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Smart CRM focuses on the numbers

Is your CRM project paying dividends? A major takeaway from this month's conference is the need to quantify CRM success.

"What gets measured and rewarded gets done."

The quote comes from Continental Airlines Inc. chairman and CEO Gordon Bethune, and it also sums up the message of the recent Smart CRM conference held in Atlanta. Co-sponsored by TechTarget and the Peppers and Rogers Group, the conference's theme never drifted far from the need to measure customer-based initiatives before they start, while they're in progress, and after they are completed.

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Almost every speaker dealt with the measurement theme in some way. Peppers & Rogers Group co-founder and keynoter Don Peppers laid out a strategy for calculating the worth of a company and its customers by focusing on customer equity. A case study by the U.S. Postal Service showed the positive effect of business intelligence in fine detail. And one of the best and most practical presentations was made by one of Bethune's employees. Andre Harris, director of reservation quality and assurance for Continental Airlines, showed how a basic customer element such as the contact center could be measured and its effect on the company calculated.

With a center that seats more than 4,600 people and handles 60 million calls annually, Harris said the airline's contact center historically "didn't listen to customers because all they were doing was complaining." In the 1990s, under Harris' leadership, the center instituted a "Go Forward plan" that set out to measure the performance of each agent and customer satisfaction.

Harris found out several things before the effort was implemented. A customer survey asked Continental flyers what they valued and didn't value in contact center interactions. Among the answers, customers didn't care whether an agent thanked them for calling Continental, and they didn't like that all calls were strictly scripted. So the new program honored individual styles by promoting best practices among "super agents," those who closed the most sales and reduced their amount of calls that needed to be referred to supervisors.

"You have to understand [customers'] needs, give them accurate information, and answer promptly," said Harris. Among the results from Continental's program: a 1.2% attrition rate over the past two years among contact center agents, a 17% increase in bookings in 2003 over 2002, a higher proportion of e-ticketing, and a 10% jump in average agent quality scores based on internal measurements.

Measurement was important, but its execution remains cloudy for other CRM practitioners. According to a survey of 113 CRM implementers conducted by TechTarget and Peppers & Rogers Group, 61% rate ROI measurement as important or very important to their companies. However, data confidence came through as a huge issue. Inaccurate data (40%), lack of consensus on data (37%), and a lack of clear ownership of data (37%) were respondents' biggest obstacles to measuring CRM initiatives.

TechTarget is the organizer of Smart CRM and owner of the family of Web sites that includes SearchCRM.com.

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