In our previous instalments, we outlined the core elements of sales automation and lead management, as they comprise a “core CRM” initiative. In this edition, we will cover the essential features needed for a successful customer support initiative.

The logical extension of a great lead-to-close optimization initiative is a solid customer support or case management deployment. After all, if you’re generating customers there’s a good chance they’ll want to interact with you after they purchase your product or service. What’s more, it is important that the support and service functions of a core CRM initiative be well integrated with the sales and marketing tools. This allows employees to be on the same page and better understand a customer’s history, present issue – speeding resolution times and increasing customer satisfaction.

Ok, now to the actual features and functions. A core customer support deployment should always have the following:

Case Management

A core case management module does what its name suggests: helps handle the inbound issues or “cases” customers need to file to solve problems. Case management tools should enable the automated creation of a case from an inbound customer email to a set email alias (such as as well as enable fast or automated creation of a case from social media posts.

A solid case management module will have strong workflow embedded, to help with the routing of cases, as well as the ability to easily escalate or hand-off cases to more qualified agents. In addition, the ability to turn an email response to a case inquiry into a knowledge base article (see below) is helpful, as it builds a library of solution information to drive higher first-call resolution rates, as well as drive more effective self-service (more on self-service below).

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Telephony Integration

Customers need to reach you, and many prefer to pick up the phone and call. Whether you have a physical “call center” or not, a CRM system can help automate and streamline the support process via simple yet effective telephony integration. Telephony integration entails linking your CRM with your phone system (easiest with a VoIP or software-based phone system), allowing for the data associated with an inbound phone call to be matched against a customer record in the CRM. Therefore, inbound calls can be routed to the best support professionals – perhaps based on geography, product lines, or even distinguishing between regular and “VIP” customers.

Screen-pops, which are pop-up windows of information, can both alert an agent to an incoming call and also prepare them with information so they can appear knowledgeable and move the call along, instead of asking for a customer’s information over and over.

Again, the great part of core CRM telephony integration is that it allows virtually anyone with strong product knowledge to be a “virtual support agent.” Product experts can take calls form their desks without having to physically be in a call center. It’s all about providing the best service to your customers, after all.

Knowledge Management

A knowledge management module consists typically of two core elements: a knowledge base, as well as an FAQ (frequently asked question) tool. The knowledge base consists of an authoring tool, where employees (and in some cases customers or partners) can “author” content about your products or services. These articles get filed and can be searched by support agents or customers (see “self-service portal” below) to help solve issues more quickly. It is important that the authoring environment be similar to the user-friendly word processing tools we use today. In addition, keyword and elastic global search are needed to ensure the most relevant results are accessed during a search inquiry.

Also, allowing for tags (or hashtags) allows users and customers to affix descriptive words to articles, making them even easier to both access via search (and, in more advanced use cases, based on tags a relevant article can be exposed to a support agent when they get assigned a case based on keyword matching between the case and the article’s tags).

FAQs are a good way to help both employees and customers solve minor issues in a cost-effective manner. An FAQ is essentially a web-based set of questions, with associated answers beneath. Attached to an FAQ tool is the ability for users to rank the relevancy or usefulness of a question/answer pair. This helps a company tweak their FAQs to be more helpful over time.

Self-Service Portal

When solving customer issues, often the questions they’re asking can be solved with some simple advice. In short, customers can solve their own issues – that is, if they can access the right information that can help fix the problem. This not only can increase customer satisfaction as an immediate solution to the problem rather than waiting in an email or call queue, but it also reduces overall operational costs – since less call volume means less agents drawing salary, less software spends etc.

A self-service support operation typically centers on a self-service web portal. Through this portal, users can access a number of items: status of cases they’ve already logged; access to the searchable knowledge base to find solutions to common issues, as well as the FAQ lists like those noted above. The portal can also be used to post news or updates about products and services as well.

Case Reports and Dashboards

Just as with sales and marketing, it is important to leverage dashboards and reports to keep on top of the support operations inside the company. A solid CRM system that offers case management should offer a number of pre-configured case reports, including new cases logged per period, a number of cases closed, etc. – and have coordinating dashboard visualizations to allow for “at a glance” views of case volume and resolution times. In addition, more advanced reports can reveal which agents are getting assigned, managing, and closing the most cases per month. A reporting tool can also allow you to build custom reports on any system information, such as most frequent case topics, portal search topics, etc. to help you better adjust your support policies and staffing.

These are the central aspects of a core customer support automation deployment. Again, there are lots of additional tools, such as agent scheduling, skills-based routing, queue optimization etc. tools – but with these core elements, your organization can start putting more process and knowledge around supporting your customers when they have issues with your products or services.

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