CRM: Customer-Initiated Interactions
Most complex, multi-channel selling environments now include an online business model, allowing an enterprise to reach a worldwide audience, and potentially generate exponential company growth. Online selling environments can enable Leads & Opportunities to create and shop for products, view and compare quotes, place orders, receive and pay invoices, and dispute charges.
Self-Care portals aim to take the load off an organization’s Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) by allowing customers to manage accounts and purchases on their own. Customers have the flexibility to place orders and update account information in real-time, with these changes and orders being passed to other systems efficiently and accurately in a monetized ecosystem. Successful self-care systems also reduce trouble tickets and issue escalation with FAQs and customer-facing knowledge to promote issue resolution without the need for a customer to speak with a CSR.
For most service providers conducting e-Commerce selling, electronic bill presentation and payment (EBPP) allows bills to be generated, delivered, and paid online. E-bills can expedite the Quote to Cash process by getting bills to customers more quickly and allowing customers to pay instantly, electronically. However, electronic payment collection requires both legal and industry compliance, and can cause quite a headache for internal control and compliance staff, and external auditors.
Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, is perhaps the most consistently misused term in our industry. The ‘Customer Relationship’ that is being managed by a software category is an exceedingly broad term that must be narrowed in order to make sure we are comparing similar software. ATG breaks CRM into four distinct categories, based on the channel that is being used to manage the customer relationship. The categories are:
Sales Force Automation (SFA)
The tools used by Sales teams to managed sales people, prospects, and opportunities.
Customer Success | Call Center
The tools used by Customer Service agents (historically in a Call Center environment) to manage customers.
The tools used by a service provider’s customers to manage their own services or accounts.
Partner Relationship Mgmt.
Tools used by a service provider’s Partner to manage customers.
Customer-Initiated Interactions Components
Allowing customers to Shop online requires e-Commerce platforms to model a company’s product catalog in a way that is desirable to end-customers. Online storefronts must be able to both inform the customer about products, services, and bundles, as well as accept orders and payment securely. From a systems’ perspective, online shops might house some product information locally in a company’s Content Management System (CMS), with other content being pulled from external systems serving as the source of record (i.e., pricing information).
Additionally, the online channel must be tightly woven with Salesforce Automation, Business Intelligence and Marketing Automation to put a company’s goods and services in front of the right prospects, direct them to the correct landing page, and quickly and efficiently tell the site visitor why these products and services best fit their needs.
In the online selling world, everyone on the internet that sees a banner ad, a search result, a review, or a blog post about a company is a Lead. Every visitor to the web site is an Opportunity. Having the right message, the right processes, and the right technology to make it easy and comfortable for a shopper to select your company’s offerings is the primary step to acquiring and retaining online customers.
When online shoppers add products to the Cart (or bag or basket), a very important step has been realized in the online shopping continuum. It is the visitor’s first real “YES” decision. They’ve metaphorically already taken a shoe and a sock off by coming to the web site – now they’re sticking a toe in the water by adding a product or service to the cart. It’s a small commitment – the shopper hasn’t reached for their wallet yet – but a commitment nonetheless.
Shoppers can add and remove products to and from the cart without consequence, as well as change quantities, discover additional “add to cart for better price” discounts, and create their own bundles in many cases. Typically, as physical inventory is added to or removed from the cart, a good Service Delivery system will reserve and unreserved that inventory in real-time, with a timer on how long that inventory can be held in cart before automatically removed and made available to the general internet public again. This is important to note for any just-in-time physical inventory companies that fulfill their own orders.
The Cart page of a website is a key conversion point in the online buying process. Getting the shopper to press the Buy button requires a precise recipe of trust, emotion, and common sense. The potential customer must believe in both the product or service they are purchasing, and the company from whom they are buying, regardless of whether the transaction is B2C or B2B. They must also feel that the product or service solves a problem or meets a need, and that the offer is fair.
