Using CRM to simplify your processes and add customer value
Cassandra Whobrey, CRM Product Manager UK at Microsoft, looks at how consumers are changing the way they select products and services and how CRM can be used to target and serve their needs
CRM IN THE 21ST CENTURY HAS THESE KEY CHARACTERISTICS:
• The orientation of CRM changes from sales, service and marketing to delivering value.
• The interaction mechanisms change – but consistency across all channels remains paramount.
• The technology needs to handle more complexity – but the software cannot be complex to use.
• CRM needs to empower the individual – but team collaboration is how we get things done.
It is customary to start any discussion of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) with how much the world has changed. And we should not underestimate how extensive change has been over the past twenty years – the impact of technology has been no less than to bring a fundamental evolution to almost every aspect of our lives. But important things remain the same. Businesses remain focused on growth and improvement in margin by reducing cost; we continue to want to do more with less, and to strengthen customer retention. The impact of forces such as de-regulation and re-regulation, technology and generational change has been merely to alter the ways in which those goals can be met.
In all cases, these forces bring benefit as well as challenges – and in CRM – it has not been different.
While the importance of customer focus has remained the same, the customer has changed. The balance of power has irrevocably shifted away from the organisation providing goods and services and towards their customers. Because we are all customers in our personal domains, we are already well aware of how this changes our behaviour – we are willing to shop around, search out better offers and switch providers. We demand quality service, and know that we can threaten to churn in order to get a better renewal rate. We see through marketing-speak, instead relying on recommendations from people we trust. As customers, we are firmly in the driving seat.
The customer in charge
When the customer is in charge CRM is turned inside out. For businesses, the implications for CRM are profound, since the business needs to change its orientation and support the customer’s processes across their entire lifecycle. CRM changes from sales, service and marketing to delivering value.
Traditionally CRM refers to a model for how a business manages its relationships or a lifetime of interactions with current and future customers – in reality, this has translated to using technology to organise, automate, and synchronise sales, marketing, customer service and technical support processes. But as customers change, so too must CRM.
Providing useful information
Customers in a buying cycle are searching for information to enable a good decision. They will look to the seller for this information, but they also look to their own circle of influencers for advice. On average customers are 57% through a buying cycle before ever contacting a supplier (*CEB, The New High Performer Playbook, Arlington VA, 2012). Businesses need to do two things differently as a result:
1. Provide useful information that supports the customer’s decision making process – not brochureware. This information needs to be consistently available wherever the customer shops.
2. Monitor, understand and respond to what people are saying about you. Increasingly, this means social listening – engaging in social networks – and responding in constructive ways.
What about social media?
There has been a great deal of hype around social media, but the underlying principles, essentially, are good marketing:
1. Understand your audience and appear where they look for information. In the old days, that meant ads in The Times, if that was the paper your customers would read. Today it means participating in LinkedIn if that’s where your customers congregate.
2. Use what you know about your customers to design products and services they really want to buy. In the old days, businesses would conduct focus groups and market surveys – today, customer understanding can be gained by analysing the data you already have about where they go and what they do digitally.
The hardest step is not adopting a change in technology, rather it is a cultural shift from broadcast to interactive mode; from controlling to participating. It can be difficult to adjust but once the change is made, it is easier to do good marketing because constant feedback enables a business to continually adapt and adjust – not just its messages but also its offerings. And this is the key to delivering value – delivering offers that customers actually want to buy, shifting from persuading customers to take a ‘near good enough’ offer to giving them what they really want.
Selling is not an event – it’s a process
In modern CRM, businesses need to shift from selling as a one-off event to a process that in many ways starts the day a prospect becomes a customer. With free availability of information, powerful search engines and sophisticated customers, the days when a business could snag a customer with an introductory rate and then milk their business forever more are long gone. Even the most rabid fans will only continue to buy from a business as long as their products continue to be exciting. Once a business thinks in these terms, then sales and service merge: a customer can and will change their provider immediately when their experience is no longer good.
Being joined up
In order for a business to deliver value through every stage of the customer’s lifecycle, the old CRM adage of joined up sales, service and marketing become not just ideal but essential. CRM software must support buyer-driven processes across old silos of sales, service and marketing – enabling a business and its employees to support complete processes end-to-end, proactively guiding, not simply acting as a system of record. Tools and technology, such as data analytics, must be used as part of the process, not offline in isolation.
Consistency across all channels is paramount
Much has been made of the rise of new interaction mechanisms including social media, and yet in some businesses face-to-face interaction has become a feature – such as Metro Bank’s new branch concept (the first new High Street bank in over 100 years) other businesses make a feature of their mobile phone-based services. Essentially, as customers we want the prerogative to choose how and when to interact with businesses, but ultimately however we choose to interact, the business must maintain:
• Security and reliability.
Only businesses maintaining a single view of their customer across all functions and interactions will be able to maintain this consistency and accuracy. Ensuring security and reliability across a multitude of channels and devices has become more technically complex – which is where a powerful technology platform becomes essential to a business’ ability to deliver on a CRM strategy.
Complex demands but easy-to-use software
While the technology we use needs to handle more complexity, the consumerisation of IT means that for all of us, technology must be simple and intuitive to use. We expect nothing less because we have become accustomed to this in our personal use. At the same time, CRM must be able to handle more complex scenarios – for example, maintaining consistency in an interaction occurring across multiple channels and timeframes, or making sense of huge volumes of data.
Regardless of this complexity, CRM must be easy to use because the whole value of CRM software rests on adoption. Without adoption, the CRM software will not contain the information needed to make CRM valuable. CRM software thus has an additional imperative not to add an administrative overhead tax to the work that customer-facing people do. CRM software must gather the information it holds as a consequence of the work it enables people to do, and not enforce additional data gathering steps.
Empower the individual and the team
CRM needs to empower the individual but team collaboration is how we get things done. Because adoption is fundamental to CRM success, intuitive usability has always been a key principle of well-designed software. In businesses, individuals working in isolation deliver siloed sales, service and marketing activity. Where people work together in teams is when the customer starts to experience value.
Tools that enable social collaboration are truly changing the ease with which people can work together. These tools need to be seamless to CRM software for maximum benefit – to employees, to the business and, ultimately, to the customer. Enterprise social networking tools enable employees to gain the power to harness the entire organisation to support customer needs, but unless this is fully integrated with CRM and other enterprise productivity software, they deliver just another silo.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
In fact, while the important things remain the same, there is nothing trivial about the way that change has impacted the means of achieving those goals, not least because of the dramatic cultural shift to the way that work must now be done. With customers firmly in the driving seat, willing and able to switch when their experiences are less than satisfactory, the stakes are no less than economic survival – businesses that do not adapt to survive will perish. But just as the forces of technological change have brought challenge, so too has come opportunity. Those businesses that harness technology to support their employees and enable them to deliver customer value, using technology to simplify rather than add complexity, will find themselves better able to compete and flourish.