CRM and Call Centers at Odds…Who Knew?

Most of us in the CRM world see the marriage between CRM software and call centers a happy one, I mean, where else do you really relate to customers (read: not prospects) but in the call center. And while call centers tend to be where customer interact with you at their most unhappy moments – the call center presents opportunities for CRM systems to prove their value; with upsell offers, integrated account and service management, resolution help through knowledgebases, etc.

So, I must say I was surprised when I read a Customer Think article called “CRM vs. Call Centers.” I mean, how could this perfect marriage be in trouble? Was there bickering and anger behind the white picket fence I had in my mind?

Turns out, there is. The article points that a lot of the technology going in to call centers is designed to actually run the call center, not optimize customer interactions. This includes the telephony system, call routing, IVR, speech recognition tools, etc. before the concept of CRM even comes up. So, in a world always looking to cut costs, it is no surprise that there is a lot fewer deployments of what we call CRM systems inside some call centers than we might imagine.

I talked with Gartner analyst Jim Davies about this the other day (this breakfast meeting has given me lots of blog fodder, thanks again for meeting Jim). And what Jim had to say was interesting. Jim notes that for many call center managers, they are worried about the infrastructure and the personnel – staffing, understanding peak call times and insuring staff can meet demand, more than they are worried about customer satisfaction levels. The software first deployed is workforce optimization tools, like Witness or Verint or Aspect, not necessarily a CRM suite. The CRM consideration is more strategic and comes after the telephony nuts and bolts and the people management issues are down pat.

Cost is always a concern, and that is understood. But I am still surprised at how some call centers have very little CRM in place. But of course, this absence presents an opportunity. Now, if there was only a low-cost CRM system that plays well with nearly any other system and telephony platform out there so call centers could have their cake and eat it too… 😉