Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Understanding Queues in Parature from Microsoft

Parature is Microsoft's leading customer service tool in the Dynamics family. It supports multiple channels for customer service, including online self-service, social, phone, chat and more. 

Queues are one of the fundamental concepts of Parature and other customer service products.  They define a structure for presenting tickets to customer service representatives so they can be handled by the right person at the right time. This blog post expands on the material in the Parature knowledge base.  Here is an article with instructions on the steps to create and modify queues.

The most fundamental queue is the customer service representative (CSR) queue.  The queue is a holding place for tickets before they are grabbed by a CSR to work on the issue.   Once they are grabbed, the queue has served its purpose and the ticket will disappear from the queue.  Multiple CSRs could use the same queue, or queues could be personalized for a single CSR, depending on how your CSRs map to the issues and tickets. 

To determine how many queues are needed, you must map out the skills required to resolve a ticket and availability of CSR resources.  For instance, if all CSRs can solve all tickets (a desirable but uncommon state), then one queue would be sufficient for all CSRs. In this case, tickets will be pulled from the queue by each CSR as they are available. 

More commonly, tickets are divided into multiple queues based on the type of issue.  The result is that a CSR specializing in a particular issue would only see tickets for that issue. You want to avoid presenting CSRs with tickets in a queue on which they cannot act.  

Availability of CSRs at different times and service level agreements (SLA) present additional layers of complexity. You may need queues that allow you to map to which CSRs are on duty. For this reason, Parature offers special types of queues:
  • Escalation Queue: for only escalated tickets so critical issues that require special attention can be handled in a timely fashion.
  • Business Hours Queue: You can set up business hours, after hours, or always queues, and assign the appropriate CSRs each queue based on their work schedules.
  • Un-routed Tickets Queue: In the event of a routing rule error make sure you never miss a Ticket with an un-routed Tickets queue.
  • Urgent Queue: For emergency cases or issues to create high visibility for CSRs and managers.  
Parature queues may be used in additional ways that combine features of these queue types to meet your needs.  You set up intelligent workflows to ensure that tickets are assigned to the correct queues.

As you roll out Parature, you may end up refining queues to optimize the performance of your support staff.  Self-service capabilities can change the pattern of trouble tickets over time and affect the workload of CSRs, so you may want to consider revisiting your service desk design from time to time.



Tuesday, February 2, 2016

CRM Leadership Starts at the Top




Customer relationship management (CRM) doesn't help a company if it is not adopted by users, and that adoption starts with the commitment of senior leadership.  For sales, the top management is often a vice president for sales, followed by managers for specific lines of products or services and, ultimately, account teams.

Without CRM in place, sales leaders often rely on spreadsheets as the basis of forecasts and pipeline meetings.  With CRM, the first step is to throw away the spreadsheet, and make CRM the authoritative source for all sales pipeline information.  Sales leaders must convey that if the opportunity is not in CRM, it doesn't exist for sales discussions or eventually for commission payments.

Using CRM as the system of record for sales doesn't mean you have to give up the functionality of spreadsheets.  Dynamics CRM can export views such as open opportunities to Excel, allowing further manipulation and analysis in a spreadsheet.  The spreadsheet may also be forwarded to people who may not be familiar with CRM.  Dynamics CRM even allows a spreadsheet to be linked to underlying CRM data so that it may be refreshed with the latest data rather than regenerated.

If managers don't commit fully to CRM, sales professionals will notice and follow their lead, setting up the implementation for failure. Don't be one of those sales leaders. Don't let your CRM project fail because you never gave it the support it needed.


Friday, January 29, 2016

Next Generation Customer Service for Government Employees




Recently I have been working with federal agencies that are adopting commercial customer service techniques for helping government workers be more productive.

The new trend I am seeing is to add self-service functions to traditional help desks.  Government workers are telecommuting more frequently, and for some agencies can be scattered around the country or around the world, leading to challenges in call center coverage.

Younger government employees in particular are often more comfortable searching online than picking up the phone to call a help desk.  They expect from their government agencies the same kind of customer care that is offered by companies.

Here are some of the ways agencies can increase self-service for employees:

  1. Publish FAQs and Troubleshooters on websites and intranets.   By providing step-by-step instructions, you can forestall some help calls and provide service even when the help desk is closed. You can seed the FAQs by analyzing historical trouble tickets and identifying those that are both common and can be resolved without intervention by another person such as a network administrator.
  2. Organize your knowledge base.  The answer is out there, but it may be difficult to find.  Search engines are part of the solution, but creating a visible taxonomy (set of categories) for topics can make it much easier for users to navigate to the right web page or document.  
  3.  Treat employees like customers. If you adopt a mindset which is similar to a commercial company, you can measure and reward behavior that improves employee satisfaction.
  4. Deflect calls. Phone calls to a help desk are one of the most expensive types of support, and sometimes you can avoid them by providing information as the customer requests help.  For instance, an online form can ask the employee for the problem type, and show links to possible solutions.  
  5. Allow multiple paths to support. Employees appreciate options of different ways to get support at different times.  Some people have strong preferences for a particular support channel, while others will use many.  For instance, when I interact with my phone company, I have used phone, email, live chat, and knowledge base searches depending on the issue at hand.   Live chat is especially good when you need to communicate a computer problem and describe what is on your screen.  Sometimes email is best when I want to "fire and forget" because I need to move on to another task.  
In an earlier post, I wrote about Microsoft's new Employee Self-Service Offering brings this approach to customers.  A white paper "Justifying Knowledge Management in Customer Service" by CRM analyst Esteban Kolsky is available.    

