Many businesses like to say they are driven by their customers. At the same time, though, many of these same businesses don't have a clue — or have a clue but not the whole story — as to what their customers really want or care about. More often than not, that's because the business doesn't have a customer relationship management (CRM) system in place - or has a CRM system, but it isn't using it in its call center.
That's partly because today CRM systems do so many things, from sales force automation to partner relationship management to marketing automation, that the customer service and support aspect — i.e, the C and R in CRM - often gets overlooked. However, as small business accounting solutions company Acclivity Software quickly learned, deploying a CRM system to help better manage and track customer issues can be invaluable.
Choosing the Right CRM Software (and CRM Partner)
Before Acclivity Software became an independent, privately owned business, it was part of Australian accounting and payroll solutions provider MYOB, which had an elaborate CRM system. As Acclivity would still be selling MYOB software, in addition to eventually developing and selling its own accounting software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, managing partners Tom Nash and Scott Davisson knew they would need their own CRM system, one that could interface with MYOB's CRM system yet was designed and priced to fit a small but rapidly growing startup (or re-startup, as the partners like to say).
After looking at different CRM solutions, including well-established and open source solutions, Acclivity chose NetSuite. "We needed something for our call center, to help us get a better view of our customers. And we needed something for the back office financial operation, to help us be more efficient," explained Davisson. "And at the time [late 2005/early 2006] there weren't a lot of CRM solutions out there that covered everything, which we could afford."
To help with its NetSuite deployment, and customize it to suit its specific needs, Acclivity hired NetSuite Partner Horizon Associates Group, which specializes in helping small and mid-sized businesses like Acclivity get the most out of their NetSuite deployments.
"NetSuite is kind of like a Swiss army knife," explained Davisson. "It can do anything, but it's not plug-and-play right out of the box. And if you understand that going in, and you have patience and [the right help], you can accomplish everything that NetSuite tells you it can."
"NetSuite is all about helping you to organize your business, so you can run it better," added Joe Giegerich, the partner at Horizon Associates Group who worked closely with Acclivity Software. "If you're unorganized, NetSuite adds discipline immediately, from day one."
And not that he believed his business was disorganized, Davisson knew that Acclivity's business processes, particularly its call center and back-office operations, could benefit from a little discipline and organization.
Putting CRM to Work in Your Call Center
Before deploying NetSuite, Davisson said a customer alert consisted of someone from the call center walking into his office with a slip of paper in her hand letting him know there was a problem. Now, however, with NetSuite's Customer Service Case Management system, Davisson (and all of the Acclivity senior team) doesn't have to wait for a customer service rep to come to his office to know if there is a serious customer issue. That's because the case management system create cases for each customer call; prioritizes cases; routes and tracks cases according to product, issue, case type, partner or customer; and allows users to respond to cases and input information from a variety of mediums, including e-mails, phone calls and faxes.
"Now every single touch point is wrapped into a case," said Davisson. "So now when a customer calls in with an issue, a case is created. And that case is escalated to whomever the stakeholder is -- me, the loyalty manager, the sales manager, whomever." And that stakeholder is then responsible for taking appropriate action and resolving the matter.
As a result, managers now can track customer-related issues and detect trends (via the NetSuite dashboard and alerts) - and respond to them a lot faster.
By way of example, Davisson cites a conversation he typically has with his call center manager. "He'll say 'a lot of people are calling,'" said Davisson. "And I'll say to him 'What's a lot?' And historically he wasn't really been able to tell me." But since deploying NetSuite in the company's call center, that's changed, he said.
"Now if the call center manager says there are a lot of people calling in, saying, for example, there's a problem with W-2s in our Mac product, I'll say 'What's a lot? Give me a sample size.' And he can now go into NetSuite and search for 'W-2' and pull out 20 cases and say 'Scott, I've got 20 cases right here, and it's January 3.' And I'll say, 'Okay, that's an issue. Let's understand exactly what's happening and figure it out.'"
And it's not just Acclivity management that's benefiting from NetSuite. It's Accivity's customers.
Just the other day, said Davisson, he received a letter ("in the mail") from a customer who was upset about a new policy the company had put in place. After opening the letter, he immediately looked up the customer in NetSuite, found him, saw he had just complained to the call center about a similar issue and that case was currently open.
Davisson then picked up the phone and called the customer, who, he said, greatly appreciated the call -- and the opportunity to speak with someone in management. When the call was concluded (to both Davisson and the customer's satisfaction), Davisson scanned the customer's letter into NetSuite along with his notes about their conversation and next steps. Issue resolved. Customer happy. Case closed.
And that's just one example of how NetSuite has helped Acclivity better help and retain customers, said Davisson. "Thanks to NetSuite, we're finding and handling problems before they're problems," he said. And that's made everyone's lives better. "I don't mind talking to [customer service] reps," he said. "I'm back there talking to them all the time. But it's great to not have to. It's great to have that flow of information that just makes us seem and feel like a bigger company."
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a regular contributor to Enterprise Apps Today and runs a blog for and about small businesses.