Can This Relationship Be Saved?

We admit it: We used those shockingly red lips on our cover to grab your attention. But what’s in our special section on contact centers (pages 14-43) is attention-grabbing as well. The extent to which hype about online technology outpaces its use, particularly in an area vital to customer contact, is remarkable. Most direct-to-customer merchants make do with the basics, leaving the opulence to those who can afford it. And now that dot-com largesse has dried up, affordability is a la mode. Take CRM. “We’re talking about a $60 million bill,” says David Cooperstein, analyst at Forrester Research. “I don’t see how smaller companies can do it.” (Not that they would care — at a recent warehousing conference, only two out of 35 attendees at a customer service session even claimed to know what CRM was.)

I’m not knocking technology, but I do think that some fundamental intelligence is called for in its application. Ways to technobabble-proof yourself:

Just say no. If you don’t believe that high-tech thingamajigs are necessary for your contact center, don’t buy them, no matter how good a sales pitch the vendor makes. And “if you must make the investment, figure out how you’re going to make it pay,” counsels James T. Kenny, associate professor of marketing at Western Illinois University.

Have it all. But don’t buy it all. It’s perfectly possible to get the functions you need by purchasing some apps, upgrading others, and maybe slapping on a Band-Aid or two. As any bartender knows, it’s all in the mix.

Follow the fashionistas. Models and movie stars have known for years that pairing a $10 T-shirt with a pricey designer suit is the essence of style. You, too, can get this look. It’s perfectly OK to pick up one gizmo on sale at Radio Shack and have another custom-built for you. But we don’t have the resources to troubleshoot those things, you say. Ah, read on.

Be contrary. Spend on people, not machines. How many times have you seen employees mill around cubicles or go out for a smoke because no one had fixed their computer glitch and they couldn’t work? Hire inventive people who can find other ways to get the job done. “As you automate more and more, downtime will kill you,” says Paul Slack, manager of distribution engineering at Access Business Group.

Clean up your act. Sink those millions not into a cool site but into your internal processes. Budget, organize, tidy up. You won’t need to “manage” your customers if you manage yourself.

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