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Latest Issue: Nov/Dec 17

Extracting real value from CRM

Most companies would say that their customer service is of a good calibre but that they don’t take advantage of implementing an intelligent, systematic approach to improve it. Typically businesses are implementing their customer relationship strategy in a siloed fashion with different account management teams being responsible for different aspects of customer engagement, each with different processes and standards. This was confirmed in our recent benchmark study which showed that only around one third of SMEs are putting CRM at the heart of their business1.

It is certainly true that every department is responsible for creating a positive customer experience, and it is the businesses which have a more holistic and transparent approach that can provide a more cohesive and well managed customer journey which ultimately results in improved customer experience. CRM plays a key role in helping businesses improve their customer’s experience by providing a centralised data hub which serves as the foundation of informed decision-making across all areas of the business – supporting sales, improving knowledge of customer value, enhancing understanding of customers’ changing requirements, and even steering the organisation’s growth strategy.

If businesses implement a systematic approach to managing their customer relationships, it means that senior management will be equipped with the data and information which they need to better understand the needs of their customers, and will have the knowledge to provide more value, and ultimately prevent them from defecting. Indeed, centralisation of data is the top operational benefit of a CRM solution, according to our SME research panel.

Of course, having a centralised infrastructure with fully-fledged CRM capabilities can only deliver real return on investment if an organisation is clear about its strategic objectives and how best to harness technology to achieve them. This points to a clear need for CRM providers to become far more engaged with their customers, helping them to identify objectives and growth ambitions, and then working with them to extract full value from their solution. Pioneers in the CRM market are already heading in this direction – going well beyond the product to examine the wider picture of the business challenges faced by their customers. Consequently, the role of the traditional software support team is being redefined to blend both business and technical consultancy.

I’m pleased to say that as a company we practice what we preach in this regard, and in fact our own organisation can be seen as an interesting case study that highlights many lessons for others embarking on a quest to reap the full business benefits of CRM.

Across our customer base, we were certainly witnessing the growing need to provide business-focused consultancy in tandem with technical support, and in a proactive rather than reactive way. Our approach was to set up a new department called Customer Success. Quite apart from anything else, this fulfils the key requirement of CRM that I mentioned earlier – keeping the customer experience firmly in the hands of dedicated specialists rather than busy account managers.

Firstly, the new team sets about arranging in-depth annual reviews for each client, which start by analysing precisely how the client is using our software and the benefits they are deriving. This is proving a highly revealing process, prompting us to challenge assumptions about tactical usage of our software and the degree of CRM ‘maturity’ within each client organisation. We have come across many shining examples where the CRM solution is tracking, guiding, managing and measuring the customer experience.

In some cases, though, potential for further operational value has become evident. For instance, some companies view customer segmentation as solely applicable to marketing. The fact is that all corporate functions need to understand the characteristics of their customers, their current and potential value to the company and overall contribution to profitability. Only with this intelligence can resources be allocated to clients according to their value. I would strongly argue that customer service and product development are key beneficiaries of this knowledge. This misconception was also reflected in our recent research – only half of SMEs saw improved customer segmentation as a benefit of their CRM solution.

Secondly, our team examines clients’ strategic business objectives. In other words, apart from operational benefits, what do they consider the overall aim of their CRM deployment? It may sound like a simple step but a structured set of questions gives us a valuable understanding of their organisational culture and ambitions. This part of the review process revealed an under-usage of CRM to guide business decisions. Although clients are certainly extracting value from their investment, that value is more commonly derived from process improvements, such as better managing remote sales teams through the adoption of centralised, ‘cloud’ applications, or improving service call scheduling.

Of course, where we identify ways in which CRM is not being harnessed to its fullest, we can work with the client to plug any knowledge gaps from a technical point of view, and discuss how we can help them meet strategic objectives. At an operational level, clients sometimes raise technical issues – such as difficulties encountered with data analysis or tracking customer service requests. Sometimes, in the process of developing a resolution for them, this has led to a new feature being incorporated into our software. This is a perfect example of customer feedback informing product development.

From our clients’ perspective, having a regular, methodical review is in itself an important step towards enhancing their customer experience. We are finding that the reviews develop into two-way conversations that provide a genuine value-added opportunity for both sides to engage and learn.

Getting closer to our customers through the Customer Success initiative has transformed our own thinking about CRM. We have improved our client intelligence, issue resolution, client loyalty and, ultimately, grown our revenues – precisely all the business benefits that we empower our clients to derive within their own organisations. Global research firm Gartner estimates that by the year 2020 brand loyalty will be based solely on experience rather than price or quality of service or products2. It is clear that strategic customer management is set to rise further up the agenda, and organisations that learn how to extract real value from their CRM stand to reap the rewards.

 By David Brennan, Customer Success Team Manager, EMEA, Maximizer Software  

This article appears in the July/August 2017 issue of Direct Commerce Magazine.