Businesses are increasingly aware of the fact that they need to remain competitive to survive in the current economic downturn. IT Managers are aware that their businesses must have the best software systems to compete but need to be able to provide measurable results for all spending.
It is vital now more than ever that companies retain existing customers and encourage repeat purchases as the task of acquiring new customers is costly and time consuming. This leads to investment in systems, which enable companies to manage relationships with their customers. But do people really understand what Customer Relationship Management means and how to get the most out of their customer facing systems?
Poorly defined project objectives, incoherent strategy and high-risk big bang implementations have tried to achieve too much and failed, therefore giving a negative perception of Customer Relationship Management. But it can work and it can work well; many business leaders still believe that using CRM software is the way forward for their organisation. The idea is to learn from the past and adopt a truly customer centric approach to business. A poll released by research group META (July 2003) indicates that 75 per cent of enterprises plan to maintain or increase their spending on customer relationship management (CRM) applications in the coming year.
Before you offer a customer a product, you must understand them; do they require after sales service, are they a new customer or is this a repeat purchase, are they entitled to any specific discounts? Even the channel by which you approach the customer can have a direct impact on the sale of a new product depending on the nature of the customer’s business and the type of product being bought. For example a commodity purchase (e.g. stationery) may require a very different approach that a complex product such as a complex electronic component.
Think about the customer you are targeting, how do they target potential customers? What do they believe is the best way to communicate? Telephone, email, direct mail? This could be completely different for each situation whereby one may have responded better to a phone call than a direct mailer and the other may have been more likely to prosper with a direct mail piece. It is important to define what is important to the customer and what is their preferred medium for communicating with your company, in order to create a respectful relationship between the business and the customer that leads to loyalty.
Knowing your customers is one part of it, capitalising on this knowledge and getting the timing right is another. Businesses need systems, which enable them to maintain, manage and record a constant dialogue with their most important customers so that offers can be made at the right time. In this way, businesses can make sure that they are offering products and discounts at a time which is most likely to result in a sale.
Customers are now also demanding that their suppliers offer multiple channels of communication. Whether your customers are contacting you for sales, service, or both, they will determine which channel they prefer for each activity — and you need to respond. This introduces a new level of complexity into the IT environment, but you can turn this necessary cost of doing business into your competitive advantage.
CRM analytics enable you to take data and find patterns and trends, giving you the ability to understand the expectations and preferences of each individual customer. With CRM Analytics, you gain a 360-degree view of your entire business, providing the right information to the right person at the right time. This means you're able to immediately discern what knowledge is essential and what is not. And you're able to react to your customers' needs and market changes quickly and efficiently. What's more, you have the analytical tools at hand to measure critical business processes and customer needs, turning that data into solid business decisions.
Once you have accurate information about your customers, you need to manage your contact centre successfully and translate its activities into a measurable return. Cost reduction can be attained through increased productivity and efficient processes. By giving your customers direct access to enterprise data, you empower them to help themselves to timely and accurate information about their order, shipment, or account — at their convenience — without having to wait for a response from a customer service agent. Leveraging less expensive channels like self-service and interactive voice response allows agents to service more challenging customers effectively on an in person basis.
The customer has a positive contact centre experience when supported by a comprehensive customer history — your representatives need to be aware of recent purchases, and interactions and of any complaints that have been made by the customer in the past. This can increase customer retention and ultimately result in more sales. Because the contact centre is now expected to support customer programs such as loyalty and segmentation and is also becoming a key component in supporting strategic customer initiatives in marketing, sales, and service.
All this means that organisations have to be accessible to their customers at every touchpoint; Web, telephone and fax. This provides the business with the capability to provide a holistic experience. Customers do not want to be shunted between the “front office” and the “back office”, they expect “one office” where they can be serviced in the shortest time and with minimal effort. All applications that face or serve data to customers should therefore be integrated and one set of data should be maintained to ensure accurate and timely information exists across the organisation.
The world is becoming more complex each day, justifiably then, customers want things to be kept as straightforward as possible. Effective customer management requires synchronisation of business and IT strategy. CRM isn’t just about understanding your customer and selling products, it is about having the right solution, in the right place, at the right time.
Norman Jones is solutions consultant with JD Edwards