Customer Relationship Management: Evolution, Not Revolution

Choosing a new customer relationship management (CRM) solution can be onerous for anyone saddled with this task. But the process of choosing a solution doesn't have to be time-consuming and tedious. Nor should it cause major upheaval in an enterprise's operations, creating significant inconvenience for users. The last thing any manager wants is apathy—or even mutiny—from disgruntled employees “forced” to use an application that doesn't suit their needs or that is too complex to be adopted quickly.

Instead, a CRM solution should be implemented so that users are fully supported and feel that the tools at hand are helping them to get the job done, not adding an extra element of responsibility to their workdays. What you don't want is hand-to-hand combat when trying to encourage employees to use new applications, as lack of user buy-in is one of the most common reasons for CRM project failure.

The application you choose should, in fact, increase efficiency. And hand in hand with efficiency, you expect either a reduction in costs, or an increase in profit. Ideally, you'll get a quantifiable return on what can be a significant investment.

But First, What Is CRM?

CRM is a process of improving a business's relationships with its customers, using software applications that target the requirements of the business's processes. CRM can strengthen these relationships in a number of ways. Typically, CRM applications fulfill one of three key functionalities related to managing customer information: marketing, sales, or service. Software modules are generally broken down into four functional areas: sales automation, marketing automation, customer service and support, and a reporting and analysis tool. Some CRM packages are comprehensive, meaning that they incorporate aspects of all four functions.

So how do you know if you need a comprehensive package?

This partly depends on whether your enterprise is small-to-medium, or whether it is a huge national industry or multinational corporation. It also depends on how many aspects of your customer relationships you think could do with a little revolutionizing—or “evolutionizing.” And finally, it depends on your company's budget.

What Are the Features of CRM?

In order for CRM to effect positive change in your company, its features should speak to all activities involving customer interactions. But don't stop at thinking this means only face-to-face interactions. CRM should include features that take into account all ways the customer comes in contact with the company—before, during, and after a sale. Therefore, advertising campaigns and customer complaints are just as important as that friendly smile offered to customers when they take their purchases and walk out of the store. All activities should emphasize to customers how much the company values them—and, for a more personalized experience, how well the company knows them. So that when you thank customers and invite them to “come again,” there's a much better chance that they will.

CRM can include any of the following features:

  • call management
  • customer management
  • service issues management
  • knowledge exchange management
  • sales force activities
  • marketing campaign management
  • sale lead tracking
  • marketing analysis and forecasting
  • database storage

Packages that are tailored separately for the sales, marketing, or service aspects of CRM have additional features. Customer service and support automation, for example, may have such features as call routing, contact center sales support, and tools for measuring customer satisfaction. Marketing features might detail sales activities and time management, and allow for analyzing and reporting on sales opportunities.

But How Are These Features Going to Benefit My Business?

One simple way to sum up the benefits of CRM is this: better relationships with your customers. But, this is likely self-evident from the very name of the software—though of course “manage” is not necessarily synonymous with “improve.” What you really need to know is how exactly the many features of CRM can restructure and improve your relationships with clients.

Here are some key benefits:

  • Data management and analysis tools help you to track customer preferences and to anticipate needs based on individual purchase histories, over time and according to changes in the marketplace.

  • Marketing automation helps you create targeted campaigns based on those anticipated needs.

  • Costs are reduced as a result of more efficient post-purchase support and service.

  • As a stable base of satisfied repeat customers is created, more time can be spent on expanding the client base.

  • Profitability and revenue can increase as a result of improved relationships with clients both old and new.

  • New software can be merged with a business's existing platform or with other previously installed software applications, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), sales force automation (SFA), and e-mail programs.

  • Operations can be streamlined to increase competitive advantage and to cut costs.

  • Customer loyalty is boosted by making the enterprise customer-centric instead of product-centric.

  • Customers are able to report on how they experience the enterprise.

And the Number One Benefit of Implementing a CRM Solution Is …

Quantifying all the benefits is the easy part, but the number one benefit is really up to you to determine. What exactly do you want a CRM package to do for your business? It is essential to perform a thorough comparative analysis to find the solution that provides the benefit that best meets your needs.

