Understanding Customer Relationship Management

Exactly What Is CRM?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) today is very much about keeping the old-time spirit of customer connection, even when you cannot shake the customer's hand. It is about using information technology systems to capture and track your customers' needs.

When used properly in conjunction with a customer-centered business strategy, CRM enables the company to track every aspect of the customer relationship, starting from being able to quickly determine who bought what and when. You have a profile on each customer, and you can literally transform every business interaction into a dialogue.
The fabulous aspect of CRM technology is that it helps you fully understand the customer's relationship with your business, enabling you to create a one-to-one relationship with hundreds, thousands, or millions of customers at a time!


Is It the Latest and Greatest?

The past few years have seen an absolute explosion in CRM tools, especially software applications. According to a variety of studies and research reports, 55 percent of firms are considering CRM projects, while another 42 percent have installations completed or underway. These figures speak for themselves.

Yet in some cases customer service has not improved. Why not? That is easily answered: The problem stems from too many people and companies confusing technology with strategy. Too many individuals and organizations fall in love with the technological applications and forget that they must start with a CRM strategy.


How Do We Use It?

The short response to the question "How do we use it?" is it all depends. This is not an evasive answer but an acknowledgment that there are about as many answers to the question as there are different company goals.

The way to go about getting the best out of your involvement with CRM is to put together a detailed and smart business strategy, then buy or develop software that will help you carry out your customer service goals.

How your company uses CRM depends to some extent on your strategies, including the way you provide better value for customers. If you deliver a great experience for your customers, they will return to your company, and you will find you can literally pick and choose whom you want to spend time with and nurturing.

You definitely can use CRM to uncover valuable customer data from something as simple as an ordinary spreadsheet. How? First, you develop revenue numbers from each customer, which is something any business should have on hand. Then you calculate the cost to serve each customer based on sales calls and other interactions. It is then that the spreadsheet becomes your CRM tool. You will see quickly that the 80/20 rule applies: Probably 20 percent of your customers are generating 80 percent of your revenue.


Automating the Personal Touch

In our new technologically savvy world, fast, inexpensive, and easy-to-access technology has hatched a new way of customer service and customer-tracking possibilities. Any size company at all can now maintain a good CRM strategy and system. When implemented effectively, CRM can and will add tremendous value to your organization by helping you not only find customers but retain them. Loyal customers are created by positive experiences and the level of service they receive from your company.

CRM should be immediate, allowing customers instant gratification, whether the interaction involves carrying out a request or coming up with a solution; and personalized, enabling the operating organization to tailor each interaction to your customer's individual needs.


Defining the Technical Requirements

There is no off-the-shelf, generic CRM template that fits all situations. Every savvy businessperson, regardless of the organization's size and future CRM plans, needs to be aware of the principles that form part of CRM's successful implementation. However, companies with flourishing online service have certain methodologies in common, including the following:

  • Segmentation of the customer base
  • Consistency across communication channels
  • Development of a multichannel strategy

Unfortunately, most companies who undertake CRM technology selection are not ready to do so. They have not yet figured out how CRM aligns to their corporate objectives; i.e., what they want it to do for them. Until they do that, they cannot appropriately assess the technical requirements.

Experts tend to look upon technology driven by company and customer service requirements as a CRM best practice, but processes to implement it differ. So what needs to be done first is to identify the functions needed, then match those functions to the technologies available by asking and answering this question: Is there a CRM tool that can match and perform each of your core functions?
Of course, there is much more involved than that, and you will need to investigate the whole scenario of CRM to develop appropriate technologies. While the Internet is a good source, there also are many excellent books on this topic. Here are two:
1. The CRM Handbook: A Business Guide to Customer Relationship Management, by Jill Dyche, part of the Addison-Wesley Information Technology Series.
2. Customer Relationship Management, by Kristin Anderson and Carol Kerr, published by Briefcase Books.

Choosing the Right CRM Tools

When it comes down to CRM tools, the choices available can make selection a daunting task. On one hand, it can often be the tendency of management to have a more robust reporting system than you could ever need, which often grows into even more complicated CRM software with all the bells and whistles. At the same time, you do not want to go to the lowest end of the scale, either.

The problem with systems that are too fancy is that the more difficult you make it for salespeople to use, the more trouble you are asking for when it is time to get the desired results from the software. The last thing you want is to invest serious money into a system and have your salespeople not use the darn thing.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Customer Relationship Management course?

The most important thing is to involve sales staff in the decision-making, particularly in the early stages. At the same time, you should convey to the staff that you must choose a program that suits the needs of management, as well as the needs of the people that will be using it on a day-to-day basis. In other words, the choice needs to be a win-win for everyone.

As far as decision-making is concerned, though, there should be a slant toward the needs of your salespeople; after all, they are the main ones who are going to be using the software, so they should have a big say in which CRM software is obtained.


The Amazing Power of CRM

The great power of CRM comes via the clarity of your approach. You need to know your CRM intention because when you are clear on that, the likelihood is greater that you will end up choosing the appropriate tools to support that intention, and you will end up actually using them.

