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Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

Have we lost the plot?

When you remove common sense from CRM, the extra, new ingredient is the ability to store and retrieve customer information in a way that improves customer service. In an ideal world, this customer information will be integrated with operational processes to give a seamless customer interface from enquiry to delivery of products or services. CRM is therefore based on the idea of tailoring your response to each customer's profile using information collected about that customer.

Inevitably, CRM differs from business to business. If you are selling car components to a maximum of 10 companies, CRM will help you manage each contact extremely well. If you are selling thousands of books over the internet to thousands of people, CRM will focus on an automated, self-service, fast and efficient service.

It is essential to log all customer contacts and build up a profile of your customers. This profile should include all contacts, preferences, sales and financial status so that you can anticipate your customer's needs with focused offers where appropriate. The aim is to consistently exceed your customer's expectations. The information can also help you to develop your product base that will save your customers money.

Many companies offer stand alone data warehouses that will help you do this, most claim to integrate with the common back office systems. An example of CRM at its simplest is when you submit a response from this site your basic information is saved on your computer as a "cookie". When you go to any other response form, your will find your basic details are already filled in (provided you have your security set to accept cookies). The response rate rises considerably with this simple trick.

It has been possible for some time to connect an incoming telephone number to a system that will display the person's information on a screen provided time is allowed between calls to enter the information. By displaying the last few contacts, the person taking the call will enable the customer to feel that their business is important to that company and they have an on-going relationship rather than starting from scratch with every contact. It is a basic business principle that it is much more cost effective to keep customers than try to win new ones. More difficult but technically possible would be to route calls according to the country and/or native language of the caller.

The Future
Loyalty seems to be at an all time low particularly on the Internet. Some American consultancy groups are recommending internet auctions where you place your enquiry as an open tender with a deadline. Any company can bid for your business. They can view the competitive bids although not the company bidding. Some very large price savings have been recorded but what is the long term cost if the winning company is unable to deliver on time to the quality required? Good suppliers are an essential element of world class performance and you cannot pick good suppliers out of a hat.

Another blow to the development of customer loyalty are the ubiquitous call centres that force you to push buttons and listen to music before finally, if you are lucky, being to connected to someone who knows nothing about you and little about their own company. These impersonal call centre services are the antithesis of customer service let alone CRM.

We all crave for a friendly voice at the end of the phone who knows about us and our needs. There are big rewards for companies who can provide this service. The success of First Direct banking in the UK followed by other telephone banking services was due more than anything to the personal quality of their service compared with the traditional high street banks.

CRM is not a substitute for existing sales and marketing principles such as trust and delivering on promises but it can add that special touch to your customers feelings about you.