The E-Commerce Arsenal: Multichannel Customer Service Systems, Part II

Alexis Gutzman

Updated · Apr 06, 2001

The E-Commerce ArsenalSelecting a CRM Vendor
Selecting a CRM vendor is a critical decision. While you probably can’t expect any single product to have all the features you want in a CRM solution, you can expect the best CRM vendors to have relationships in place so that you don’t have to patch multiple products together. Consider not only who the CRM vendors are but also where they have alliances.

The big decision in the CRM industry today is whether to go with Siebel or not. Siebel is the clear industry leader in CRM solutions — the only software provider with double-digit market share according to IDC. While Siebel is the gold standard against which other CRM vendors are measured, there are other vendors worth considering. Smaller vendors, which have only provided a small piece of the pie until now, are adding more features so that they can offer full CRM capability.

While Siebel arguably handles enterprise resource planning, not every ERP vendor truly handles CRM. To make matters even more confusing, some vendors are referring to their own offerings as ERM (enterprise or e-business relationship management). Because CRM predates the “e” revolution, CRM is seen as referring to a less hip technology.

Whichever acronym you settle on, realize that the selection of CRM vendor is every bit as important as choice of CMS vendor (see Chapter 12), because extricating yourself from a relationship with a subpar vendor will be expensive and time consuming. Review the following guidelines to make sure you haven’t overlooked anything obvious:

  • How many channels are you operating or should you be operating? The software you select should address all the channels you need without being overly focused on one of your less important channels. If your call center handles only customer service and not sales, you probably don’t want to select a CRM solution that was originally built for call-center sales.
  • Does the CRM software offer the features you need?
  • Does the CRM software interface with your other systems? In theory, all digital systems can work with all other digital systems, but do you have to build the interface? Look for a CRM solution that has prebuilt interfaces to your back office and CMS. The less customization that’s required, the better. A reduction in customization will both speed implementation time and reduce the lifetime cost of the solution, because you won’t need to customize every software upgrade to work with your other systems.
  • Does the CRM vendor have strategic relationships in place to provide features that its own software doesn’t include? Frequently, you’ll find that a well-integrated partnership will serve you better than one system that tries to do everything. Just make sure the relationship between the vendors is more than a press release deep, that you’re not the beta client for implementation, and that you’re not paying for all the features of the partner’s software if you’re only using the subset necessary to complement your CRM software.
  • Are the vendor’s other clients satisfied with the level of support they receive? Some vendors frontload support so that during the honeymoon, everyone’s satisfied; then after that, newer clients take precedence over older clients.
  • Does the vendor take enhancement suggestions from clients? Check with other clients to see what they’ve found on this front. A smart vendor will listen to its clients to see what they need and use that kind of front-line experience to stay ahead of competition.
  • How are you paying for the implementation, and what are you paying for? Is the cost of implementation fixed or do you pay for the professional services of the vendor’s people on your site forever? Some vendors make more from consulting services than from the software. Where is the incentive for the vendor? Does the package include strategic consulting? Is that what you want? I’ve seen two-month implementations drag on for six months when the vendor had no incentive to wrap things up and move its people onto another client. Billing by the hour or the day doesn’t always give the vendor the proper motivation to transfer skills to your team.
  • How do you feel about your vendors? Ask key participants in the negotiations, including architects, vice presidents, and others on your team whether they have a good feeling about working with these people. In my experience, whenever we’ve brought in a bad vendor, there were many red flags that we ignored, either individually or collectively, along the way. Companies that aren’t going to deliver what they promise usually give you lots of warnings along the way. Unless you ask your people, you may be ignoring these warnings.

CRM at Work
In most of the chapters in this book, I’ve relied on case studies to show one element of a technology at work. CRM is just too big to demonstrate using a real case study, so I’ve created the following scenario featuring a fictional company, The Leaf, which sells garden supplies and plants and flowers through catalogs, bricks-and-mortar stores, and an online site. Any relationship to any real company is coincidental, although I hope there are real companies that are implementing what I consider to be these best practices.

The Leaf uses a CRM system that permits it to track customers across all its channels. They’ve recently implemented kiosks at their bricks-and-mortar stores, on which customers can find targeted promotions, print care instructions for plants, and look up their own profiles and purchase history. Customers are identified uniquely by their e-mail addresses and passwords. Customers without e-mail addresses can use their phone numbers as identifiers (the phone number instantly becomes the e-mail ID “”). At checkout, customers are asked to provide their e-mail addresses so that their purchase histories are kept up to date and they can look up their purchases later when they wonder whether they planted heliopsis or coreopsis, so they know when and how to prune and fertilize. Of course, The Leaf also benefits when it can link offline purchases to online purchases.

