Hosted PBX Meets Customer Relationship Management

M5 Networks customers can now tie the VoIP service into either an off-the-shelf or a custom CRM application, maximizing phone efficiency for top sales people.

By Adam Stone | Posted Oct 19, 2009
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Hosted PBX vendor M5 Networks recently launched M5 Connect, a new tool that can integrate its voice service into a user’s custom CRM application.

To understand the value of such a capability, it helps to talk to Scott Smith, CEO and owner of Biscuits and Bath, providing "total wellness for your dogs" in six Manhattan locations. Smith says his sales have grown 40 to 50 percent since tying M5 voice to his custom CRM solution.

The pet business receives 750 to 800 calls a day. Only half of those come from customers. The rest are applicants, media calls, vendors, and calls for employees. Smith needed to sort those out, to get the high-value customer calls directly into the hands of his most highly qualified sellers.

"One of the great things about this technology for us is that it has helped us to split up those calls and direct them to the people who can best handle them," Smith said.

M5 is not the only vendor with a solution that integrates voice and CRM, but its fundamental technology is different, said M5 Director of Client Solutions Brent Barbara.

Most others base their integration on Microsoft’s client-based Telephony Application Programming Interface (TAPI), whereas M5 offers a web services adapter. That’s a significant differentiator, he said.

"When you are running any application on your desktop you have inherent support issues: The quality of the PC, the health of the PC, its connection with the network it sits on," Barbara said. "When you put your applications and the connectors into the cloud, you avoid any of that desktop interference."

M5’s basic voice service costs $40 to $60 per seat per month. Integration into a custom CRM will add another $10 to $15 per seat. Barbara reports 25 to 30 customers using the feature at present.

M5’s play for the custom CRM market may seem counterintuitive. With all the solidly built commercial CRM products available, one might expect custom CRM to represent a pretty thin sliver of the market. So far, Barbara said, that hasn’t been his experience.

While M5 can integrate to most off-the-shelf CRM products, about a quarter of new customers say they are looking to integrate with custom apps. "I was surprised, quite frankly, figuring Salesforce.com was it," Barbara said. "Salesforce.com is certainly the largest, but custom applications are the second largest."

By plugging into a CRM system, a voice system can deliver a range of helpful data on incoming calls. This might include the caller’s name, a record of past contacts, preferences, interests. "You can provide your staff with information about the call before you answer. That means you get a much higher level of service—not to mention the efficiency you get internally by eliminating your staff member having to say, ‘Can you give me your account number again? or ‘What is your mother’s maiden name?’ "

Barbara said this head start can save 30 to 45 seconds per inbound call.

Smith says his average customer wait time is 20 to 25 seconds these days, down from 45 seconds to a minute before connecting M5 to his CRM. "We used to get complaints about that all the time, and now we get no complaints," he said.

Even more notable: That wait time used to result in 75 to 100 abandoned calls a day. Now virtually no calls are being abandoned.

Such gains may not come easily. It takes some time and energy on the user end to bring together voice and CRM capabilities.

"It requires you as the developer to dip into your database, but that assumes your database is designed in the most efficient and effective way. The database needs to find a phone number and that number has to be tied to a client record and then you need to provide your staff member with the information on that call based on the role of that staff member," Barbara said.

The cleaner the database, the more effective the system will be. "We don’t want to claim that it is plug and play because it is not. Every custom application is different," Barbara said.

Smith said his in-house programmer had the system up and running in a matter of days.

Best of all, Smith said, CRM integration frees up his best-trained people to sell annual contracts. It takes more than a few minutes on the phone to convince someone to commit $15,000 to $20,000 a year on dog care.

In the past, the top sellers whittled away minutes at a time redirecting vendors, applicants, media, and other callers. Now that they are receiving only the high-value calls, "they have the 45 minutes they need to have those discussions," Smith said.

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