When the above obstacles, and potentially many others, are overcome, the order is nearly assured. Unless something in the payment or delivery process causes friction, the website’s system should begin lighting up the Service Delivery, Credit Card Processing, Marketing Automation, Invoice Finishing & Delivery, Order/Contract Management, Revenue Recognition/FMS, and Billing & Collections Engine domains.
For products with negotiable prices or discounted bundle options, quoting logic is necessary. Quotes provide customers a way to evaluate different pricing options based on product configuration. Generating accurate, real-time quotes requires systems to account for product attributes, discounts, applicable promotions, and bundling business rules systematically, without CSR intervention.
In an online negotiated selling environment, often the customer selects the products and services of interest, fills out an online contact form, and is contacted by a company sales representative. Injecting the proposal into a CPQ system to automate approval and up-sell/cross-sell is a better means to closing service-seeking proposals with business rules to determine best pricing based on a number of segmentation attributes.
Generally speaking, shipping freight costs on physical inventory, should be provided as well as any taxes and fees. Best practices in online selling require transparency throughout the selling process to reduce returns and customer churn.
E-commerce and retail order management systems help merchants improve order processing, track inventory, partners and online selling marketplaces, and much more. Typical online Orders are placed directly online but can also be consummated via a call center, a chat window, email, or even a fax machine.
They key is to gather all the needed data to process the order, verify that the data is correct and above reproach, then communicate with the customer every step of the way via triggered events. When the order is placed, it should be confirmed to the customer as received. When the order is approved, it is communicated to the customer. When the order has processed and is ready to ship or provision, communicate. When the order ships or the service is provisioned, communicate. Seven to ten days later, touch base with the customer to make sure all met or exceeded their expectations.
The entire order process – and the systems that run those processes – should continuously be monitored to improve the customer experience. Most people that shop online do so because it is the path of least resistance. The baseline expectation of today’s shopper is “I push the BUY button, you take my money, you get me my stuff in a few days.” Exceeding those expectations at this point in the customer lifecycle will allow some all-important equity with the customer to be earned for the future.
Content Management System (CMS)
Content Management Systems (CMS) are applications used to create and distribute content in a centralized location. Entire websites are built and maintained on CMS, with the flexibility to store text, images, videos, data, etc. Content management systems have a wide variety of features companies leverage to boost their online presence such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) services, additional modules and plugins, content templates, user management tools, and audit logs.
The best content management systems do two things: allow a company to easily mix and match the content for both products and services for bundle creation which are easy to understand and have a great value story, and don’t just piece-meal together a slew of SKUs onto a web page with promotional price.
The other task a good CMS does easily is generate on-the-fly landing pages for products, services, and bundles – targeting visitors based on demographics, incoming links, visitor status (new/returning), and a bevy of other segmentation provided by Marketing or Business Intelligence.
Every company strives to keep their Brand image across all selling channels and marketing activities. e-Commerce is a way to enhance brand image and awareness to potential customers, with thoughtful planning needed as enhanced visibility also creates risk of misaligned brand imaging.
Customers moving from generating paper bills on-premise to EBPP-generated statements also strive to keep consistent, effective branding. Logos, bill presentation, marketing materials, promotions, and so on, cast a much wider net brought online, and must be constantly evaluated for any negative branding effects.
Online visitors who may be unfamiliar with your brand should be presented with a number of trust factors early in the shopping experience. Testimonials, ratings and reviews, badges and awards, and data security call-outs should all become part of your online brand as well.
An online Product Catalog is yet another instance of an organization’s offerings. Online catalog instances differ from instances in billing, provisioning, and selling catalogs as they often include enticing product descriptions and images.
CMS platforms may interact with other systems in a company’s ecosystem, and monetized environments streamline these integrations. Sourcing product data from separate catalogs helps ensure a single source of truth for data remains, even though it may be modeled in multiple systems/interfaces.
Bundling has become a very important tool for companies to increase customer spend, raise margins, and maintain competitiveness. While most visible in the telecommunications/entertainment industry, nearly all verticals use some sort of bundling strategy today.
