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Integration between KM tools and CRM leads to happier customers

Enterprises need to do a better job of integrating KM tools with CRM systems, according to IT industry experts and attendees of KMWorld 2010.

Companies that want to achieve higher levels of customer satisfaction should tighten the screws between knowledge management (KM) tools and CRM software, according to IT industry analysts and attendees of this month’s KMWorld 2010 conference in Washington, D.C.

Industry analysts have been predicting a “convergence” between the KM tools and CRM software markets for the last decade -- and those forecasts have come true, to some extent. The majority of today’s CRM software packages include at least a minimal KM information repository, while most KM tools vendors provide integration kits for the leading CRM systems.

Despite vendor efforts to increase ties, however, most end-user organizations still haven’t done a very good job of capitalizing on the affinity between KM and CRM, according to John Ragsdale, vice president of research at the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) in San Diego, Calif. As a result, many organizations are missing out on the highly desirable benefits of KM and CRM integration.

Enterprises that tightly integrate KM tools with CRM software put more information at the fingertips of customer service and call center agents and therefore reduce the time it takes to resolve client problems, according to Ragsdale. Faster incident resolution, in turn, leads to shorter hold times, lower abandon rates, increased overall productivity and happier customers. What’s more, Ragsdale added, is that KM and CRM integration increases the chances of resolving issues on the first try.

“First contact resolution is probably the primary driver of customer satisfaction more than anything else,” Ragsdale said. “Even if you’re kind of rude to the customer, if you can solve the problem quickly, they’ll forgive you.”

Integration between KM tools and CRM can also provide a potentially valuable new way to capture, organize and learn from customer experiences, according to Denise Bedford, a professor of information architecture and knowledge management at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, and an attendee of last week’s KMWorld conference.

Businesses spend a great deal of time and money on customer surveys and competitive intelligence, Bedford explained, and a strong link between knowledge articles and CRM customer interactions can complement such efforts.

“Look at your clients as a major source of knowledge,” she said. “Don’t assume you know what they want.”

The relationship between KM tools and CRM software in a nutshell

KM applications provide an information repository and search tools that allow users to seek out, organize and perhaps build upon an organization’s collective experiences and wisdom. A KM information repository might include FAQs, documents, personnel information and other digital files. In the context of CRM, a KM repository might provide a searchable file of solutions to common or not-so-common customer problems, and links back to CRM trouble tickets for speedier incident resolution in the future.

“CRM is interaction management, in my view. It’s about managing every touch point with the customer and it’s about creating that database of interactions so that you’ve got a 360-degree-view of every interaction and every decision the company makes that impacts the customer,” Ragsdale said. “Knowledge management is really a separate discipline in my mind. It [involves] recording answers that are given to customers so that you can reuse those answers and never reinvent the wheel.”

Getting started on KM tools and CRM software integration

Experts say most enterprises boast more than one set of KM tools and information repositories, and figuring the best places to begin integrating with CRM can be daunting. According to Ragsdale, however, a good plan of attack is to begin by focusing on three main integration points.

The first integration point is between the organization’s basic incident management system and any knowledge base that includes information about individual customers. The goal here should be to conduct an automatic search of pertinent knowledge bases whenever a customer opens a new trouble ticket.

“You can filter your search to only include content appropriate to that customer,” Ragsdale said. “By automatically executing the search when you create an incident, you already shortcut the time that a support agent spends on the phone.”

Organizations should then focus on linking closed incident tickets to pertinent knowledge articles. This will help customer service agents avoid redundancy and increase speed when similar issues pop up in the future.

“When you find the knowledge article that solves the problem and you indicate this was the right knowledge article, you’ve got to link that to the CRM ticket,” Ragsdale said. “You can do a lot of reporting on what incidents were closed and what knowledge articles are most useful to [specific] types of customers.”

The third integration point is between customer self-service applications and any knowledge articles that can be accessed online. Ragsdale said most KM tools provide the ability to track the knowledge articles that customers looked at online before giving up and picking up the phone to call a customer service agent.

“When customers give up and create a trouble ticket, it pulls all of that information in and sends it to the support tech, so they don’t bother dragging the customers through the glass of all the solutions that they have already tried,” he said. “That capability has been out there for a decade, and I virtually can’t name a single company that has done that integration.”

Appoint a KM champion

Organizations undertaking any KM project should consider appointing a KM champion, according to Judy Jaffe, a knowledge manager at the Cambridge, Mass.-based Risk Management Foundation and another attendee of last week’s KMWorld conference.

Jaffe said the goals of the KM champion should be to guide the process of building out knowledge articles, and perhaps more important, to make sure that employees find ways to share their knowledge without fear of becoming less valuable to the organization.

“You need a champion from within your organization,” she said, “someone that has the clout and the authority to say, ‘we are going to share what we know.’”

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