The National Express Coach Division has increased direct sales by 29% since implementing a customer relationship management (CRM) strategy last summer, the company said last week.
In June 2001, National Express, working in conjunction with CRM consultancy Detica, replaced a set of disparate call centres with a single multi-channel contact centre. This has enabled the company to obtain a single view of its customers, whether they book their journeys on the phone, via the Internet or in person.
By centralising its activity National Express has been able to develop better-targeted services, according to Steve McAleavy, director of sales. "We have more than 200,000 registered users on our database and the challenge was to use that information more effectively," he said.
"With the single call centre and the customer initiatives we have in place we are able to capture and use customer data more effectively, thereby getting better value from our marketing budget."
McAleavy quoted a recent example of this where an offer was targeted at students during November, traditionally a quiet period.
"As a pilot, we sent our registered student users SMS messages offering them £10 trips anywhere in the country," he said. "It was very successful and we plan to follow this up with other SMS projects. We are also looking at 3G services."
National Express wants direct sales - through the company's own channels as opposed to partner agents - to account for 60% of overall sales in three years.
McAleavy said there are a number of other CRM-related projects in the pipeline, such as dedicated Web sites for certain groups of customers and a digital TV channel.
CRM as a technology has been criticised in some quarters for not providing an adequate or measurable return on investment, but McAleavy said because new customers are hard to find, retaining the ones you have is all the more important.
You should not expect a rapid return on investment, he added. "You have to have a medium- to long-term plan," he said. "And if CRM helps to retain a customer you might have lost, it has worked."