Bundles can be a combination of products, services, extended warranties, and discounted and/or free delivery and installation. Strategies employed include dollars-off and percentage-off discounting, buy-this-get-that, and tiered savings based on customer spend. Some companies also use their customer-loyalty programs as an extension to entice potential buyers with additional benefits.
Online channels often require additional “triggers” to offer bundles. Inventory availability, geographic eligibility, even method of payment may be factors that allow or forbid displaying bundles online.
For billing and financial management processes, the online invoicing system should break out the individual pieces of a bundle and assign them a cost and a sale price so the correct General Ledger accounts can be updated and individual line item revenue recognized when the item-specific trigger has been flipped.
Present Invoice is exactly what it sounds like – invoicing the customer for goods and services. Paperless, electronic invoicing is a huge cost-saver for companies, and a godsend for forests everywhere.
Self-care applications allow companies and their suppliers to create invoices and exchange billing, approval, and payment information without having to collect physical checks. Customers can pay, or even dispute, their invoices directly online, as well as get a history of all financial transactions made. A sound self-help portal online allows a company to reduce or redirect human resources from its call center environment, and, all else being equal, improve their customer satisfaction performance.
Dispute is typically considered a billing issue. Credit card chargebacks, late fees, overcharges, duplicate charges, and courtesy concessions all fall under the dispute umbrella.
Disputes almost always need some form of human intervention to gather relevant details and placate the customer. Online self-help applications can gather the initial data, but follow-up needs to be immediate via a phone call, a chat session, or an email. And any action taken on the company’s part, needs to include an automated response to the customer to assure them the issue has been resolved to their satisfaction.
Trouble Ticketing is closely related to Disputes, but casts a wider net. Trouble tickets are electronic records of customer issues, with all relevant data attached, that can span selling channels, products/services, and even include potential customers with no previous history.
A good trouble ticketing system includes a business rules engine that can change the status of a ticket, add pertinent data from a Knowledge Management system, and track the lifecycle of the entire case. Status changes should trigger automated communications with the customer and the account manager.
A holistic view of Trouble Ticket performance should be available via a dashboard, and the service incidences should forever be associated to the customer account to track their effect on churn, future spend, and lifetime value.
Payments represent customers paying for the invoice or services that they received from a service provider. They can be one-time, upfront payments for a physical good, or they can occur on a periodic basis for a recurring or subscription based service. Recurring or subscription payments occur most often monthly; however, quarterly or annually are other common practices, and subsequently payment intervals.
Payments come in a variety of forms, most commonly:
Trialing is an important tool for service-provider enterprises. In a typical scenario, a customer is allowed to use a product or service for a limited time at no cost to test drive an offering before making a decision to purchase or subscribe. There are several ways that companies offer a Trial to its customers.
The most common method is for the company to collect the user’s payment information, authorize (not charge) the credit card, then begin charging the customer when the trial period has ended and the customer has not taken the proper steps to cancel. It has become common practice in most verticals to notify the customer that their trial period is nearing expiration, and offer them instructions on how to cancel.
It is a best practice to monitor customer usage during the trial period and periodically contact them for any questions or concerns.
The next method of trialing works similarly to the first, but the company does not collect payment information, but instead follows up with the trialing customer at scheduled intervals to close the deal on the product as well as up-sell and cross-sell. This method will usually generate many more opportunities, but a lower conversion rate to the product or service being trialed. Leads that participate in a trial in which they provide a credit card have made a conscious commitment to the product by volunteering their payment information, so it’s an easy, more convenient yes for the customer.
The third type of trial is common among email service providers. Many that target SMBs offer their product free until the user hits a certain threshold, be it contacts or mailings. Their pricing plans beyond the free threshold are typically reasonably priced and movement through the pricing striations becomes automated based on the customer’s usage of their service.
Regardless of which type of trialing is used, the opportunity becomes a customer when they sign up, and with that the Monetization Ecosystem is set in motion. Full account details, fulfillment and provisioning, usage, zero-dollar invoicing – all of the company’s domains that would touch a typical order are triggered. Business Intelligence is gathered and employed. Marketing Automation loads the appropriate fodder, and Sales and Customer Service agents are deployed.
