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Linking mobile users into a customer-centric enterprise

16th Apr 2010
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Thanks to advances in mobile devices, workers can now access CRM systems via their phones. However, as David Beard highlights, only by understanding and incorporating the specific requirements of the mobile workforce will it be possible to meet the strategic objectives of a mobile CRM system.

The importance of taking a customer-centric approach in business is no secret. The majority of organisations understand the role of customer relationship management (CRM) in maximising profitability, revenue and customer satisfaction - indeed, most have well-established and sophisticated CRM strategies.

However, many businesses often overlook the specific requirements of their mobile workforce. While mobile working has gone mainstream, mobile workers are often a missing link in the CRM chain. Recognising that now is clearl not the time to sacrifice service, businesses should consider extending their CRM system out to the new generation of smartphones, such as BlackBerry and Windows Mobile devices, in order to facilitate a new level of customer intimacy and drive competitive avantage.

There are more laptops than desktops in businesses today. For many of us, laptops are a critical requirement in our working lives, providing access to all the business applications we need to work outside of the office.  However, when you consider the various situations and environments that mobile workers find themselves in, laptops do have their shortcomings. They may be too large and bulky for a café or restaurant, lack the immediacy for a short taxi journey or are not always practical, convenient or even appropriate to display during a conversation. 

These realities present a number of challenges for CRM and its users in the field. Traditionally, users have had to work longer hours to make up for limited access during the day, while the CRM system has been dependent on people making accurate and comprehensive updates out of hours and well after the meeting. It also means that information may not be flowing back into the office fast enough and that workers may have to prepare after work for meetings the following day. Without accurate real-time data at their fingertips, mobile users could easily miss important information – such as an open customer issue or delivery. These issues break a vital link in the CRM chain by preventing information from being effectively shared and actioned across the organisation.  In essence, they prevent businesses from realising the full potential of their CRM systems and, indeed, their mobile workforce.

Mobile CRM

The good news is that these issues can now be addressed. Thanks to advances that have been made in mobile devices, communication networks and services such as enterprise applications, workers can now access CRM systems via their mobile phones. Mobile CRM enables a new level of customer intimacy by bringing CRM into the boardroom, condensing the follow-up process and allowing the easy capture of customer information.  It also maintains the 'connectedness' of the employee, ensuring sales and support services are always on and turns downtime into uptime by transforming otherwise wasted moments into productive sessions. By improving the utilisation of the CRM system and delivering the intended benefits of CRM to the mobile workforce, mobile CRM maximises profitability, revenue and customer satisfaction. 

When extending a CRM system onto a mobile device such as a BlackBerry, it is important to recognise the differences between a full desktop client and a mobile device. Limitations do exist – screen sizes, computing power and data storage capacities are fundamentally different.  For example, mobile workers need a service that stores customer information within the device so that is can still be used in the occasional situation where coverage is unavailable. Businesses should also ensure the data flowing to and from the device is handled securely and appropriately so that it is useful each and every moment of every day. 

In order to improve the usability and performance of a mobile CRM system, it is also important to have an application that can be configured or customised so that it reflects and works the same way as the desktop version. Perhaps most important of all is that any mobile CRM implementation is planned around the user. Only by understanding and incorporating the specific requirements of the mobile workforce will it be possible to meet the strategic objectives of a mobile CRM system.

While mobile devices have not been designed to be desktop replacements, they are a key tool for workers in the field.  In the current climate, mobile CRM is more than simply a nice to have – it will help forge stronger relationships and happier customers as well as translating into paying customers that stick with you.  When you consider that the mobile workforce is also the same group that has the greatest level of contact with customers, it is easy to see how mobile CRM can make a dramatic impact in delivering competitive advantage. With smartphone sales of 173m expected this year, unless you act now you are likely to be playing catch up to your competitors.

David Beard is a CRM Evangelist at Sage.

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