Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a widely implemented model for managing a company’s interactions with customers, clients, and sales prospects. It involves using technology to organize, automate, and synchronize business processes and sales activities, but also those for marketing, customer service, and technical support. The overall goals are to find, attract, and win new clients; nurture and retain those the company already has; entice former clients back into the fold; and reduce the costs of marketing and client service.
In 2003, a Gartner report estimated that more than $1 billion had been spent on software that was not being used. More recent research indicates that the problem, while perhaps less severe, is a long way from being solved. According to CSO Insights, less than 40 percent of 1,275 participating companies had end-user adoption rates above 90 percent. Additionally, many corporations only use CRM systems on a partial or fragmented basis, thus missing opportunities for effective marketing and efficiency.
Tools and workflows can be complex, especially for large businesses. Previously these tools were generally limited to simple CRM solutions which focused on monitoring and recording interactions and communications. Software solutions then expanded to embrace deal tracking, territories, opportunities, and the sales pipeline itself. These tools have been, and still are, offered as on-premises software that companies purchase and run on their own IT infrastructure.
Benefits of Customer Relationship Management
A Customer Relationship Management system may be chosen because it is thought to provide the following advantages:
- Quality and efficiency
- Decrease in overall costs
- Increase Profitability
Types of Customer Relationship Management Systems
Customer Service and Support
CRM software provides a business with the ability to create, assign and manage requests made by customers. An example would be Call Center software which helps to direct a customer to the agent who can best help them with their current problem. Recognizing that this type of service is an important factor in attracting and retaining customers, organizations are increasingly turning to technology to help them improve their clients’ experience while aiming to increase efficiency and minimize costs. CRM software can also be used to identify and reward loyal customers which in turn will help customer retention. Even so, a 2009 study revealed that only 39% of corporate executives believe their employees have the right tools and authority to solve client problems.
Sales Force Automation
Sales force automation (SFA) involves using software to streamline all phases of the sales process, minimizing the time that sales representatives need to spend on each phase. This allows a business to use fewer sales representatives to manage their clients. At the core of SFA is a contact management system for tracking and recording every stage in the sales process for each prospective client, from initial contact to final disposition. Many SFA applications also include insights into opportunities, territories, sales forecasts and workflow automation.
CRM systems for marketing help the enterprise identify and target potential clients and generate leads for the sales team. A key marketing capability is tracking and measuring multichannel campaigns, including email, search, social media, telephone and direct mail. Metrics monitored include clicks, responses, leads, deals, and revenue. Alternatively, Prospect Relationship Management (PRM) solutions offer to track customer behaviour and nurture them from first contact to sale, often cutting out the active sales process altogether. In a web-focused marketing CRM solution, organizations create and track specific web activities that help develop the client relationship. These activities may include such activities as free downloads, online video content, and online web presentations.
Creating and scheduling appointments with customers is a central activity of most customer oriented businesses. Sales, customer support, and service personnel regularly spend a portion of their time getting in touch with customers and prospects through a variety of means to agree on a time and place for meeting for a sales conversation or to deliver customer service. Appointment CRM is a relatively new CRM platform category in which an automated system is used to offer a suite of suitable appointment times to a customer via e-mail or through a web site. An automated process is used to schedule and confirm the appointment, and place it on the appropriate person’s calendar. Appointment CRM systems can be an origination point for a sales lead and are generally integrated with sales and marketing CRM systems to capture and store the interaction.
Relevant analytics capabilities are often interwoven into applications for sales, marketing, and service. These features can be complemented and augmented with links to separate, purpose-built applications for analytics and business intelligence. Sales analytics let companies monitor and understand client actions and preferences, through sales forecasting and data quality. Marketing applications generally come with predictive analytics to improve segmentation and targeting, and features for measuring the effectiveness of online, offline, and search marketing campaigns. Web analytics have evolved significantly from their starting point of merely tracking mouse clicks on Web sites. By evaluating “buy signals,” marketers can see which prospects are most likely to transact and also identify those who are bogged down in a sales process and need assistance. Marketing and finance personnel also use analytics to assess the value of multi-faceted programs as a whole.