I expect this trend to continue in order to enhance productivity and retention of government employees despite budgetary pressures. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Microsoft FieldOne: Dynamics CRM Scenarios for Field Operations

Microsoft recently purchased FieldOne, gaining a suite of products for Dynamics CRM which fulfill the business requirements of field services.  Field services are for organizations which send technicians, installers, or inspectors to customer locations.  FieldOne is now included in Dynamics CRM Online for new enterprise subscribers.

Scenarios for FieldOne include:

  • Building inspectors
  • Maintenance personnel
  • Health and safety inspection
  • Appliance installation or service
  • Plumbing, heating and air conditioning
  • Home health care
  • Property management
  • Snow removal 
  • Highway maintenance
  • and many more

The following video case study illustrates how FieldOne helps customers manage their resources more effectively.


Dispatchers at company locations use FieldOne to create a list of places to visit, schedule appointments and create an efficient route.  The following screen is a visual representation of the daily schedule.

FieldOne on PC


Field agents can use the mobile solution on devices such as tablets and smartphones to perform their tasks at customer sites. It is also used as the mechanism to communicate with dispatchers during the day.  Dispatchers can send SMS messages to field agents to let them know about changes in the schedule or other alerts.

FieldOne on Android

To learn more, download e-books and other information.

Handy Opportunity Views for Dynamics CRM

As a user of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, I find myself creating my own views frequently, and sharing the most popular of them with other users at my company.  Here are some of the views that I use for Opportunities:

  1. Opportunities by Owner. This is the most frequent view that I use for pipeline meetings.  Included fields are Topic, Potential Customer, Sales Stage, Est. Close Date, Proposed Date, Est. Revenue, and Owner. 
  2. Opportunities with Proposals Due.  Add fields for RFP Received and Proposal Due dates. Filter by status of RFP Received and sort by Proposal Due date.  Great way for quick glance at proposals that are in the works. 
  3. Proposed Opportunities by dollar threshold. Create a dollar threshold for what you consider to be large projects and apply it as a filter along with status of "proposed".  You can also sort by value in other views, but using this view allows you to exclude smaller projects and still sort by owner. 
  4. Opportunities by Type.  We added a field to show the type of project for an opportunity.  This is not a standard field in CRM but quite handy for understanding the breakdown of opportunities and useful for dashboard views as well. 
You can start by creating your personal view and show them to other users.  If they are a hit, you can ask your system administrator to add them to system views which are visible to other users.  If you drop down the list of views for Opportunities, the following menu appears.  Near the bottom of the menu is the option to create a personal view. 

If you choose Create Personal View, you will get to the Advanced Find screen where you can create a new view. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

6 Simple CRM Tips for Small Government Contractors

My company InfoStrat works with government contractors to automate their capture management (sales) processes.  Large government contractors typically have mature and complicated processes which have many actors and steps.  Often they follow a sales process pioneered by Shipley Associates which helps companies win a higher number of bids through a more systematic business process and higher quality proposals.



What about small companies, or companies that are just getting started in government contracting?  Do they benefit from structured processes and sales force automation? How should their CRM system be different from a large company?

Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Read everything you can find on government contracting.  You will learn from the extensive literature on the subject.  Many books on government sales are available on Amazon and in libraries. 
  2. Come up with a simple capture process and refine it based on your experience.  Include approval workflows and review processes during the proposal preparation phase. It may be as simple as four or five steps based on pre-solicitation stages and the status of a solicitation (RFI, RFP, etc.). 
  3. Track every opportunity in your CRM.  Use the CRM as the basis for pipeline review meetings, and insist on entering every opportunity in the system in order to chase it.
  4. Ask stakeholders for their input.  Your CRM cannot succeed without adoption, and all your users will have valuable input on how the system should work.  Don't track information that people do not find useful or are unwilling or unable to enter. 
  5. Start with a template.   It's difficult to get user input from a blank sheet of paper, so a pre-built solution for government contractors can help people focus better. InfoStrat offers a GovCon solution template and a quick start implementation to go with it. 
  6. Walk before you run. Start with a core group of users in sales and senior management and add other groups later.  Be sure to build in a process to learn from your experience and improve your CRM over time.
Most large companies started as small companies, so you can learn from the experience of others to position yourself for growth as a government contractor.  Thinking about your business processes will help you refine your business and come up with creative new ways to win. 


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Is Sales More Like Hunting or Fishing?

When you implement a customer relationship management system (CRM) for sales force automation, you must analyze your sales process in order to understand the steps that should be automated, and all the business processes that come into play during the sales cycle.



Salespeople use many analogies that are used to describe sales, but the most common are hunting and fishing.  Hunting is the most common way of thinking about sales.  Your sales prospects are targets, and you spend your time tracking them down and finding out how you can reach them.  Sales tactics are a bit like hunting weapons, and you track statistics on how many of your quarry you bag and how many get away.

You can find sales books that explain sales as hunting, and how to use 'trust as your weapon."  Large sales are called "elephants" or "whales" and small sales are "deer" or "rabbits."  In the sales as hunting world, salespeople wander the earth to find prey and stalk them as long as necessary.

Fishing (specifically angling, or fishing with a line and a hook rather than a net) is another useful analogy to understand sales processes.  In most fishing, you cannot see the fish, so you rely on your judgment of the likelihood of fish where you are casting your line, and the quality of bait.

Marketing is the bait for sales.  The quality of your offering (product or service) is crucial for sales. You must have faith in the bait or lures that you use and present them with confidence to be successful.

CRM does a great job of keeping score of sales wins and losses.  It also shows which offerings are most successful, and often helps you identify successful marketing techniques.

What analogies do you use to describe your sales process?  How can these inform your CRM implementation?  If you see your sales force as hunters, how can tracking sales activities improve performance?  Can CRM reports help you understand the tactics of individual salespeople?

Don't assume that your CRM reflects your sales philosophy out of the box.  You can tailor it so that it reinforces the processes that you want to promote.