Sword Ciboodle: Choose Your Channel - Kenny Bain

Social networking has opened up a new shop front in customer relationship management, but it shouldn't overshadow other ventures. Kenny Bain, CEO of Sword Ciboodle, explains to CEO how social channels are part of a continuum of customer experience that companies must understand if they are to derive value.

The rapidly growing presence of corporate entities on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter is proof that social customer relationship management (SCRM) is a hot topic. Analysts such as Gartner have also recognised that the game has changed, and that the discussion needs to include customer experience and social interaction. But do organisations really understand where SCRM fits in their strategy of customer engagement? As more businesses try to wring value from social channels, it is clear that SCRM is becoming relevant to more industries and will come to dominate the way some customers interact with companies.

"The key thing is customer power," says Kenny Bain, CEO of Sword Ciboodle EMEA. "Customers communicate with each other, whether through forums, blogs or online reviews. Some trust the views of their peers more than the collateral from a company or the opinion of a third party.

"Information about customer experience is amplified through social channels, where people can review it. Customer reviews are not new, but what has changed in the last two years is the web channel on mobile devices. You can look at the web while in shops, for example, to review products and compare models or prices.

"The level of customer power has changed significantly. Customers have much more information on your products and services, and those of your competitors."

"While social CRM is important, it is just another channel. Organisations must be consistent across all channels, at every touchpoint."

Retail products increasingly attract online reviews, as do hotels, through sites such as Tripadvisor, airlines and many other consumer sectors. Soon, no industry will be able to ignore the rise of the social customer, so organisations of all kinds will have to find a way to engage in SCRM that goes beyond having a presence on Facebook or Twitter. The trick is to get value from the social channel and not just be a face in the crowd.

Another challenge, however, is that as well as grasping the implications of SCRM, which will no doubt become more significant in the years ahead, organisations must also ensure they view it in the wider spectrum of issues that arise in managing customer relationships. They cannot emphasise SCRM to the detriment of other channels.

"Our message for the last ten years is that customer-centricity is vital to a business, particularly when the social aspects exaggerate negative customer experience," says Bain. "However, while social CRM is important, it is just another channel. Organisations must be consistent across all channels, at every touchpoint. I think all companies understand this, but the challenge is to actually address the issue."

A continuum of engagement

Performing a balancing act with multiple channels of customer interaction is by no means easy, and therein lies the opportunity for CRM vendors to simplify the task. Sword Ciboodle, which has been delivering successful CRM solutions for over 20 years, is experienced in helping large organisations around the world improve customer service and sales operations through innovative technology, process engineering and project delivery expertise. Its latest innovation reflects the need for agility and adaptability.

The company has taken its tried and tested solutions and molded them into a modular platform that covers the entirety of what it calls the Customer Engagement Continuum. This allows its clients to get the best from the investments they have already made, and to implement new bundles of functionality as they are required.

"Social and mobile are new forms that blend together, but our clients also have a legacy of investment in infrastructure and systems across existing channels," Bain explains. "They may have a call centre and back office technology already, or new technology for the web channel. Now, they need new technology for the social aspects of CRM. The challenge for them is the commonality of a technology platform.

"Our heritage is the Ciboodle platform, which is a flexible platform that can deliver one process across all channels. In our experience, the majority of retail companies use one technology for their e-commerce and another for their call centres for handling issues such as how to respond to a customer query. So, they need to shift to an all-channel approach."

Making this shift could be a scary proposition for many organisations, given that it would entail an IT project that encompassed all channels and every part of its business. It could easily be viewed as potentially costly or disruptive. The shift must be made, but companies want to make the transition in a way that is manageable. A modular system could well be the answer.

Recognising this, Sword Ciboodle has created a broad suite of customer engagement tools, designed to enhance interactions across the customer engagement continuum. Ciboodle One provides a centralised display of all customer data, service and sales metrics, which simplifies communication. Ciboodle Flow case management then makes it easy to manage the resulting work to reduce delays and eradicate poor visibility of requests.

Online customers are catered for by Ciboodle Crowd, which provides a customer forum for peer-to-peer discussions, and Ciboodle Live, which delivers a web self-service experience. Launched a few months ago, this approach will soon be extended with new modules.

"Our heritage is the Ciboodle platform, which is a flexible platform that can deliver one process across all channels."

"The modular approach simplifies our marketing message. The technology is strategic and transformational, so it could be hard to sell, but the modular approach gives clients access to the same underlying Ciboodle platform in a way that makes all of its parts more accessible," says Bain. "Our clients can build step-by-step, often with the call centre first, then perhaps self-service and then social."

The ability to simplify the CRM process and join up each channel for a consistent approach is a potential boon, and Sword Ciboodle has seen examples of dramatic improvement happen relatively quickly. In one client's call centre, for instance, Ciboodle One reduced the number of applications between which an agent had to toggle from 18 to one. Comparable successes have been seen across all three parts of the customer engagement continuum.

"The idea is that the system is simple to use. We do the difficult parts for you, such as integrating with many different back office systems and across different business units," Bain observes. "In the call centre, for instance, agents get all the information they need in a simplified way, and first call resolution has gone through the roof.

"The shifts in the marketplace play to our strengths: strategy and technology. We also continue to innovate with flexible user interfaces, which are more graphical and rely less on lists. People are used to the iPhone, so they want more intuitive ways to interact. Our aim is to give our clients the tools that will improve the loyalty of their own agents, and of their customers."