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Holiday CRM � Outsourcing in India may save a company, in more ways than one

In the final days of the holiday shopping season, electronic retailers offered free shipping, next-day delivery and a host of other perks to lure last-minute shoppers. At the same time, those same e-tailers' customer support and fulfillment centers were preparing for a holiday blizzard of consumer requests.

After all, errors can only be expected, and when the inevitable occurs, companies' CRM systems are put to the test. And if a customer gives that system a less-than stellar grade, the competition is just a URL away. How does a company emerge from this holiday season unscathed?

Raghu Krishnaiah, head of U.S. operations for e-CRM provider Customer Asset, said that the best companies are the ones that can provide support via multiple channels.

"Most e-tailers use phones as a response," Krishnaiah said. "A customer may phone in and send an e-mail with the same query, yet the respective agents handling each medium have no way of knowing that this customer has asked the same question.

"Companies are throwing more people at the problem," Krishnaiah said. Not only does this not solve the problem of effectively satisfying customers, often the new hires are not adequately trained to provide the level of service a customer needs.

On the people side, Krishnaiah suggested that companies should consider outsourcing their call center operations in India. "India has people that are highly skilled and trained to do multichannel," he said.

Companies can set up their own call centers, of course, but hidden barriers exist that make this proposition difficult to execute, especially in a tight time frame, Krishnaiah said.

"There is a huge cost of investment to buy the systems, put them in place and train people," he said. Call centers also require specialized knowledge that some companies just don't have. In a larger company, different groups in the organization don't work in tandem, meaning that implementation could take even longer. Lastly, with the legacy systems many companies have in place, it is necessary to consult with even more departments to find the best way to integrate them, Krishnaiah said.

By outsourcing in India, a company is getting college-educated call center agents with work experience in the industry that they are supporting. Because there is such a large supply of workers, a company tends to acquire agents that are more committed to doing their jobs than their U.S. counterparts, Krishnaiah said. From a pricing standpoint, companies can save 40% by outsourcing in India.

However, there are caveats. A qualified management team is needed. "Because of India's infrastructure issues and training concerns, [companies] need people who have done this before," Krishnaiah said.

Last year, e-mail messages went unanswered for weeks, and companies simply threw more money and bodies at the problem as a way of solving it, Krishnaiah said.

"What I hope is that everything works perfectly and e-tailing goes forward," he said. Krishnaiah expects an improvement from last year's fiasco.

Like CSC's Alex Black, Krishnaiah believes that companies should "take one step back and focus first on what it is they're trying to accomplish," he said, referring to their goals in their e-CRM strategy.

Companies then need to decide what degree of customer service is needed, he said. They need to look at the capabilities that they already have, and if necessary, look into outsourcing.

"Outsourcing is not an either-or solution," Krishnaiah said. In-house personnel should handle some complex customer queries, and a joint approach is necessary in those situations.

"A business model that works combines database marketing with delivery mechanisms... a mix of analytics and delivery will make it work," Krishnaiah said.

For more information, visit Customer Asset's Web site

Also check out: SearchCRM Best Links: Customer Service and Support: Call Center

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