Customer Relationship Management

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) refers to the methodologies and tools that help businesses manage customer relationships in an organized way. Now and then, CRM is referred to as customer service management.

For small businesses, customer relationship management includes:

  • CRM processes that help identify and target their best customers, generate quality sales leads, and plan and implement marketing work with clear goals and objectives

  • CRM procedures that help form individualized relationships with clients to improve customer satisfaction and to provide the highest level of customer service to the most profitable customers

  • CRM processes that provide employees with the information they need to know in order to identify and understand their customer's wants and needs with the goal to build relationships between the company and its customers

Customer relationship management tools include software and browser-based applications that collect and organize information about customers. For instance, as part of their CRM strategy, a business might use a database of buyer information to help assemble a customer satisfaction investigation, or to decide in which new product their customers might be interested.

A successful CRM entails more than establishing and integrating a software package designed to support CRM processes. CRM is a combination of enterprise strategies, business processes, and information technologies used to learn more about clients' needs and behaviors in order to develop stronger relationships with them. In other words, CRM's goal is to provide the understanding and knowledge necessary to develop and implement smarter customer strategies and maximize customer profitability.

CRM initiatives are designed to meet the client's expectations and needs in order to achieve maximum customer lifetime value and return to the enterprise. The use of CRM products, CRM software, and CRM solutions will increase the effective implementation of CRM in an organization.

The company will provide information for customers to assist in a better understanding of the product so the customer will know how to use the product, what ingredients are in the product, who to contact if they need more information, etc. Through CRM, a company will learn to understand which channels are the best fit to contact a particular customer and what kind of information that particular customer desires. With better customer insight, a company can communicate more effectively to each customer using all media channels mixed with suitable information content for each type of medium. In turn, the customer will have better knowledge of your company's products than a competitor's products and the company will therefore, gain customer mind share. Customer knowledge about the product will influence their decision-making and will drive the customer to purchase their product.

Another example of Customer Relationship Management could be Sales Force Automation. As its name implies, a Sales Force Automation (SFA) system provides an array of capabilities to streamline all phases of the sales process, lessening the time that reps need to spend on manual data entry and administration. This allows them to successfully pursue customers in a shorter amount of time than would otherwise be possible. At the heart of SFA is a contact management system for tracking and recording every stage in the sales process for each prospective customer, from initial contact to final disposition. Many SFA applications also include features for opportunity management, geographical area management, sales forecasting and pipeline, workflow automation, quote creation, and product knowledge. Newly-emerged priorities are modules for Web 2.0 e-commerce and pricing management.

Customer Service and Support is another variation of CRM. Acknowledging that customer service is an important differentiator, organizations are increasingly turning to technology platforms to help them improve their customer's experience while increasing effectiveness and keeping a lid on costs. Even so, a 2009 study discovered that only 39% of corporate executives trust that their employees have the right tools and authority to solve customer problems.

The core of customer service has been and still is comprehensive call center management, including such features as intelligent call routing, computer telephone integration (CTI), and escalation capabilities. More recently, e-service capabilities - Web self-service, knowledge management, email response supervision, Web chat, collaborative browsing, and virtual assistants - are gaining in importance and impact. In fact, today's profusion of customer service channels has prompted many companies to deploy integrated support applications that deliver knowledge-enabled solutions across all of them. Another key trend is the increasing popularity of Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms for customer service, due to their rapid deployment, low initial cost, and now-established efficacy for large and complex contact centers.

Now, to take a different turn, you may want to consider a white paper. What is a white paper? The term white paper is an offshoot of the term white book, which is an official magazine of a national government. A white paper typically argues a specific position or explanation to an issue or problem. Although white papers take their roots in governmental principles, they have become a common tool used to introduce technology innovations and products. A typical search engine query on "white paper" will return millions of results, with many focused on technology-related issues. White papers are powerful marketing tools used to help key decision-makers and influencers justify implementing selected solutions.

So you've decided you need a white paper. What exactly should the objectives be? Will the paper be well-received? How long should it be? Who will write it? These and many other questions are common questions that should be addressed from the start.

Perhaps the biggest mistake white paper writers make involves not properly understanding the disposition of their readers. Instant affinity is key. A white paper must quickly identify troubles or concerns faced by its readers and lead them down the path to a solution. Different types of readers look at the same problems from different perspectives. For example, an engineer might care about technical nuances, whereas a CIO is more interested in business benefits. In the case of high-level executives or managers, their busy daily life means they have extremely short attention spans, which an important consideration when writing to this type of audience. If you do not grab the reader's attention in the first paragraph, you will never achieve your objectives.

There are really only two ways to write white papers: 1) by focusing on your self-interests, or 2) by concentrating on the interest of your readers. The self-interest approach focuses exclusively on a product, service, or solution by expounding on its benefits, features, and implications. While effective in some circumstances, this approach is best left for something other than a white paper, such as a data sheet or product brief.

The self-serving approach is often focused on the mistaken belief that people like to read boring details about why your product is the best thing since the invention of the Internet. This method is an ineffective approach to writing that turns most readers off immediately. If you want your customers to actually read the paper, you should try to gain affinity with them right away. It should be noted that it is perfectly appropriate to touch on product features and benefits if they are carefully crafted into the white paper.

The other option, and the one I strongly recommend, is to focus on the needs of your readers. This can be successfully accomplished by leading with the problems your solution overcomes, rather than the actual solution itself. To many people, this seems counterintuitive, but it really is just the opposite. By focusing on the struggles experienced by the readers, you are establishing creditability with the reader and simultaneously filtering out unqualified customers.

It is apparent that CRM and the other customer-oriented products serve as extremely effective system to obtain the most valuable information for catering to the needs of each and every one of your customers. Perhaps the most effective way to distinguish yourself from your competition is through adopting a CRM system and as a result, providing superior customer service.