Customers can seek support via any channel for purchases made through any channel. This means that gardeners who find themselves with a pruning question can phone the call center while standing in the garden trying to identify the type of insect devouring their hostas. Alternatively, catalog customers can turn to the search tool of the Web site to see what insects are likely to be the culprits and what pesticides are recommended to eliminate the problem.

Targeted e-mail is delivered to customers based on online and offline shopping behavior. In addition to e-mail promotions being mailed to the customer, a copy is also filed with the customer’s profile, so that the customer can retrieve an online coupon from a kiosk at the store, print it out, and take it to the register. Additionally, the sales representative at the phone center will be aware of any promotions in the customer’s profile so that a customer making a purchase over the phone will be able to use the promotion there, as well.

Covert personalization is used in all channels to make the right offers at the right times. The sales rep who’s taking a catalog order can offer a customer a special deal on something she already knows is on her “buy later” list or on something she’s visited on more than one occasion on the site. Shipping offers are also customized for the gardener. A customer who typically spends $75 each transaction can be offered a “free shipping for purchases over $85” offer when he visits the site, to try to increase his order total by a nonthreatening amount.

If a customer has a complaint or return that is in process, the sales rep at the store can inquire at the checkout whether the incident was resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. After The Leaf believes the issue has been resolved, it can use the same information online to survey the customer about whatever the complaint was. Phone representatives are trained to inquire about recent customer service complaints as well, so that when a customer interacts with any touch points of The Leaf, he’ll know that they care about his previous unsatisfactory experience.

Customers like the overt personalization features of The Leaf’s Web site, including the ability to indicate what zone they’re in, so as to receive newsletters particular to their climate and gardens. They also like having the ability to keep a garden portfolio in their profiles so that they can look things up at the stores and find solutions and recommendations specific to their own gardens. They even have the ability to record the names and locations of plants they already have or plants they’ve purchased elsewhere, so they have an integrated garden portfolio. Of course, The Leaf uses all this information to up-sell and cross-sell customers on organic fertilizers, pruning tools, garden equipment, and patio accessories.

In addition to selling garden plants, The Leaf also sells floral arrangements and plants as gift items. There is no place on the site for a customer to indicate his anniversary to be reminded to send flowers. Once he has sent flowers as a gift for a particular occasion, however, he will be reminded annually at that time of year that a possible gift-giving occasion is around the corner. Then, if he’s in the market, in relatively few clicks he can have a comparably priced gift shipped in time.

Building the Relationship
The Leaf clearly has its act together more than most multichannel operations. Fictional enterprises can afford such luxuries. However, the key to all the promotions, personalization, and features of The Leaf’s multichannel experience is that they all focus on giving the customer more. Why would a customer shop anywhere else? Being queried via one channel — in the store, perhaps — about a customer service issue raised in a different channel — via e-mail or real-time chat — is not something the customer would soon forget. The customer doesn’t get the feeling that he is dealing with different companies — as you probably have if you’ve ever noticed a price discrepancy between different channels of the same merchant, or had to repeat all your purchase information to a salesperson, or had to produce a paper receipt when you know the company should have a record of a product purchase “in their system.” Instead, the customer knows that the company is one integrated unit and that his business matters to this company.

Customer relationship management is ultimately about developing a relationship with the customer that serves the customer’s needs. After all, a customer doesn’t want a relationship built on your convenience or your quarterly sales goals. If you can address the customer’s needs before he can identify them, then you’ve truly added value to his life. You’ve saved him time hunting for solutions to his problems, money purchasing incompatible products, and possible embarrassment by missing an important occasion. And customers will reward merchants who add this kind of value to their lives with lifetime loyalty.

Web Sites
CRM Supersite
CRM Assist

Vendors and Integrators
Siebel, E.piphany, Kana, IBM, HP, Oracle, and Onyx are but a few. Most of the larger consultancies offer CRM solutions — either their own or implementation and integration of a major third-party provider. Ask around within your industry to find integrators with experience so they don’t have to learn at your expense.

White Papers
Siebel has some excellent white papers, as do some of the other vendors. I recommend that you check the Web sites of all the vendors to see what white papers are available. You’ll often have to provide personal information or talk to a sales rep before you get one, but the white papers can be very informative.

The E-Commerce Arsenal
(c) 2001 Alexis D. Gutzman.
All rights reserved.
Published by AMACOM Books
Division of American Management Association
1601 Broadway, New York, NY 10019

The E-Commerce Arsenal is available at and

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