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What's the difference between contact center and CRM? You're asking the wrong question...

Once upon a time, differentiating between the two was simple: Contact Centers centralize and support a company’s customer service operations, while CRMs, or Customer Relationship Management platforms, centralize customer interaction and marketing data.

These definitions have evolved, however, and it is no longer as simple as it once was to answer this question. For one, the definition for “CRM” differs across the marketplace, with companies like Forrester and Gartner using CRM as a catch-all for a business’s customer experience (CX) strategies.

What is a CRM? Definitions vary.

These terms will continue to evolve and expand, and it is doubtful there will ever be a universal definition for each of these tools. This is partly because many forward-thinking organizations no longer view CRM and Contact Center solutions as a set of independent boxes to check in their tech stack. Rather, experience-minded leaders are elevating their strategies by aiming to establish a unified vision for how these tools can work together to operationalize and orchestrate exceptional end-to-end CX across the totality of their customer interactions.

While this approach helps deliver more consistent customer experiences, it also requires organizations to have a clear understanding of the overarching customer journey they seek to provide before they design the detailed deployment of their CX tech stack.

Here are questions every organization should ask when deciding how to leverage tools like CRMs and contact center solutions to deliver CX that is aligned to the needs and expectations of your business, customers, and staff:

What are the business outcomes you are trying to achieve?

To answer this question most effectively, you’ll need to first define your “North Star.” This process involves asking foundational questions to help clarify your overarching brand philosophy and goals. Questions like:

  • How do you want customers to view your brand?
  • How do you want your CX to be different from your competitors?
  • What does the ideal customer experience look like?

In today’s experience-driven, customer-centric marketplace an organization’s customer experience objectives must be the focal point – the North Star – of any strategic initiative. Answering the questions above will serve as guidance for the outcomes you set out to achieve and will dictate how you prioritize all current and future business objectives. Improving brand perception, enhancing employee engagement, driving customer loyalty, and increasing revenue are all business outcomes that are tightly intertwined with CX.

What do your customers need to achieve that outcome?

Once you have aligned on your business outcomes and North Star, you’ll need to uncover underlying challenges standing in the way of the objectives you’ve identified above. Sometimes these challenges will be clear. Perhaps employees or customers have reached out to share their frustrations with existing experiences. But often, additional research will be required to bring these issues to light.

Customer listening exercises like Voice of the Customer (VoC) research can help you understand what actual experience you are delivering to your customers, in comparison to the experience you want to deliver, so you can build strategies to overcome gaps and hang-ups in the experience.

Customer journey mapping is another critical tool organizations can leverage to uncover common drop-off points and triggers of abandonment. To execute a journey mapping exercise, select a common customer journey and identify all the available user experience data to help you better understand the persona and the journey the customer is taking. Pay close attention to the channels your customer interacts with on the way. Sometimes, customers may drop off because the handoff between communication channels was cumbersome or impossible. Other times, the next step in the journey might simply be too unclear.

What do your employees need to facilitate that outcome?

On the other side of the equation is the experience of your team. Your employees play a crucial role in helping to uncover and resolve CX challenges. Employees need smart, frictionless tools and operations to deliver positive interactions and experiences to customers. Your employees can also share direct feedback from their customer interactions, providing invaluable insights into the experiences your customers are having.

Voice of the Employee (VoE) programs are a great resource for understanding the experience challenges your own team members face, as well as the pain-points they are hearing from customers. The strongest VoE programs integrate a mix of surveys, active listening, and reward programs to solicit routine feedback. These programs are best performed with customer service agents, IT staff, and marketing teams within your organization, since these are the roles that are most likely to interact with your CRM and contact center solutions.

In our experience helping organizations implement these types of transformational changes, we commonly hear staff reference a few capabilities that would strengthen their CX impact:

  1. More access to more customer account data to quickly resolve tickets and streamline what is needed from the customer
  2. An accessible record of the communication preferences customers may have, so they can reach out to them in their preferred channel
  3. The ability to track interactions across both customer service, marketing, and sales channels to reduce friction at each touchpoint

How can you tie your CRM and contact center technologies together to better support processes and people?

When your North Star is clear and your pain points are identified, it’s time to consider introducing layers of CX technology. While there may be zero doubt as to why your organization needs both a contact center and CRM solution, knowing how to get the most out of these solutions may not have been so obvious. Fortunately, you now have the right questions and strategies to build a more effective, integrated approach.

It is important to think of these solutions as a unified, integrated system, where the data and technologies work in sync to power-up the modern CX-driven organization. Marketing automation, AI/IVR contact interfaces, unified agent desktops, workforce management and optimization, data automation, and other capabilities can all be multiplied to their full potential when your CRM, contact center, and other operational tools are working as one.

Gone are the days of implementing these technologies as singular operations – it’s time to build these into a smart, centralized machine that serves as a conduit for the much larger CX vision.

Where do you start?

We are living in a world where you need a contact center management platform and a CRM — one doesn’t replace the other, and one certainly can’t function optimally without the other. As a result, experience leaders have more incentive than ever to strategically integrate these solutions to better meet their needs across their contact center, operations, marketing, and sales workflows. Unfortunately, solution customization and complexity often go hand in hand. The best way to maximize your CRM and contact center management platform interactivity is to partner with a CX expert, one who understands how to achieve the overarching CX ambitions of your brand.

Ready to unlock the full potential of your CRM and Contact Center tools?

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Bryce Gibson

About the Author

Bryce Gibson

Chief Operating Officer

Bryce serves as COO of TTEC Digital.

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