Opinion: Getting Intimate with Customers

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Considering truisms, Nad Nadeson, marketing director, Peramon, gets intimate.

‘The customer is always right’, is a phrase that has been around since the advent of modern commerce. It’s a statement that most businesses would find hard to argue against, there is no need for an ROI study or TCO metric to validate the claim, it’s a business truism and that’s it.

‘Mobile technology increases productivity’, is a phrase that has been around for five years and, as a result, needs a little more explanation before corporate heads start nodding around the table in agreement. Let’s try another; ‘CRM software can make your business more profitable’. It’s almost impossible to ignore the cries of ‘prove it’ echoing throughout the land.

It is understandable that when committing budget to software implementations, businesses want justification of spend at every level. This could range from the establishment of a CRM solution to investment in mobilising technology. So, when the two technologies combine (mobile-CRM), is anybody out there prepared to listen? The benefits of CRM to any customer-facing organisation are clear, but the investment required to extend CRM into the mobile arena has often cooled the waters in this area, especially for smaller businesses.

There are several components to CRM, depending on who you talk to. Most of the larger players, such as Oracle, Siebel and PeopleSoft, will demand heavy investment in applications technology, middleware and consultancy to get the show on the road. These pillars of the CRM vendor community have been very successful in bringing organisations closer to their customers, providing rich data for businesses to feed upon and generally enhancing the customer experience for consumers and businesses in equal measure. But when it comes to mobilising the solution, there is a strong argument for turning to mobile specialists, as the large CRM players can prove to be a costly option

Mobile technology provides the opportunity to get really close, intimate even, with the customer. The phenomenal success of SMS has enabled marketeers to target rafts of mobile phone users with offers and promotions, creating a new plain on which to have that all important customer dialogue…and so the mCRM story begins. But the possibilities for mCRM run far deeper than text messaging.

The marriage of mobile and CRM software is one made in heaven, but only recently has it become possible to witness this union without significant financial consideration and IT pain. Most large organisations have attempted to extend CRM strategy out into the field with costly point solutions, built for a specific platform and one device with significant integration issues from the outset. In these cases, the bar for justifying spend is already set very high.

The stumbling block for extending CRM functionality to mobile devices is the complexity of accessing and managing enterprise applications, the systems that deliver ‘real’ value back to the business. For some time now mobile workforces and field sales teams have been able to access PIM (Personal Information Management) applications to manage email, calendars etc., but have never been able to delve into the databases that hold the information on which CRM feeds – sales, logistics, customer service and inventory.

The refreshing point here is that the solution to this access quandary is not smarter devices or more bandwidth. There is no need for the holy grail of 3G to extend a CRM strategy out into the field. Of course, advancements in mobile network and device technology will enhance mCRM, but the middleware is there to do the job today. For any mobile workforce, the ability to access, update and manage corporate data in real time, on the fly increases the effectiveness of any CRM strategy. It also streamlines sales activities and reduces dead time, all of which have a direct impact on the bottom line.

Take UPS as an example. The company is an excellent proof point for how enterprise applications (ERP, Supply chain and CRM) be can integrated tightly with mobile devices. Its ability to mobilise back office data has enabled the company to create an incredibly effective and accountable service. By its very nature, UPS was an early adopter of ‘mobilising’ data and applications and the outlay to create the infrastructure was almost essential, regardless of cost. Most companies, though equally able to reap the rewards from mobilising corporate data, would have struggled to foot the bill for such a project. Now, however, there are cost effective alternatives.

With the right technology, companies of any size can access corporate data via internet enabled PDA or mobile phone over a standard GSM or GPRS network. This creates exciting opportunities across a wide range of applications. From a CRM perspective, depending on company size, the benefits are many. Some businesses will be able to mobilise established CRM applications, creating an extension of existing CRM strategy. Others, who perhaps have yet to embrace CRM to the full, can still improve the customer experience by managing enterprise data (sales, inventory, customer data) on the move.

This ‘revolution’ does not have to involve a complete IT reconstruction – though some vendors may say otherwise! Clever middleware can solve the problems of data and device management in a simple and effective manner, the solutions are out there today. The irony is that, because of the general problems facing GPRS and 3G, there is almost a perception in the market that any venture into mobile has to involve a great deal of money, delay and heartache. SMS is a proven technology and its capabilities should never be underestimated. It creates a direct, flexible route to the pockets (literally) of customers wherever they are and a path straight back to any part of the business for mobile workers.

There will always be the need to measure return on investment for IT and numbers can be crunched to do so. But most IT successes are based on the premise of a solving a problem, or streamlining a task, or process. The customer is always right, no question. If your question is how to get closer to that customer then CRM provides an answer. If you’re looking for that really intimate relationship, then extending CRM into the mobile world is definitely the answer.


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