Departments within enterprises — especially large enterprises — tend to function with little collaboration. More recently, the development and adoption of these tools and services have fostered greater fluidity and cooperation among sales, service, and marketing. This finds expression in the concept of collaborative systems that use technology to build bridges between departments. For example, feedback from a technical support center can enlighten marketers about specific services and product features clients are asking for. Reps, in their turn, want to be able to pursue these opportunities without the burden of re-entering records and contact data into a separate SFA system.
For small business, basic client service can be accomplished by a contact manager system: an integrated solution that lets organizations and individuals efficiently track and record interactions, including emails, documents, jobs, faxes, scheduling, and more. These tools usually focus on accounts rather than on individual contacts. They also generally include opportunity insight for tracking sales pipelines plus added functionality for marketing and service. As with larger enterprises, small businesses may find value in online solutions, especially for mobile and telecommuting workers.
Social media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google Plus are amplifying the voice of people in the marketplace and are having profound and far-reaching effects on the ways in which people buy. Customers can now research companies online and then ask for recommendations through social media channels, as well as share opinions and experiences on companies, products and services. As social media is not as widely moderated or censored as mainstream media, individuals can say anything they want about a company or brand, positive or negative. Increasingly, companies are looking to gain access to these conversations and take part in the dialogue. More than a few systems are now integrating to social networking sites. Social media promoters cite a number of business advantages, such as using online communities as a source of high-quality leads and a vehicle for crowd sourcing solutions to client-support problems.
Non-profit and membership-based
Systems for non-profit and membership-based organizations help track constituents and their involvement in the organization. Capabilities typically include tracking the following: fund-raising, demographics, membership levels, membership directories, volunteering and communications with individuals.
Successful development, implementation, use and support of customer relationship management systems can provide a significant advantage to the user, but often there are obstacles that obstruct the user from using the system to its full potential. Instances of a CRM attempting to contain a large, complex group of data can become cumbersome and difficult to understand for ill-trained users. The lack of senior management sponsorship can also hinder the success of a new CRM system. Stakeholders must be identified early in the process and a full commitment is needed from all executives before beginning the conversion. But the challenges faced by the company will last longer for the convenience of their customers.
One of the largest challenges that customer relationship management systems face is poor usability. An interface that is difficult to navigate or understand can hinder the CRM’s effectiveness, causing users to pick and choose which areas of the system to be used, while others may be pushed aside. This fragmented implementation can cause inherent challenges, as only certain parts are used and the system is not fully functional. The increased use of customer relationship management software has also led to an industry-wide shift in evaluating the role of the developer in designing and maintaining its software. Companies are urged to consider the overall impact of a viable CRM software suite and the potential for good or bad in its use
Often, poor usability can lead to implementations that are fragmented – isolated initiatives by individual departments to address their own needs. A fragmented implementation can negate any financial benefit associated with a customer relationship management system, as companies choose not to use all the associated features factored when justifying the investment. Instead, it is important that support for the CRM system is companywide. The challenge of fragmented implementations may be mitigated with improvements in late-generation CRM systems.
Security, privacy and data security concerns
One function of CRM is to collect information about clients. It is important to consider the customers’ need for privacy and data security. Close attention should be paid to relevant laws and regulations. Vendors may need to reassure clients that their data not be shared with third parties without prior consent, and that illegal access can be prevented.
A large challenge faced by developers and users is found in striking a balance between ease of use in the CRM interface and suitable and acceptable security measures and features. Corporations investing in CRM software do so expecting a relative ease of use while also requiring that customer and other sensitive data remain secure. This balance can be difficult, as many believe that improvements in security come at the expense of system usability.
Research and study show the importance of designing and developing technology that balances a positive user interface with security features that meet industry and corporate standards. Security and usability can coexist harmoniously. In many ways, a secure CRM system can become more usable.
Researchers have argued that, in most cases, security breaches are the result of user-error (such as unintentionally downloading and executing a computer virus). In these events, the computer system acted as it should in identifying a file and then, following the user’s orders to execute the file, exposed the computer and network to a harmful virus. It’s arguable that a more usable system creates less confusion and lessens the amount of potentially harmful errors, in turn creating a more secure and stable CRM system.
Thoughtful and thorough development can avoid many of the challenges and obstacles faced in using and implementing a customer relationship management system. With shifts in competition and the increasing reliance by corporations to use a CRM system, development of software has become more important than ever. Technical communicators can play a significant role in developing software that is usable and easy to navigate.