When I started my professional career as a frontline technical support analyst for a large software company, our call tracking system was essentially a glorified ticketing system. Though it was customized to fit our needs, still it did little more than associate a customer with their issue. Since that time, how customer issues are tracked and addressed has evolved dramatically.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) came onto the scene in the late 1980’s and became the new standard. It promised one place for storing and maintaining all customer information. Customer-facing teams–sales, service, and marketing–would no longer struggle with incorrect, out-of-sync data in siloed systems and would instead have one unified view of the customer sales and service interaction history, which in turn could drive marketing insights and actions.

That sounds great, but the problem with CRM is that it does little beyond providing a myopic, individual view to sales, service, and marketing. It is not focused on solving customers’ problems, and as a result does very little to improve the customer’s overall experience. And customer experience is the new battleground for business.

It’s time for a new approach to customer service. Enter service management, the next evolution of customer service. Offering many of the same benefits of traditional CRM, it goes further by creating an environment to:

  • Engage the entire company in customer service
  • Take customer issues to the teams who can resolve them
  • Drive permanent and proactive solutions

Organization-Wide Customer Service

CRM creates a single repository for customer information to benefit the teams working with customers. While there are some advantages this brings, one could argue those benefits are more to the company than to the customer. The result is great visibility into customers, but not better service to them.

With service management, solving customer problems is the priority. Just as with CRM, customer service is still on the front lines, identifying and collecting customer problems. Problems are triaged and classified, again like how CRM works. But where service management breaks from CRM is to make it possible for customer service to easily take those collected issues and engage with departments beyond their walls. After all, customer service didn’t cause a customer’s billing error, it was a result of a problem in finance. By connecting the customer and their issue to the rest of the company with a common service management platform, those departments outside customer service not only work more cooperatively with customer service, but they have a greater awareness of customer issues and the role they play in the customer experience.

Assign Work And Keep Teams Accountable

Using that common service management platform, all departments are united–not just sales, service, and marketing but the entire company. Customer service can use the platform to assign problems to other departments and collaborate with them as they are further investigated and ultimately solved. Workflow makes this possible and also ensures the problem is never lost. Progress (as well as any delays or detours) can be tracked through to resolution.

While CRM doesn’t limit the ability of customer service to engage with other parts of the organization to solve customer problems, it doesn’t making it as easy as service management. Remember, CRM’s primary purpose is to record and consolidate customer information. When customer issues come up that must be resolved by other departments, those issues can be shared, but that’s typically a manual process: create a report from the CRM system, send it over email to the department responsible, and hope for the best. There is significantly less visibility, collaboration, and accountability, making the resolution more time-consuming. Meanwhile, the customer suffers from lack of a solution.

Deliver Permanent And Proactive Solutions

Service management offers an additional benefit beyond the limitations of CRM. Unlike CRM’s one-off approach to servicing customers, service management has a greater goal in mind: to permanently solve issues by quickly identifying and resolving the root cause. It does this by identifying patterns in customer issues, assigning that issue to the department responsible for validation and providing a permanent fix, and following the progress through to delivery of that fix.

With the core problem addressed, service management also simplifies the delivery of solutions to the customers experiencing it. Automated self-service solutions, knowledge base articles, or email communications can be offered to customers. And not only is the issue solved for all the customers currently encountering it, but future customers will never face it. In this way, service management short circuits the CRM approach of answering questions and problems in a one-off manner.

Driving A Better Customer Experience

Customer service is more than just taking down the customer’s details. The customer service department exists to respond to and resolve customer problems. With that in mind, it’s clear CRM and service management take very different paths in terms of how they tackle this.

With service management, customer service takes the lead on issues and engages the entire organization in solving customer problems. Connected in this way, customer service can assign problems directly to the departments and work with them cooperatively to effect a permanent solution for customers, which in turn prevents future customers from encountering that same issue–a process of continual improvement.

Given the choice between CRM and service management, which approach do you think will drive higher customer satisfaction and take the customer experience the higher levels?