM data to keep track of clients and potential clients, learning when and how to deliver messages to each.

However, CRM support for customer service has a primary role because customer service blends marketing, sales, support, and retention efforts. In particular, CRMs have proven themselves to be highly valuable in addressing five key issues many customer service centers face:

1. Scaling with the business efficiently.

Sometimes, a business’s adoption of a CRM comes out of necessity. Rapid growth can make manual CRMs—sometimes nothing more than spreadsheets or email folders—appear inadequate. Many of these handcrafted systems offer minimum viability for five or ten customers but have decreasing efficiency as a business grows.

A cloud-based CRM supports business growth without requiring continual reinvestment in software or hardware. It also avoids the guesswork of exactly what capacity or features a business may need. The ability to upgrade (or downgrade) as circumstances change lowers the risk a business faces by adopting a CRM.

Furthermore, a CRM that is in use by hundreds or thousands of businesses likely has the ready functionality to meet emerging business demands. Without adoption of a CRM, businesses may continually need to develop new functionality for an internally managed system as the company changes.

2. Sharing data in real time with all team members.

In customer service, data sharing can mean more than just open access to customer information. In fully integrated systems—such as those that pair a CRM with computer telephony integration (CTI)—representatives gain instant access to a full customer record as soon as an interaction begins.

This real-time access can expedite the handling of customer issues and reduce the total amount of time spent with each customer. For example, a CRM can show a complete history of customer interactions, which may include notes from previous calls in which a customer sought a resolution for an ongoing issue. The representative can quickly address the outstanding item without requiring the customer to repeat the entire history. That access can reduce customer frustration and enable representatives to handle more customers in the same amount of time.

For customer service representatives that also have a role in sales, CRMs have an even larger role. A comprehensive CRM may include a list of marketing materials received by a customer, which can provide insight into consumer interest and existing knowledge. Additionally, a CRM can improve information transfer between remote sales staff and in-house customer service representatives.

The seamless data transfer keeps representatives informed while also improving a prospect’s perception of a company’s overall management. Both benefits have the potential to increase sales and boost revenue.

3. Automating data entry for consistent, accurate information.

The value of data sharing depends largely on the quality of data obtained. A complete set of notes from a previous call may not be valuable if the content is disorganized or key dates are missing. Without automated data entry, a busy sales representative may neglect to log a critical sales call. Alternatively, a burdensome requirement for manual data entry may lower staff morale. It may also waste valuable time that may be better spent building rapport through face-to-face interactions.

An integrated CRM can automate many aspects of data entry to provide a clearer, more complete picture of client interactions. The increased clarity provides representatives with more confidence about the data in front of them and eases the burden of data maintenance.

The automation of data entry has benefits beyond the immediate improvements to representative/client interactions. A standardized set of data points is key for customer service managers to gain actionable insights from CRM analytics.

4. Using analytics to verify processes and increase accountability.

An automated data entry system for a CRM provides the raw material for business analytics. For managers working with dozens or even hundreds of representatives, the data from a CRM provides critical visibility into which practices should be standardized.

It can also help boost adoption by offering a data-backed rationale for behavior changes among staff. A supporting dataset can make managers more influential with entrenched staff and garner support among new hires to adopt an internal strategy for client interactions. It may also allow managers to give team members liberty to test or experiment new methodologies, with the resultant data able to define success.

Thus, these analytics insights can bolster accountability within a customer service center and throughout an organization. Just as data can be used to improve the performance of individual representatives, managers can also use data to show progress to executives or request changes to staffing or procedures.

At the very least, the added accountability can help show the value of an online customer support center. Basic data points like ‘calls handled’ or ‘sales completed’ are clear markers of utility. In an ideal scenario, analytics data and increased accountability will also reduce costs.

5. Reducing costs to make customer service more efficient.

A reduction in costs is one of the great benefits of a CRM. The improved data organization and consistency builds efficiency into customer service interactions, and analytics can verify and further these initial gains.

The reduced costs don’t necessarily mean a smaller or less significant department, either. A more efficient customer service center may be able to redistribute resources to improve technology, training, or compensation—all of which may also increase employee satisfaction and retention.

Of course, reduced costs are only one-half of the equation. A CRM also has the potential to increase revenue, either through more sales or enhanced client retention. A high-quality customer service experience—assisted by a CRM—can help deliver more consistent, informed messaging to potential clients.

Are cost reductions or profit increases really possible through the adoption of a CRM? Resultant analytics should go a long way toward proving the business case.

What to Expect from a CRM for Customer Service

For businesses in which customer support services are vital, a CRM can push and pull data from multiple areas of the business to streamline communication within an organization and make client interactions more effective.

A CRM can also lead to more data, better quality data, and increased access to data by relevant team members. Customer service managers monitoring and reviewing metrics from a CRM can use those figures to implement data-driven solutions that improve the performance of customer service departments.

Finally, dedicated use of a CRM throughout a business can help achieve cost savings and increase profits; benefits that impact everyone involved—representatives, managers, and executives.