Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Connecting automated and human-facing systems for a better CRM experience

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on October 8, 2011

Customer relations management (CRM) and discussion of how businesses connect with their customers have constituted a steady ongoing topic thread running through this blog, and I turn back to this again with this posting. The immediate impetus for my writing this posting was a recent experience that my wife had with an online company – Amazon.com. She purchased a skin for her smart phone and when it arrived she found that it had a minor factory defect that kept it from closing correctly. So far this story is not about Amazon, the distributor and it probably isn’t about the manufacturer either as even the best quality control program cannot reduce error rates to zero. Some problems will always slip through. But what happened next is all about Amazon and it is why I am writing this.

Soon after this item was delivered, my wife received an email asking her about her experience, and this feedback request included a one to five ratings evaluation for her opinion of this product with five best. This feedback request came as an email with a link to a custom response page uniquely associated with this specific purchase, and was fleshed out with a standard customer satisfaction survey form. And that is where this story gets interesting.

When my wife did manage to snap the skin closed over her phone a small piece of the design on it flaked off, and she was not exactly satisfied when she filled out this online form. So she clicked the product ratings level as two out of five – and as soon as she did so and even before submitting the form a small screen popped up asking her if someone from customer service could contact her to find out what went wrong. She was offered an opportunity to return the product for a full refund. If she wanted to be contacted, she had options of being called within 12 hours or to simply send a text message saying what happened. She did not opt to return this phone skin and decided to send a text message. And a person responded back to her via email within those 12 hours, thanking her for her feedback and to let her know that 30% of the purchase price for this item was going to be refunded back to her credit card that she had made this purchase with. And with that as background this posting really begins – I want to discuss the implications of what happened here, and both with regard to how this CRM system is seamlessly integrated together, and in how this customer-facing functionality offers direct and specific value to Amazon as well as to its customers.

• From the customer side: This was only an eight dollar purchase, but with all of the shopping options out there competing for consumer attention and business, this assurance that the customer really is listened to at Amazon is a compelling point in favor of shopping there. If a purchase does not work out and certainly if that is due to manufacturing or deliver damage problems, Amazon wants to hear about that and make good on it too.
• From the business side: The fact that all of the initial problem reporting and feedback screening steps are fully automated here means that human participants on the company’s side of this only need to see or get involved in the specific transactions where that would make sense. This selective filtering goes a long way towards making this response system cost-effective.
• From the customer side: They get options to choose from, so they get to follow through on their side of remediating their problem in a way that best fits their needs. Do they want to return this item? In this case at least, it is much more cost-effective for the vendor and more convenient for the customer that they simply keep it. And customer response as to what went wrong was partly organized as a text entry form and partly as a set-response option selection form, and between them these feedback responses allow the consumer to share their side of this story.
• From the business side: The fact that customer feedback is organized the way it is, with key data coming in as data that can feed directly into automated systems offers tremendous value to the business. This data goes directly into a database that can be used for broad based quality control. So if the manufacturer of this skin shows as having sent Amazon other product items also flawed with manufacturer defects, Amazon will know that and what items were involved and even what lots and shipments were showing problems. This means Amazon has the option of flagging a seemingly bad batch and shipping it back to the manufacturer – rather than sending those items out one at a time to perhaps a great many customers. But this is only one small part of the way that this data can be used – all of which brings real value to Amazon.

I come back to the core issue of cost-effectiveness. Simply putting a lot of people on customer feedback and CRM would probably not be cost-effective and that is where most of Amazon’s competition have at least traditionally ended this discussion as they determine their own internal best practices for CRM, and for services and functions that could be directly connected to it (e.g. supply chain and its quality control systems.) And when this type of system is developed and connected together effectively, with the right automated components and the right human intervention components working together – that creates real value and both in loss reduction and as a direct source of customer facing unique value.

You can similar postings at Business Strategy and Operations and at its continuation directory page, Business Strategy and Operations – 2.

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