Service CRM: Taking Care of Businesses and Customers

Monday, August 26, 2019
Michael Zunenshine
CRM.ORG is a knowledge hub for all things work: digital tools, customer service relationship software, and other innovative methodologies for exploring work-related relationships. In “What is a CRM?”, we break down the meaning of the three-letter monster that is CRM and explore the history, benefits, and features of the customer relationship software.  

We’re always hearing about customer pipelines and sales funnels. Such imagery implies one-way journeys. Customers move in at the shopping-start and come out the buying-end.

Beginning with a website visit, customer data is collected, then passed over to sales, then tucked away if later a service rep should ever need it.

This kind of old-fashioned thinking conjures up bygone clichés, where dapper salesmen glide across waxed showroom floors beaming toothy welcomes. Meanwhile, in back rooms, an army of disgruntled chain-smoking call-center reps are struggling to placate belligerent customers.

It’s as if customer service was the least important department. Today, that attitude couldn’t be wider off the mark.

Funnels and donuts

While there exists software dedicated solely to customer service and support (CSS), a service CRM software integrates CSS functions holistically—not as something tacked on at the end, but working with marketing and sales at every stage of the customer experience.

Better customer interaction translates to more returning customers. Perhaps the one-way funnel metaphor should be replaced by something symbolizing this ‘return’... like a donut?

Frustration is contacting support, having to ID yourself, then explain your issue, only to be transferred and asked to repeat everything all over again.

A service CRM system avoids this issue and provides service and support staff instant access to all relevant customer touch-point information. This means not only less frustration but also faster resolutions.

A service CRM journey

Jack really wants to order synthetic leather pants. He has sensitive skin but he’s heard improvements in faux-leather materials should avoid any serious irritation.

He orders, receives, and puts on a pair of pants from a faux-leather garment company—it’s like fire ants on his legs. He calls customer service. Because the service department sees his communications with sales, they can anticipate his problem and prepare a quick solution: Luckily, they have the same style but made with a hypoallergenic material.

Here’s the returning ‘donut’ element to service CRM. Next time Jack visits the site, front-line sales know which pant material to show him.

The faux-leather pants company did not just solve for the customer, but this holistic data-sharing ultimately solves for the complaint.

The data from Jack’s case feeds back to sales, who apply it to new customers (“do you have sensitive skin?”). It goes back further to product development (“let’s not use this material again”), and to marketing (“all our pants are made with such a material…”).

In this scenario, the company updates their products, adjusts their marketing, and boosts sales. They did this based not on impersonal market research, rather on the unique personal interactions of Jack and his love for leather-ish pants.       

How it works

So what are some of the key elements of service CRM? Firstly, information about the customer is captured by every department in the CRM ecosystem so that it is accessible by the service reps.

Customers have all the avenues to contact support: phone, email, online forms, chatting and social media.

Once a customer reaches out, a “ticket” is created. This contains the customer details, the nature of the complaint, and suggestions to whom the ticket should go to, for example, problems logging into an account might go to IT; problems with delivery would go to shipping.

It might include details about the service-level agreement (SLA), which makes both rep and customer aware of what to expect regarding how long it might take for the issue to be addressed and resolved.  

A “workflow” organizes and sometimes automates, the various steps toward resolution. Like, if the customer wants to return a broken item, workflows should trigger a task to inventory and shipping to promptly mail out a replacement.

At a later stage, customer feedback is gathered about their service experience, which further boosts support quality for every future ticket.

Proactive knowledge

A great service CRM goes beyond the specific and towards the universal: the knowledge base.  

This is an internal wiki containing the collected resources of all issues experienced, solutions offered, missteps made, and successes registered. This information can:

  • Go into searchable FAQs

  • Be turned into macro-solutions for common problems and repetitive requests

  • Form “canned” responses to messages and emails which get delivered instantly

The knowledge base is proactive, not reactive. It’s the part of service CRM that doesn’t just handle the customer, it handles the complaint.

Meanwhile, customers whose issues go beyond the knowledge base get help faster, as such troves of knowledge free up time and energy for human reps.  

A handful of service CRMs


Zendesk has evolved into a suite of services including Zendesk Support. It’s advertised as being out-of-box ready, but it’s also highly customizable. Its ticket system does a straightforward job handling issuing and prioritizing of support tickets sourced from multiple channels like web, email, and social media. Users can create custom macro responses, or populate the knowledge base of common problems.

As a bonus, Zendesk integrates with almost 800 3rd-party tools which are available from their app store, like:


NextOS is the communication-technology arm of Nextiva, which includes a service CRM. They amalgamate loosely-collected info from customer touch points (phone, chat, email) but also from analytics and surveys, turning all the information into clean data for every department.

They also promise more AI in the future for things like reading customer “sentiment” and being more proactive with next issue resolution (NIR).

The platform handles standard features like feedback surveys; it simplifies the build-up of internal wikis and it helps automate workflows.

One unique feature is the internal chat, which lets reps chat with each other while simultaneously dealing with customers, thereby bringing in extra expertise when needed on the fly.

Agile CRM

Agile CRM’s service features include Helpdesk, which quickly segments types of customers based on previously-known issues, then matches them to reps with the most experience in that area. Even reps can be grouped into silos to quickly funnel the issue to the next available specialist.

Agile also has instant chat pop-ups with anticipatory solutions. There’s a good telephony system that makes calls, records calls, auto-generates call logs, and voicemail automation. With Agile, one can easily create canned email and message to minimize response wait times, and there’s a feedback system to build up the knowledge base.

Sugar CRM

Sugar CRM brings together the usual suspects of marketing, sales, and service, but also includes IT. The software works independently but also functions inside Microsoft Outlook, syncing contacts, calendars, and tasks.

Within their service product, Sugar sets up service-rep teams based on skills and experience. Workflows route specific issues to the first available member in the most appropriate team.

Sugar’s self-service portal is a place where customers can not only access the FAQ but also update their own customer information.

The CRM also has a case management and bug tracking tool, which gives all customer-facing staff both the full history of a specific customer case, as well as the genealogy of a specific bug as it may have arisen in multiple cases.

Keeping everyone in the loop

The argument for pursuing an isolated CSS platform may be to avoid all the “bells ‘n’ whistles.” However, this argument is perhaps more fitting of bygone days when support was hidden in back rooms.

Today, departments work together to provide the best customer experience. Customer support is no longer the last-ditch-resort of a company trying to assuage peeved customers screaming for refunds. Its contributions are valuable to every customer touch-point.

Just as marketing, sales, and support departments strive to be more closely connected, so should the features of CSS software remain part of a larger CRM ecosystem.    


Some Recommended Reading:

Social CRM: Keep an Ear to the Ground Most Trodden

Best CRM for Small Business

Gmail CRM: CRM for Everyone