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What does it take to keep your customers happy? Does your in-house or web based CRM software do it? On its own I hardly think so!

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is now proclaimed as the essential strategy for business survival but CRM is so broad that finding a standard definition is the first challenge. The fundamental aims for any organization implementing CRM software is surely to locate, acquire and retain customers: but the aims for the customers they do locate, acquire and retain are often very different. Many CRM vendors forget that for the customer, the sale starts when they sign the order.  What the customer wants is better information, faster turnaround times, better communication, faster problem and dispute resolution.  Too much emphasis is put by vendors on the technology rather than the customer: bells and whistles rather than basics in other words.

CRM should therefore be viewed as a customer focused business strategy which brings together customer lifecycle management, the organization’s business processes and, last but not least, current technology.

It stands to reason that the better you understand your customers, the more successful you will be in meeting their needs. But adopting a truly customer focused approach can be a resource intensive business, and many organizations have questioned how far the investment is worth it, and who can blame them: the business press is littered with stories of CRM failures. Yet the prize is there: smart organizations focus mainly on two types of customers; the Most Valuable and the Most Growable. An effective CRM strategy is absolutely the key that unlocks these Pandora’s boxes.

There is no such thing as a standard CRM strategy, but examples of the sort of activities a business fully engaged with CRM include:

  • gathering data automatically at every touch-point with customers - whether it’s telephone, face to face, web site, email or snail mail;
  • segmenting the data to enable the full scope of the customers’ relationships with a business to be fully understood;
  • acting intelligently and rapidly on this information is a vital part of CRM, treating segments differently according to their needs/preferences, and, crucially, their profit making potential;
  • integrating the knowledge gained from data segmentation with the information from customer touch-points, and feeding this all throughout the business to provide detailed histories and predictions of individual customer behaviour;
  • automating sales and service functions where such options provide optimal value to customers and maximum scope for active customer management;  
  • using all the optimized processes and functions that CRM provides in the acquisition of new customers.

You will note that the above are stated in the general: there is no mention of the usual suspects in CRM of “Sales Force Automation” or “Customer Trouble Tickets”. The fact is that these Sales Force Automation etc describe software applications, not necessarily CRM in practise!

The key word in the acronym CRM is therefore “Relationship” and this is usually overlooked in the rush to pigeon-hole whatever business problem you are trying to solve at that time. For example, how does lack of sales management information on cold-calling for new business relate to Customer Relationship Management?  And yet many vendors sell software for this and call it CRM…

True CRM opens up new opportunities for businesses seeking to meet customers' needs through new channels such as eBusiness and web-based support. Finding new ways to engage with your customers, particularly your Most Valuable or Most Growable ones, is surely infinitely more profitable and productive than merely implementing a glorified sales lead tracking database? Check out these case studies for information on how the CRM horizons can be expanded:

The danger is that a focus on the ever expanding potential of technology will lead businesses to approach CRM from the wrong angle - on IT issues rather than on a business strategy for satisfying their customers. The critical phase is in the early stage preparation and specifying what is critical to your customer: if you automate the wrong processes, you'll be creating a useless system that won’t get used by anyone.

Inevitably problems will arise when implementing any CRM strategy. People are often the main barrier in fact: people do not like change after all. But the truth is if you do what you always did, you will get what you always got…CRM technology gives you the ability and the control to make positive change in a controlled manner so that you can guarantee your customers' satisfaction.


Chic McSherry