The real power lies in the follow-through.

Even if you are not the person making the final decision as to which CRM tools your organization will obtain, you need to take a big interest. You can never be sure at the end of the day who may have the most influence, but the person who has done the most research and taken the most interest in finding things out is more likely to have a big input.

To gain clarity and therefore have the power regarding your CRM intention, think about your own customers, internal or external consumers or business-to-business. Then follow up with plenty of research into the different CRM tools and speak to people who have been using different systems. Then decide.


The Correct CRM Program for You

Your organization may not require the Rolls Royce of the superhighway for its CRM program, but you will not necessarily want the bargain basement model, either.

Choosing the correct vehicle for both you and your customers is a process involving the following:

Step 1: Return to your customer relationship management strategy and refresh your memory, then ask:

  • What are we really trying to accomplish with CRM?
  • What type of experiences do we want our customers to have?
  • Exactly what information do we need to obtain from customers in order for them to benefit from exceptional customer service practice?

Step 2: Decide where you and the company really want to go from there.


What Defines Success with CRM?

What defines success with CRM is basically what defines success with anything! What do you usually define as successful for yourself? When you get what you want? When other people get what they want, and appreciate your efforts? The definitions could be endless.

Basically, what organizations are looking for in implementing CRM is a strong return on investment. That may be customer satisfaction, financial return, or both. There are, however, a few characteristics that successful CRM implementers have in common. Here is a list:

  • Strong internal partnerships surround the CRM strategy.
  • Employees at all levels and areas are able to accurately collect information for, and from, the CRM system.
  • CRM tools chosen are both customer- and employee-friendly.
  • Reports are run only on actual data to be used, and then those reports are used.
  • Do not go high-tech when low-tech will do the job.

The Internet Has Changed the Rules and How!

People individually and business in general have moved into an information-intensive society. Most certainly the impact of the Internet on business is nothing short of extraordinary. Change has gone well beyond expectations, with previous ways of conducting business completely changed beyond recognition.

Web sites, e-mail, and search engines have initiated a radically different set of strategies for businesses to follow. Organizations are now advertising more aggressively than ever. With products able to be presented virtually to people living on the other side of the planet, marketing is much more diverse; it is easier in some ways and more difficult and challenging in others. Absolutely anything can be bought and sold with the help of an Internet connection.

Millions more small and medium businesses, particularly home-based businesses, have come into being thanks solely to the Internet. It is now quite possible to manage intercontinental businesses spread across a number of countries. Thanks to the Internet, time and distance have been negated.

Automating the personal touch

Fast, relatively inexpensive, and easy-to-access technology is what today's new world of customer-tracking is all about.

Any company at all, regardless of size, can maintain a database that effortlessly tracks all the ins and outs, all the comings and goings of its entire customer list.

We will deal with the automation of the personal touch in the following lesson about customer relationship management (CRM).

Clicking with Your Customers

Clicking with your customers is really all about getting customers to come back to your Web site again and again and stay longer when they do; that is, after you have developed a reliable strategy to get them to click there in the first place.

The goal of increasing the amount of time and attention that your visitors give to the site is actually referred to as making your site "stickier." Naturally, the longer and more often that your customers spend on your site, the much better the chances are that they will buy a thing or two.

The key to making your site stickier is to focus on the quantity and quality of information you provide and the ease with which you enable visitors to make purchases from your site. The importance of making purchases easy to complete cannot be over-emphasized. People click off sites very quickly; they will not usually wait any longer than a few seconds. There are vast numbers of sites out there, so what can any of us do to inspire a customer to spend time on our page and develop a purchasing relationship? Probably the most widely acknowledged method is to make sure that you have a reasonable amount of free, useful, and relevant information on the site. People have become used to getting plenty of free ideas, theories, and other bits and pieces online.


Developing Trust and Loyalty Online

When implemented effectively and appropriately, CRM can truly add amazing value to your company, not only creating but retaining loyal customers.

Loyalty usually is developed through different types of experiences customers enjoy with your company. If you constantly provide good, immediate service, you increase the likelihood that your customers will stay with your company.

CRM technology can have an extremely positive impact on your business in cyberspace if it is implemented well. Of course, that is the catch phrase: implemented well.


Customer Acquisition

The all-too-obvious first steps toward customer acquisition and e-commerce glory is to get your product prepared for sale and your technology up and running smoothly; that way you enable customers to buy from you.

There are numerous issues that must be considered when conducting business on the Web. Here are some of the more prominent ones that need to be incorporated:

  • Make the process safe for your customers with protections that include credit card data encryption and confidentiality.
  • Make it convenient; purchasing processes need to be quick and easy.
  • Confirmation order status should be immediate, such as an e-mail confirmation.
  • Suggestion sections should be included, similar to the method used by Amazon.com.
  • Financial incentives, such as special offers limited to online purchases, can boost sales.
  • A listing of recent projects helps customers decide whether you have the skills that will suit them.
  • Testimonials boost confidence in your site.
  • Samples of your work show customers what you can do for them.