CRM – Customer Relationship Management

CRM: Deciding to use CRM

All businesses can benefit from managing customer information more efficiently, but not all would benefit from investing in CRM applications.

If you have very few customers, or your customers only purchase a narrow range of products or services from you, then it may be hard to justify a CRM application. Concentrate on developing more specific customer related services

But if you have a wide range of products, customers and many sales based transactions, or frequently develop or source new products, then an integrated CRM software application may be useful.

Is CRM suitable for your business?

A total CRM solution would have an impact across your whole business. You may need a total, integrated solution or you may only need to focus on one element of CRM.

You need to ask yourself:

  • Can you improve contact management) – develop information flows between your customers and your supply chain partners
  • Could you integrate systems? – to make collecting and analysing customer and sales data more effective
  • Can customer service be improved? – implement faster, more efficient internal processes.
  • Can you collaborate more closely in your supply chain? – allow a greater degree of collaboration to benefit everyone in your chain

Can you improve contact management?

Systems to help your business interact with customers and partners and to acquire vital data are a core element of CRM, and there are several solutions.

  • Build up detailed customer profiles CRM systems try to capture and present useful data, including account details, sales histories, service records, campaign responses, web activity, demographics
  • Develop an interactive website An interactive website or an extranet will allow customers to access relevant information quickly and to ‘serve themselves’. Websites can also collect and channel customer data. USE XML- based websites to tie into your internal systems and manage the content in real time
  • Outsource calls Specialist call centres with the latest technology can provide customer service for smaller companies. Virtual call centres, in which home workers supported by call centre technology handle calls, are becoming more popular
  • Customise existing software packages Set up a central database that can be accessed by sales and customer service staff to improve the efficiency of ordering, sales and marketing

Could you integrate systems?

CRM applications can integrate communication channels, making the same information available whether you are dealing with customers online, over the phone, via e-mail or face-to-face

If you plan to implement an integrated CRM solution, there are four general approaches:

  • Outsource CRM to a third party specialist. Application Service Providers (ASPs), offer web-based CRM solutions, starting at around £45 per user per month, plus an initial set-up fee of around £5000. Choose a product that allows some customisation, as several ‘one to many’ ASP CRM models have been unsuccessful due to inflexibility. The spread of broadband will see new, improved services being offered
  • Buy off-the-shelf software. Software companies like Oracle, Navision, SAP, Peoplesoft and Microsoft’s Greatplains offer module-based CRM applications that integrate with existing accounts and transaction processing packages. Cut-down versions of off-the-shelf software, offered by most of the major application providers, may be more suitable for smaller businesses.
  • Commission bespoke software. Consultants and software specialist will customise or design a software solution and integrate it with existing software and/or your web site.
  • Managed CRM solutions. A halfway house between a fully integrated package and a basic ASP package, managed CRM involves renting you a customised range of CRM applications from all major vendors as a bespoke package. Some suppliers also service specific CRM campaigns such as data mining, as and when needed.

Can customer service be improved?

Keeping your customers happy means you are more likely to retain them, and that they will increase their spend with you.

  • Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) A low-cost software package can transform your PC into a call centre, your staff can have customer details at their desktops before they even answer the phone. Depending on the type of database you use, applications can cost from £1000
  • Email Microsoft Outlook and other packages offer template based functions that can help you to automate e-mail replies and collect data. List subscription services such as that offered by Microsoft’s bCentral let you set up automated customer e-mails.
  • Perform analytics Many CRM systems include data mining functionality to help you pinpoint market trends and customer preferences

Can you collaborate more closely in your supply chain?

A recent study by Deloitte Research found that companies that have efficiently linked their CRM and supply chain applications are 81 per cent more profitable than those that don’t.

  • Understand your supply chain – learn more about your supply chain customers and their needs to better understand and consolidate your place in the supply chain.
  • Link your system – link your CRM data to other supply chain systems – EDI, ERP or EPOS – to make more informed decisions about the cost to serve, based on profitability per customer
  • Communicate – use web services, such as XML, to communicate in a common language between your suppliers and customers – whatever application or system they have.
  • Get your suppliers on board – share your information on your customers with your suppliers, so they can become more customer focused. Having a better understanding of your customers’ needs and expectations will help them integrate your requirements into their plans and provide you with a betted service
This business advice article based on Crown Copyright © 2004-2014
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