The following three critical customer trends were named by the American Management Association (AMA) as being dominant forces by the 2015:

1. Instant gratification. Customers are less and less inclined to accept 'waiting' as a normal aspect of engaging with a seller. They have become averse to the tedious process of getting the right information from sales staff and having to wait for access to the right person or information. Delay, tedium, ambiguity and aggravation are no longer accepted for sales & customer service situations.

2. Customer empowerment. Jonah Berger explains the customer empowerment phenomenon in his book 'Contagious' : the modern customer wants to be treated with an individualized approach and a great deal of respect and deference. Customers desire a sense that their patronage is respected and elevated for its central role in business success. From a service point of view this can mean a many different things, from customized information on products and services based on an individual's preferences, to birthday greetings, discounts or vouchers, to value propositions that place the individual at the centre of business attention.

3. Anticipatory service. Customers (and sales people) have less and less time available for tedious administrative tasks like keeping on top of subscriptions, contracts, deadlines etc... businesses are now expected to make this aspect of the customer experience as painless and pleasant as possible – and this is where the potential to automate workflow with technology really offers significant potential and competitive advantage. Being automatically reminded to call up clients for contracts renewals at the right time, or remembering other important actions or dates that takes the burden off the customer or creates value or enjoyment otherwise, is a great opportunity to differentiate one's service.

Meeting these new challenges seems to be asking a lot – but this is exactly where a smartly designed, well-planned integration of VoIP (Voice over IP) and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) technology offers revolutionary potential.

Two Technologies –VoiP and CRM

Before we consider the ins and outs of integrating VoiP and CRM, we will first take a look the each individual technology and how they can transform your customer & sales experience.

VoIP

Traditional analog PBX (Private Branch Exchange) telephony comes with a range of challenges, limitations and problems, including high calling costs, inability to scale up, limited flexibility, lack of features and lack of remote operational options. VoIP (Voice-Voip-CRM-integrationover-Internet-Protocol) is now being widely adopted by businesses large and small as a powerful solution to these challenges.

VoIP's impressive growth and adoption comes thanks to broadband internet having reached most places in the world and offering a powerful and cost-effective means to communicate with the rest of the world. VoIP can send not only voice data but also many other multimedia data formats over the internet. It does this in small packets and thus is highly bandwidth efficient. In addition to voice calls VoIP can easily facilitate video calls and multiple-member conference calls but also integrated email facilities without the complex and costly technological add-ons that were the bane of traditional analog phone set-ups. In the past certain additional functionalities could be added to traditional analog system with special PBX hard-and software to gain internet connectivity with analog equipment. Such modifications are costly and often suffer from poor signal quality.

Now that reliable and high-quality broadband internet is ubiquitous, and with the powerful features offered by VoIP, business after business is making the switch to full internet telephony and leaving the world of landline analog telephones and the PBX behind. But with the increasing prevalence of internet connections and the user friendly features that VoIP service providers are bringing into the market, more and more ventures are upgrading to full time VoIP networks and ditching the dual network (Analog PBX-Internet) scheme.

If done correctly, VoiP offers the following advantages and benefits:

  • Increase customer personalization and satisfaction by making them feel attended to: 'call routing' means a customer will automatically pass to the right person without undue delay. 'Auto attendant' is a professional & helpful electronic receptionist who can guide the caller through the options available to them. Features like these help to make the customer feel special and empowered, avoid confusion and speed up the process to attend to a caller's wants.
  • Businesses can improve the quality of calls and customer service with advanced features such as 'voicemail to email transcription' (where a voice call is automatically transcribed, allowing the staff member to focus on the customer and the service quality as opposed to capturing the details), or the powerful 'whisper/barge' coaching tools (where a supervisor or trainer can listen in on a call, and then provide guidance and advice over a secure line audible only to the sales agent). Powerful calling options such as these can make a big difference in improving the call experience (for both customer and customer service/sales staff).
  • The ability for VoIP to be completely mobile offers great productivity gains for employees. Essentially one can access one's company phone network, using the same numbers and the same features, from anywhere with an internet connection, and therefore allows staff to be productive when away from the office, at the customer site, from home, and when travelling. Equally, VoIP allows better management of times when calls should not be taken, with a range of ' do not disturb' features – these can re-route incoming calls for example during important meetings or increased workloads or when deadlines must be met.
  • Gone are the times when important information needed to be managed in different places. VoIP allows the consolidation of previously disparate communications, such as messages, faxes, emails, voicemails, etc... in one central inbox. The results are better organized employees with quick access to essential data and communication options.
  • The ability to improve ROI (Return on Investment) on a whole range of tangible and intangible assets is another bonus. For example, lower calling costs and better pricing on a range of features (e.g. video conferencing) promise immediate tangible ROI benefits. Being able to improve the customer experience, the enjoyment of the call itself and the high degrees of personalization possible, will contribute to building customer goodwill and brand value, also something to be factored into the ROI equation.

The factors listed above are some of the main driver behind the switch to VoIP – it is expected that by the end of 2015, 30% of the world's business networks will have made the move to VoIP for all office and call centre telephony.

However, VoIP is not without some detractors – as is the norm with new game-changing technologies relatively early in their Early Majority phase of their lifecycle. George Goodall (Research Analyst at Infotech Research Group), for example, suggests a somewhat more cautious approach to VoIP. In his view, replacing analog PBX with VoIP has to potential to be a miraculously positive or a disastrous decision, depending on a range of factors including geography and infrastructure:

  • With poor broadband internet connectivity, VoiP can have grave consequences for an organization's sales performance, despite all the impressive features and option available. For this reason VoIP in Thailand and in developing countries should be avoided or approached with great caution.
  • If a business has outdated infrastructure, the first step towards VoIP must be a strategic investment in new wiring and database technology – VoIP makes significant demands on the ability of business infrastructure to deal with multimedia activity and data retrieval, so without such infrastructure in place, the risks of interrupting the flow of communication is very real.

The main learning here is obvious then: VoIP offers so many tangible & financial business benefits to overlook. A sound audit of existing infrastructure by VoIP is an essential first step before a change to internet telephony can be considered and implemented.

In the next section of this whitepaper we first will look at CRM, and the benefits of the integrating CRM & VoIP.

Part 2     Part 3