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The top CRM advice from experts in 2009

Get the top CRM advice from our CRM and call center experts in 2009. Find out about CRM market trends and get advice on the changing CRM and call center industry.

Our resident CRM experts provide a wealth of valuable advice on a variety of CRM and call center topics every month. We've put together this list of the most popular Ask the Expert columns of 2009 so you can see what issues were on the minds of CRM and call center professionals this year. Find out about calculating call center staffing needs, analyzing call center talk time, the pros and cons of developing CRM in-house and more.


   1. How to increase call center staffing with Erlang C calculator
   2. Questions to ask when analyzing call center talk time
   3. Overview of open source call center software
   4. The pros and cons of developing CRM in-house
   5. Five things to include in a customer loyalty survey
   6. Managing customer conversations in the call center
   7. Understanding call center occupancy vs. call center adherence
   8. How to use Office Communicator for instant messaging in Microsoft CRM
   9. Methods to increase customer lifetime value via customer loyalty
   10. How can I measure call center agents' unavailable and "not ready" time?


How to increase call center staffing with Erlang C calculator

Q: I supervise a call center of seven agents for a credit union. We are in the midst of an upgrade to our core processor and are being told to expect an increase in call volumes by 300 percent for the first couple of weeks after we go live.

I've created a staffing model using an online Erlang C calculator. However, management is not familiar with this formula and does not think it is accurate.

A: Erlang is important to use in call center staffing because it factors in "random call arrival" patterns, whereas straight workload calculations are linear and do not. You should use Erlang C calculations, along with appropriate considerations of shrinkage. We also advocate educating call center management on the concepts of the Erlang formula, which is easy to do using a calculator. Show them some examples using the calculator with different volumes...

Read more about using an Erlang C calculator for call center staffing volume.


Questions to ask when analyzing call center talk time

Q: What specific techniques could you suggest to lower average talk time for inbound order entry/customer service calls on an agent level? (i.e.: call phrases, call control techniques etc.) For example, many of the extended calls seem to be when a supervisor is requested ... Is there a way to educate the agents in techniques to avoid supervisor escalations? Or is there a way to de-escalate a caller immediately requesting a supervisor?

A: Without specific knowledge of your business and center, it is difficult to answer your question. However, as a general practice the best way to lower talk time is to carefully analyze what factors are driving the talk time. Some questions to explore: Are there certain transactions or processes that drive a longer handle time? Does your system return data and screens to the representatives rapidly enough? Is the system easy to navigate? Are your representatives trained properly? Are there other areas outside of your control which also drive higher talk time (and escalations) such as unsatisfactory service delivery by other areas? What are your policies for escalation?

Learn more about analyzing call center talk time.


Overview of open source call center software

Q: What is your opinion of open source software in the call center? How can a large call center with multiple locations benefit from this sort of model? We are considering it but have some concerns about data security, and we aren't too familiar with many of the vendors.

A: Enterprises of all sizes have been adopting open source software at an ever-increasing rate. So far, however, call centers have not been major adopters of open source software; this is because call centers are often mission-critical functions and require applications that are highly dependable and are backed by strong support organizations. While data security is an important issue for all types of software, open source software does not present greater security risks than most other applications. The real issues surrounding the use of open source software in call centers are system features, stability and availability of support.

Read more about open source call center software


The pros and cons of developing CRM in-house

Q: I am the marketing manager for a small natural skincare company and we are planning to deploy a CRM system for the first time. Would it be more effective for us to have our programmer build a CRM system (using basic Microsoft software as a foundation) or to go with an existing Web host? What are the pros and cons of developing CRM in-house vs. purchasing a commercial package?

A: The principle advantage of developing a CRM application in-house would be if your business has particularly unique requirements which can't be cost-effectively addressed through commercial CRM software.

However, the major commercial CRM packages tend to be very flexible and many vertical CRM applications have been developed for specific industry needs, so the probability is that there are suitable packages out there...

Find out the pros and cons of developing CRM in-house.


Five things to include in a customer loyalty survey

Q: We're looking to create a survey that will help us measure customer loyalty -- what main questions should we be asking and how long should the survey be so that we don't overwhelm people?

A: Any customer survey should be short enough to obtain objective information and insight from customers and long enough to provide the depth of information needed. There is no magic formula for what a customer loyalty survey should contain, but it should definitely include the following:

  • Overall perceived performance
  • Future purchase intent
  • Likelihood to recommend
  • Change in performance over time
  • Evidence of expressed, resolved and unexpressed complaints.

Read more about what to include on a customer loyalty survey.


Managing customer conversations in the call center

Q: Can you suggest some techniques for helping call center agents to re-focus chatty customers so that agents can be more efficient in addressing the reason for the call?

A: Throughout a typical work day, call center agents deal with a wide variety of customer issues, emotions and personalities that manifest themselves in many different ways -- for example frustration, anger, confusion, and/or a tendency to be long-winded. Regardless of the problem, concern or situation the customer is calling about, the call center agent must first address and acknowledge the "human side" of the conversation before moving on to the "business issue." Managing the conversation flow is one of the subtler proficiencies that agents need to learn, practice and employ when handling customer calls...

Learn some techniques on how to manage customer conversations in the call center.


Understanding call center occupancy vs. call center adherence

Q: Of call center occupancy and adherence, which of the two should be measured?

A: Both call center occupancy and adherence are important call center metrics to determine correct staffing and performance. They reflect different things about performance and resource management and involve the agents’ behavior for adherence and the effectiveness of your workforce planning processes (forecasting and scheduling, adjusting to real-time events) for occupancy...

Learn more about the importance of call center occupancy and adherence.


How to use Office Communicator for instant messaging in Microsoft CRM

Q: How can we go about integrating Microsoft CRM 4.0 with Microsoft Instant Messenger?

A: The best way to provide instant messaging capabilities to your Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 users is to leverage the presence integration between Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Microsoft Office Communicator. Microsoft Office Communicator is included with Microsoft Office Communications Server and when integrated with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, it allows your users to make phone calls, schedule appointments, send email and instant messages to both Microsoft CRM Contacts and Users...

Learn more about integrating Microsoft CRM and instant messaging


Methods to increase customer lifetime value via customer loyalty

Q: What are some effective ways to build customer equity for a customer that has been loyal for a few years but has not increased the amount they are spending with us?

A: There are several ways to increase the value of a customer. The first and usually the most impactful way -- and the method most firms focus on first -- is simply to improve the customer's longevity, or loyalty. The longer a customer remains loyal, the more valuable the customer is to the firm..

Read more about increasing customer value with customer loyalty.


How can I measure call center agents' unavailable and "not ready" time?

Q: Is there a KPI for "not ready time"? How can I calculate this metric -- for example, for an agent who is required to be available eight hours to answer calls?

A: Most call center and call routing systems provide measurements for the time a representative is signed into the system and "not ready" to take a call, as well as the overall time they are logged onto the system to handle calls. Most systems allow the agent to indicate and the system to track at least a basic degree of the reason for not being ready to take calls to distinguish call wrap-up time versus unavailable for other reasons...

Get more tips for measuring agents unavailable times.



Browse the Ask the Expert archives for more CRM expert advice


This was last published in December 2009

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