Plenty of sites serve as good resources for CRM information. ITtoolbox CRM , CRM Forum, and CRMGuru.com offer listings of CRM products, consultants, and services, as well as numerous articles and access to free e-mail newsletters. Most articles advise companies to begin by focusing on customers, a step that involves evaluating support strategies and processes.
“Historically, many companies’ first step toward CRM was sales-force automation,” says Pombriant. “Next came customer service and support.” But careful consideration and a willingness to change to benefit customers is the most important key to success. This can work for either large enterprises, or small businesses, says small business idea website Launchscore.com.
One of the oldest providers of online customer-support tools is Siebel Systems. With products in almost every CRM niche, Siebel serves businesses of all sizes, including the small and mid-size companies it defines as those with 50 to 1,000 employees. The company also targets specific vertical markets, including telecommunications, finance, and energy.
Though large enterprise customers such as Ford pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for Siebel’s CRM applications and more for implementation services, the company has formed partnerships with both Compaq and IBM to deliver packaged products to smaller companies. It even offers its Siebel Sales Personal Edition 6.0 as a free download at Oracle.com. This sales and contact- management program is geared toward small- and home-office professionals, and focuses on tracking sales leads and managing contacts and activities. It’s a good introduction to the company’s products, and if you decide to upgrade later, you can upload data from the Personal Edition to the Midmarket Edition. This product comprises three sets of applications, designed for your employees, your customers, and your partners.
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If all you’re really after is a way to provide round-the-clock customer support, even that function can be outsourced. C-Cubed Solutions offers live customer “chat” sessions 24/7 at a relatively modest cost by maintaining a support staff in Bangalore, India, the “Silicon Valley” of that country, where English is widely spoken. If demand spikes, C-Cubed can triple the staff members assigned to your account within an hour. The setup charge ranges from $5,000 to $10,000, depending on the complexity of your products, and around $500 per operator per month thereafter.
Don’t be concerned that chat-based support may be less popular with customers than live phone support. Interviews with top computer companies revealed that online customers, given the choice between chat-based support and speaking with a technician, chose chat-based support by a three-to-one margin. If your customers are on the Web, chances are they’re comfortable with instant messaging and online chats.
Once at your site, about a third of your customers will go first to your search function, according to Atomz, provider of a “hosted site search engine.” The company’s Atomz Search product gives you the code you need to provide the site-search function as well as customer-feedback information. Atomz Search is in use by more than 40,000 sites worldwide, according to the company, including those of Macromedia, Webmonkey, and The Bank of Canada.
The service “crawls” your site to perform an initial index, then performs incremental indexes as often as you wish. (Informing you of broken links is an incidental side benefit.) Because the service is a hosted application, someone else handles the maintenance headaches associated with the search function, and the reports and feedback you receive let you tailor your site according to customer desires. Atomz Express Search is free for sites with fewer than 500 pages; Prime Search, which includes the crawling and indexing services, costs $500 per year.
Even the best search engines can leave site visitors frustrated. Hipbone’s hosted “cobrowser” application lets you provide live assistance to help customers find what they’re looking for. This is a particularly valuable feature for e-commerce sites. Lands’ End, whose Web-site business has been more profitable than its catalog sales for the past two years, credits the use of cobrowsing technology. Non-e-commerce sites can also use Hipbone’s technology for training purposes, and companies such as insurance and real-estate agencies can use it to help customers complete forms. Basic setup typically costs about $10,000, and the basic service costs $950 per seat per year.
How are you doing so far? You can find out using the Automated Response Watch service from Atesto Technologies. It remotely monitors response times for both Web pages and transactions. The service tests your site every 15 minutes from server sites spread around the world, and reports response times in real time. Set a critical level of response, and the service alerts you to poor performance. This gives you the information you need to evaluate issues such as the adequacy of your hosting service, server, or ISP. Pricing starts at $3,500 per quarter for 100 concurrent users.
Maintaining the highest possible customer-satisfaction levels is key to building customer loyalty. But you don’t have to go it alone. Plenty of affordable services are available to help you develop a useful, informative, even profitable site, and you’ll find a wealth of online resources to help you find the best solutions.