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CRM Tutorial – Part 5: Creating a Customer Service Portal

Basic Processes in Customer Service Management.

Customer service is a broad church. For some organizations it means just answering the telephone, for others it means managing the complete experience end to end. Universally you find that those organizations which operate in highly competitive and high profile markets are much more customer focused that those who do not.

Things change too -- what you are offering today as a major differentiator will become just the table stakes to get into the game in a year’s time. This is a global pattern. You cannot stop it and nor can you control it -- all you can do is manage the effect of it on your business and be ready to respond.

So, as far as CRM is concerned, your customer service system must be:

  • built from your customer’s perspective of their relationship with you and not the other way around
  • flexible so that it meets everyone’s needs
  • capable of being expanded to offer more and more functions as the customer experience changes and demands rise.

The internet has brought about a customer revolution. As well as delivering web based CRM solutions to you, it has allowed your customer to lower switching costs from you; customer loyalty is a thing of the past; demanding customers are the norm rather than the exception. You need to be sensitive to these drivers and be ready to respond.

This does not mean being all things to all men (or women). It means deciding what business you are in and building a service function that matches that. For example, we develop software; but we are in the business improvement business and our service function is built to satisfy that. When we take a service call from our customers, the fact that the software may not be doing what it is supposed to do is irrelevant: it’s the effect of that problem on  our customer’s business that matters most. That’s why we have a four level service Priority system where Priority 1 calls are dealt with within 30 minutes of being logged with us. A P1 call means that the site is down and our customer can’t operate. It may be the most trivial of faults -- a 2 second job for one of our engineers who may view it as a simple technical glitch -- but it has the potential to cause major problems for our customer and that is what drives the response.

That is why the starting point for you should be this simple question:

What does customer service mean to your organization?

What business are you in?

iportinstant is a totally flexible CRM solution in terms of how you can set up and manage your customer facing operations, but it needs to be driven by the simple definition of what business are you in.

Let’s take a look at a typical customer service scenario as a starting point.

Like all business transactions, the customer service transaction contains a number of basic components:

  • The title or description of the issue
  • The Profile – a group of data (called Classifications in iportinstant) which describe the transaction
  • Individual and Organization Permissions – which determine access and relationship rights to the transaction
  • Attachments – which allow the upload of attached documents, pictures, screen shots, images etc.
  • Related Transactions – which link this transaction to other transactions
  • Notes and Comments – which records each contact point with the customer in detail.

Of the above, in our experience, by far the most important section is the Notes and Comments. These should be used extensively to record every single call/fax/email/contact point with the customer and as much detail as possible should be included. This will form a detailed record of the issue and all of the steps taken to resolve it. It will be available to every member of your organization so that the knowledge is shared. It can even be made available to your customers (and they can even add notes of their own) which improves communication even more.

The next most important section is the Profile. A Profile is a collection of Classifications that describe the Transaction in general terms. A typical Profile may include the following::

  • Issue Type – generic heading for the problem e.g. Delivery problem, Damaged goods etc.
  • Priority – indicator of the severity of the problem
  • Due date – to indicate when it needs a resolution
  • Issue status – which indicates what stage of your customer service process that the transaction is currently at.

The two pivotal Classifications in this are the Priority and Issue status. Priority could have three simple options – High, Medium and Low. It makes sense, therefore, to attach some formal logic and response to these priorities. As explained earlier, we have a 4 priority system, all of which have a response time attached:

  • P1 – 30 minutes
  • P2 – 1 hour
  • P3 – 4 hours
  • P4 – 8 hours

The Issue Status is important also because it gives an indication of where the issue is in the process and what is likely to happen next.

The other key pieces of information relating to a service transaction are who recorded it, which organization does it refer to and who is currently dealing with it.

These are held in the Individual and Organization Permissions. Typical permissions could be:

  • Assigned to for action – denotes who is currently dealing with the issue. It is worth remembering that transactions could be assigned to more than one individual so that teams can collaborate on service issues. This is can unusual and difficult to find in CRM software although iportinstant can achieve this.
  • Full access – this is the blanket permission usually assigned to employees of/members of your organization.
  • Update only – a special permission assigned to individuals (usually Customers) so that they can update the notes but not change the Classifications e.g. Priority, Status etc.
  • Read only – assigned normally to the customer company so that they can see what is going on when they log into the Portal but can’t change anything on the transaction. A useful combination is Read only for all employees of the customer but Update Worknotes for the individual in the customer organization who originally logged the call and can update the records.

By letting your customers get controlled access to the Customer Service Portal you can reduce the amount of unnecessary telephone traffic which is time-consuming, expensive and frustrating. For example, how many times has a customer called to speak to a customer service rep to find that they are all on the phone. The rep then calls the customer to find they are in a meeting. A message is left. The customer calls back and the rep is on the phone…This kind of telephone ping-pong goes on in organizations the world over.

In our experience, we reduced telephone calls by over 35% after implementing an iportinstant customer service function. That’s a proven, demonstrable figure. What impact would that have in your business?

In the next section we'll look deeper at a web based CRM solution being used as a Customer Service Management Portal.

Chic McSherry