Business processes that gather customer information at every touch point, translate it into qualified leads, and push these leads out through all channels are the holy grail of CRM. Online marketing holds the promise of making this goal a reality.
But creating the technology to turn customer dialogue into profitable relationships is only the first challenge. Creating an organizational culture that leverages this information is much more difficult. Here's how it's done.
Do I have to work with these people?
Most businesses would describe their process development culture as ‘top down’ or ‘bottom up’. The fact is, organizations that are serving customers across all business units and through all channels can best be described as ‘middle out’.
No longer can companies depend on a ‘profit center’ to describe their needs to a ‘cost center’ and have the vision executed. In reality, many of the staff units within a business bring in as much value as profit centers do.
We cannot afford to compartmentalize Marketing, Sales, Technology, Service or Finance. These teams must be linked tightly to deliver new processes that add long term customer value – thus increasing long term business value. Businesses that are struggling today burned the bridges between these groups in past years – and are having difficulty rebuilding the trust.
So how have businesses started to implement customer management programs that link functional units and channels? By observing eight common-sense practices.
Climb to the crow's nest
Like early explorers who would climb to the crows nest of their ships to watch for land, companies need to set up a crows nest where they can see their entire relationship with each customer. Software companies that are divided along product, brand, distribution channel or other lines often don’t really have a clear understanding of the relationships they have developed with customers.
Sierra, a software company that sells games, desktop publishing and home design software assumed that they had relatively little overlap across their brands.
Paul Johnson, direct marketing manager, discovered: “When we merged our product registration databases, we learned that there was a sizable group of customers who purchased across all product categories. With this new information, we are planning to start to turn every service call, web hit or other direct customer contact into an opportunity to cross-sell additional products.”
Understand what’s working
Typically, a centralized group decides what data the field needs to see when working with customers and pushes this information out through sales force automation and call center systems. A far more effective strategy is to find top performers in the sales and service areas of the organization and interview them. Chances are, many of them have basic strategies that have made them successful.
Fewer, better leads
An accounting software firm found that the sales leads they culled from their Internet site were not being worked by their sales force. By interviewing the sales force, they found that the leads were often cold, unproductive and did not come with adequate information for easy follow-up. They implemented a lead qualification process involving the web, e-mail and a call center to gather appropriate information and only pass the most qualified leads on to the sales force. The result was fewer leads going to the sales force, but more leads being worked and converted into customers. Taking the time to build in quality often yields better results than quantity.
Ask the right questions
Technology today allows us to ask customers questions, and store their answers in the ‘corporate memory’ for use at an appropriate time. But too many companies don’t ask questions, don’t ask the right questions or don’t remember the answers.
Traditional marketing research might try to understand basic demographics. But the most powerful information that customers can tell you is information that you can use within months, or even days, of the time that it is collected.
Some simple rules for asking good questions
• Plan ahead: Ask only for information that you know you can use.
• Build trust: Ask only for information that will make you more valuable to your customer.
• Remember: Never ask the same question twice.
• Gain competitive advantage: Don’t ask for information that you can buy from a third party.
• Respect privacy: Never, ever, sell or give away any customer information to partners or third parties.
Determine the next best action
The business has many options about how to communicate with a customer every time they call in, walk in or click in.
• Should we sell a product?
• Which one?
• Should we ask a question?
• Which one?
• We only have this customer for 30 seconds – which option is best?
Customer-driven organizations have learned to evaluate all the possible options before a customer is put on hold. Business rules or sophisticated statistical models can be used to choose the best option and present it to the customer at the point of contact. Real-time decision making can also be applied to this ‘next action’ logic, to alter the content of the exchange with the customer based on the information that has been gathered during that contact.
Create robust profiles
Even with the best technology and analysis, it is not always possible to perfectly predict what customers will want next. To augment next action information, use robust profiling and segmentation systems.
Simply put, this means that when someone is talking to a customer, they should be able to have a broad view of that relationship. Don’t get hung up on coming up with ‘the’ segmentation system that is right for your organization.
Push multiple segmentation systems out to the field (along with training). This can include customer profitability, demographic profile, most recent purchase date, length of relationship, etc.
In a call center environment, if a service representative can see that she is talking to one of the company’s most profitable customers, then she can be empowered to make decisions about retaining that customer that would differ from the decisions she would make about a low-profit customer.
Deliver the right information
Sales and service channels cannot be treated the same as direct marketing channels (i.e. web, direct mail, e-mail). When a human is between the customer and the business, that human will need to understand WHY they are being asked to take a specific action with a customer.
Simply saying ‘Upsell this customer to release 3.0’ is not enough. A human needs a context so they can start a conversation with a customer. Instead, a message such as ‘Customer is currently using version 1.2. Do they want to deploy via a thin-client intranet? They should upgrade to release 3.0’ will generate a far superior response.
BossMedia, a Sweden-based software company, has developed an effective process for driving customer information to the call center.
Helén Jansson, who oversees BossMedia’s CRM processes, remarks, “We have a tool for managing campaigns. As soon as any new campaign is launched, an Alert Document is sent to the call center to update them on this communication and how to respond to customer inquiries. All customer activity is registered from the first contact to the last dollar spent. This information is shown in a live update. Using this tool, we have an excellent way to measure all of our campaigns.”
If a programme is successful, use it
Many marketing organizations tend to focus on programs rather than processes. That is, they manually repeat marketing programs until they find a better program. The problem with this is that marketers tend to get bored with their own programs far sooner than their customers do.
Once a successful program is discovered, it should be put into operation using appropriate technology so that it is embedded into the fabric of the organization and is automatically triggered at the right moment in the relationship with the customer. In addition, incentives should be attached to these programs to ensure that sales and service does what is right for building the customer relationship (rather than what is most profitable for them).
You become what you measure
Finance is the universal language of business. Why are so many businesses obsessed with the bottom line to the point of underemphasizing customer loyalty? Because if they must choose, then profitability is more important than customer satisfaction.
The trick is to link customer-focused metrics with bottom-line financial metrics – balancing the value the business receives from the customer with the value that the customer receives from the business.
Where do we go from here?
The Internet has raised the bar. Customers expect the companies they do business with to only provide relevant information and a consistent message. Businesses expect to maintain growth rates without significant new overhead. Not only do customers and businesses have these expectations about the Internet – but across all contact channels.
The way to achieve these sometimes conflicting goals is to implement customer relationship management strategies. Because these strategies require a tight bond across sales, marketing, technology and service, a new approach must be utilized. This new approach is facilitated by the latest CRM technology – but leads to cultural changes in how your business thinks about and treats customers.
Quaero designs, develops and deploys effective 1:1 e-marketing programs using the confluence of technology, analytics and marketing expertise for Fortune 1000 and Internet 100 companies. It addresses the needs of Internet and traditional companies to translate their customer contacts into long-term profitable relationships. Quaero helps businesses in financial services, retail, communications and health care, translate customer data into effective CRM programs by developing and deploying large scale customer intelligence infrastructure for effective personalized interactions for customer acquisition, retention and expansion.