What Industries Can Use CRM, and What Are the Advantages?

CRM can be used by a broad spectrum of industries and enterprises. Applications have been designed for specific domains, including aerospace, automotive, call centers, real estate, telecommunications, financial and banking, energy, government, legal services, manufacturing, health care and pharmaceutical, retail, transportation, and travel.

  • Financial and insurance markets
    This solution includes features of comprehensive CRM packages, but is designed to help financial and insurance markets with their specific client bases. Among its features and functions are policy tracking and investment tracking in order to enhance client databases. Software from some vendors might allow customer data to be consolidated, permit better communication between branches, and reduce staff training costs.

  • Real estate
    CRM for this sector helps vendors to improve customer relationships by capturing online leads, increasing the volume of higher-quality leads, performing personalized electronic marketing campaigns, and automating various administrative processes such as prospecting, quoting, and financing.

  • Telecommunications
    Solutions specifically designed for this industry can help reduce churn rates, generate new sales opportunities, and increase customer retention. In an era when the number of competitors seems to keep pace with the number of services provided, CRM can allow companies to bundle their services, thereby reducing cost as well as preserving an evermore fickle client base.

  • Travel and transportation
    Among the many industry-specific functions of this CRM solution, automated campaign management and SFA can help businesses consolidate client data and improve passenger experiences. As a result, increased productivity, higher traffic volumes, and reduced costs become the benefits for this sector.

  • Health care and pharmaceutical
    For the pharmaceutical industry, a CRM application can facilitate improved sales presentations, better promotion of product information, and better collaboration with physicians regarding product market demographics.

  • Government
    Yes, even in a domain that is not profit-motivated and that prefers the word “citizens” over “customers,” CRM applications can provide benefits. Across the board, government departments are constantly striving to improve “customer service” and overall user satisfaction, and can do so with a CRM application that merges services and permits quicker response.

Evolution, Not Revolution

Expecting to have CRM up and running the minute the applications are installed in your system is unreasonable. Reports abound concerning the problems with implementing CRM too quickly, without training, or without user buy-in. But you don't have to become part of the alleged 60 to 80 percent of businesses that end up squirming in that combat zone known as the marketplace.

Here's a brief inventory of what not to do when choosing and implementing a CRM application:

  • Don't forget senior management (if you don't get buy-in here, you may be unable to obtain the leverage you need to overcome bottlenecks in the selection project).

  • Don't spend more—or not too much more—than you've budgeted.

  • Choose a CRM application carefully. Determine your needs before you start looking for an application by performing an in-depth comparison of your short-listed solutions.

  • Further your investment by ensuring your employees are properly trained on the new CRM solution. Allow adequate time—and consider the timing. In other words, don't do the training so far in advance that by the time the solution is implemented, employees are beginning to forget what they've learned.

Sadly, stories associated with failed CRM implementation are plentiful: the American health care giant that lost 6 percent of its membership and 40 percent of its stock value, all in one year because of inadequate planning and training; the chocolate maker that bungled its orders just before Halloween, and lost millions; the midwest US city water commission that put the brakes on its CRM project because its budget and deadline went through the roof before the system could be implemented—the list goes on.

More often than not, the fault doesn't lie in the software itself, but in the manner of implementation. If adequate time isn't taken to plan the purchase and implementation of a CRM solution, your business risks becoming an evolutionary casualty, mal-adapting to the ever-changing conditions of the marketplace.

To further illustrate the potential of this happening, consider this sad but true tale of evolutionary demise: Over the decades following the Industrial Revolution, the air in London became more and more polluted. As soot accumulated on the trunks and branches of trees all over the city, two types of peppered moth struggled to hold onto their niches. The whiter moth, the “typica,” gradually succumbed to natural selection, while the darker one, “carbonaria,” thrived because its darker pigmentation helped it remain invisible against the soot-darkened tree bark.

Which would you rather be: the near-extinct typica, or the abundant and thriving carbonaria?

A CRM application can help your business evolve—but only if you know what it can do for you, and how to make that happen.

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