Customers come first

Customer service is more important than ever and technology can help.

brainstorm Customers come firstBy Samantha Perry – Copyright Brainstorm & AccTech Systems.
Photo credit: Suzanne Gell, Mariette Landman

Companies cannot afford to neglect their customers in the current economic climate. Prudent organisations are investing in tools to keep customers close, loyal and profitable.

Customer relationship management (CRM), says Johan Potgieter, director of CRM solutions, is a business strategy designed to optimise profitability, revenue and customer satisfaction. Just what the doctor ordered!

CRM is a multi-faceted process, mediated by a set of information technologies that focus on creating two-way exchanges with customers so that companies have an intimate knowledge of customer needs, wants, and buying patterns. In this way, CRM helps companies understand and anticipate, the needs of current and potential customers.

“Many CRM initiatives have failed because implementation was limited to software installation without alignment to a customer-centric strategy,” he adds. “There are many aspects of CRM which people mistakenly think can be implemented in isolation from one another. But, from the outside of the organisation, a customer experiences the business as one entity. The customer will experience piecemeal CRM implementations as unsynchronised.”

A strategic approach

CRM solutions, Potgieter says, can address the many approaches (see box), although no single solution can handle all of these approaches. The critical part about CRM though, is not the technology, it is the strategy.

Says Potgieter: “CRM is a comprehensive customer-centric approach to an organisation’s philosophy in dealing with its customers. This includes policies and processes, front-of-house customer service, employee training, marketing, systems and information management.

AccTech’s experienced CRM team can guide a customer to set the objectives of a CRM strategy. That strategy will consider a company’s specific situation and its customers’ needs and expectations. Information gained through CRM initiatives will support the development of marketing strategies by developing the organisation’s knowledge. This includes identifying customer segments, improving customer retention, improving product offerings, and by identifying the organisation’s most profitable customers; by better understanding customer needs.

“CRM strategies vary in size, complexity and scope,” he continues. “Some companies consider a CRM strategy to focus only on the management of a team of salespeople. Other CRM strategies can cover customer interaction across the entire organisation.”

Eqstra Fleet Management has automated its sales and marketing operations. “A common problem facing remote sales teams is logging and accessing vital customer information. Sage CRM gives Eqstra Fleet Management’s team immediate access to leads, contacts and meeting schedules, while seamless integration with Lotus Notes means management will have a real-time view of performance in the field,” says Potgieter.

Back to basics

“While there are numerous reports of ‘failed’ implementations of various types of CRM projects, these are often the result of unrealistic high expectations, exaggerated claims by CRM vendors, and unstructured implementation approaches,” states Potgieter. “Many of these ‘failures’ are also related to data quality and availability. Data cleaning is a major issue. If the company CRM strategy is to track life-cycle revenues, costs, margins and interactions between individual customers, this must be reflected in all business processes.

“The experience from many companies is that a clear CRM requirement with regard to reports (e.g., input and output requirements) is of vital importance before starting any implementation. AccTech can help customers develop a proper demand specification, resulting in a great deal of time and money being saved based on realistic expectations of the systems’ capability. Our well implemented CRM systems are extremely powerful tools for management and customer strategies,” he says.

With customers expecting personal and personalised service, companies need to ensure they are making every effort possible to keep current clients happy, and attract new ones. A CRM system, properly implemented, is an asset to a company where its customers are top of mind.

Approaches to CRM

  • OPERATIONAL CRM – provides support to front office business processes.
  • SALES FORCE AUTOMATION (SFA) – automates sales-force related activities including keeping leads lists.
  • ANALYTICAL CRM – analyses customer data to, for example, enable marketing campaigns to be optimised, provide detailed insight into customer buying behaviour, and aid management decision-making.
  • SALES INTELLIGENCE CRM – is a direct sales tool that can alert sales staff based on the analysis of factors such as cross-sell opportunities, customer drift, sales performance and so on.
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGEMENT – combines elements of analytical and operational CRM to aid marketing teams in effectively designing and targeting campaigns.
  • COLLABORATIVE CRM – this co-ordinates multi-channel service and support efforts, sharing customer information between departments.
  • GEOGRAPHIC CRM – enables users to visually manage customers and potential customers in any given region.