It’s time to build a customer.
A good rule of thumb is generally, the amount of required proof to gain access to something is proportionate to the value of what is being sought. Security of systems resources generally follows a three-step process of identification, authentication, and authorization.
Authorization is the process of giving someone permission to do or have something.
Entitlement is relatively new to the billing domain. Entitlement, in a billing context, is where the billing system is responsible for being the source of record for communicating whether a customer is entitled to use the service in the manner they are attempting – and whether there is a billable impact to what they are trying to do.
For example, if a monetization strategy is to allow a customer up to 10 downloads of a ringtone before they are charged $.50 per download, then the billing system may be invoked to quickly process a ringtone request and let the customer know that there may be a billing impact to this activity. This is a relatively new requirement for a billing engine, but it is an important part of maintaining a positive customer experience in usage based monetization models.
This process is the central method for increasing Average Revenue Per User (ARPU), which is an essential growth metric for most service providers.
Up-selling is the process of selling more of a particular service. For example, moving from 6 MB for $25/mo to 18 MB for $45/mo internet speed is a typical up-sell.
Cross-sell is when a customer purchases a separate product or service from what they had originally. For example, if the customer originally had internet service, but expanded to include phone and cable, that is an example of ‘cross-sell’.
The combination of up-sell and cross-sell is the primary method of driving more revenue within an existing customer base. Another common phrase is walletshare. Many service providers have a goal of increasing the walletshare from their customer base, which is often done through up-sell/cross-sell measures. The concept of ‘bundling’ or ‘packaging’ is a method for accelerating up-sell/cross-sell.
Up-sell/cross-sell can be done at time of customer creation, or over the course of the life of the customer. In the context of a call center, many agents are compensated specifically for upsell/cross-sell as they perform their typical customer care. “Thank you for you updating your credit card information, did you happen to notice that we have expanded our internet offerings in your neighborhood and are offering a special 3-month free during the summer?”
Create & Maintain Account
Self-care applications allow customers to Create & Maintain Accounts. The use of self-care interfaces reduces the workload for account executives and CSRs as customers can now handle registration, updates, and cancellations.
When accounts are created through an e-Commerce/self-care application, it is more than likely that data will make its way to another system. Monetized ecosystems pass account information at the point of registration to additional systems (CRM, billing, provisioning, etc.) where data can be maintained and secured.
Create & Maintain Service
Much like product creation, Create & Maintain Services should live in the Billing & Rating catalog with supporting data residing in the other systems’ databases. For products and services made available online, the Content Management System is synced with the Billing/Rating and Provisioning/Fulfillment catalogs to provide a stylized, customer-facing look at the service being provided.
Services can be built using flat-rate or unit pricing, and can either be a one-time charge such as a connection fee, or a recurring source of revenue as with cellular service. A consistently communicated message, both with the sales team and the customer, must make the distinction whether the service being provided is a single charge, or a service being given at a unit rate (hourly labor charge, mileage, or GBs of data, for instance).
Knowledge Management is generally defined as strategies and processes designed to identify, capture, structure, value, leverage, and share an organization’s intellectual assets to enhance its performance and competitiveness.
There are two critical aspects to a knowledge management system. First, an organization must capture and document an individual’s explicit and tacit knowledge. Second, it must disseminate the information out both internally and externally. The value of a good KMS is that information employees and customers have access to vetted data that is organized and easy-to-use.
Status can mean a lot of things in the service provider space. You can have a status for a trouble ticket (high priority, to low priority), account (open or closed) or for a payment (approved, rejected, voided, etc.). Each status can have a different workflow attached to it. An example would be if your account status is past due, the system can lock you from certain functionality until your account status is back to current.
E-Commerce Key Vendors
HQ: Burlington, MA
Company Type: Public
HQ: Vancouver, BC, Canada
Company Type: Privately Held
HQ: New York, NY
Company Type: Public
HQ: Redwood Shores, CA
Company Type: Public
Entitlement Key Vendors
HQ: Itasca, IL
Company Type: Privately Held