Use CRM to understand priority customer concerns and improve client satisfaction

Companies are setting unrealistic goals for customer relationship management, but IT directors could take some simple steps to...

Companies are setting unrealistic goals for customer relationship management, but IT directors could take some simple steps to get the full potential from a CRM project.

The excitement generated by the recent rash of customer relationship management products will be short-lived unless suppliers can educate business users in how to maximise their use of this powerful technology.

A BT study earlier this year of 100 small and medium-sized enterprises found that 38% of company bosses do not use customer data to improve their customers' experience. The research also suggested that business users are not setting realistic goals when considering CRM strategies.

The survey sample may have been relatively small, but in BT's experience, this lack of understanding about CRM applies just as much to larger companies.

Many firms have outdated perceptions of CRM and still think of it more as a technology rather than a business process supported by powerful IT tools. The technology has matured in the past five years and the new generation of practical CRM tools are easy to use and cost-effective.

Clearly, the providers of CRM need to help businesses understand the new generation of technologies and, most importantly, how best to exploit them. There are five key steps that IT directors should follow when overseeing a CRM project.

l Start by setting a benchmark against which to measure progress, by making a realistic assessment of current customer management capabilities.

At this stage, collectively agree the strategic priorities for improvement. Do this by identifying your priority customers and find out how the company interacts with them to make a difference to their satisfaction, behaviour and to your costs.

Your priority customers may be people you want to encourage to do more business with you, people you are trying to attract from competitors, or those you are defending from aggressive competitors or changing market conditions.

l As most businesses are drowning in data but are starved of insight, the second step is to analyse customer interaction. This provides an understanding of the relationship between strategic metrics, such as customer retention, and operational measures, such as call duration or conversion rates.

The detailed evidence you obtain is vital in understanding why customers behave as they do in interactions with your company and this can then help you identify how this can be varied.

  • Armed with this information, step three is to create a dynamic model that allows you to adjust these variables to find the best way of working.
  • Test new approaches gradually. No matter how carefully a change is planned, it will never be right first time - customers and employees have a habit of reacting in unexpected ways. Because no CRM plan survives its first contact with reality, it is important to expose ideas to the real world as soon as possible. 
  • Finally, you will be in a position to roll out flexible technology. Having proved the feasibility of the project, you should be able to embed the CRM software into the business to get the full benefit.

Once the software has been implemented, it is time to go back to step one and start again. The quality of your CRM depends upon a process of continuous improvement.

Steve Ackling is chairman of BT Contact Central

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