Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems are one of the most prominent IT systems in modern enterprises, as it is a crucial element of effective, customer-centric sales and marketing processes. Nowadays, CRM systems are not just used by the vast majority of large enterprises, but also by most SMBs (Small Medium Businesses) as well. This wide adoption of CRM systems is reflected in the size of the CRM market, which is, according to Gartner, expected to be worth over $40 billion in 2018. However, a CRM project does not stop the day the system is deployed in an enterprise. Rather, it is a long-term strategic investment, which is associated with efforts aimed at continuous improvement for reducing costs per lead and churn rates, while at the same time maximizing customers’ lifetime value. In following paragraphs, we present ten tangible ways in which enterprises can improve the operation of their CRM systems and processes. These ways correspond to best practices that are nowadays applied by CRM leaders worldwide.
First and foremost CRM stakeholders need to understand the nature of a CRM project, notably in terms of the fact that they have to engage in a continuous improvement effort. This means implementing specific modules and strategies and accordingly tracking their tangible impact on business results and CRM indicators. Enterprises must therefore be agile in implementing an improvement cycle, which sets business objectives, identifies implementation methodologies and tracks the level of the accomplishment of these objectives. It’s important that enterprises specify and implement such a continuous improvement process for their CRM system and operations.
CRM is a business discipline as much as it is an IT system. The world’s best CRM system is virtually useless without a proper sales and marketing strategy. Therefore, one way of improving the operations of a CRM system is to improve the sales and marketing strategies that are implemented through it. For example, an enterprise should strive to improve the conversion rate of its marketing and advertising campaigns. To this end, it may opt to use the CRM system in order to perform RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetary) analysis as a means of prioritizing the customers that are more likely to respond to the campaign. RFM analysis segments the customer database and prioritizes the customers to be contacted based on the recency, the frequency and the total monetary value of customers’ purchases.
The specification and implementation of effective sales and marketing strategies through a CRM system hinges on the close and systematic collaboration of the marketing and IT departments of an enterprise. Marketing managers and the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) are in charge of specifying the company’s marketing strategy, while IT experts and the Chief Information Officer (CIO) are in charge of deploying it on the CRM system.
A CRM system can be as good as the accuracy of the customer data that it comprises. Unless an enterprise has access to accurate information about customers, some processes like customer segmentation and loyalty management can not be effective. Therefore, enterprises must ensure that customer data in their CRM systems is accurate and up to date.
There are various ways to improve the accuracy, correctness and completeness of a customer database. For example, front line agents could follow-up with customers for collecting missing information or updating information that is rather old. Agents must also be fore-warned with information about the accuracy of certain data in the CRM database, as this information can be used/ avoided during their interactions with customers depending on the reliability of such data.
Enterprises must also run data quality audits and data cleansing processes at regular intervals. Such audits boost the timely identification of quality issues, along with the initiation of remedial actions such as elimination of duplicate entries, flagging of information as untrusted and more.
CRM productivity is tied to the productivity of CRM users. To this end, it’s important that CRM systems are customized in order to boost the productivity of the employees that act as primary CRM users. On one hand this is about designing and implementing pleasant and ergonomic interfaces for accessing the various CRM functions. On the other hand, it’s also about personalizing CRM information to end-users needs. CRM systems must visualize information from emails, leads, opportunities, offers and more, according to the role and responsibilities of the end-user.
End-users’ knowledge about CRM in general and your specific CRM deployment in particular, is also a key to end user’s productivity. This is a good reason to invest in training your employees, both on how to use the CRM tools, and also on the underlying sales and marketing processes. Training is an important complementary asset for successful CRM. Beyond training, enterprises could also invest in reengineering their marketing, sales and service processes as a means to maximizing their effectiveness. This involves benchmarking the different processes based on quantitative indicators (e.g., marketing conversion rates, time needed to service a customer, sales per product and region) and accordingly revising them in ways that lead to tangible improvements.
There is ample room for improving the automation and efficiency of CRM operations by integrating CRM systems with other enterprise systems (e.g., Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems) and databases. For example, integration with other systems can automate the acquisition of customer data from various channels and touch points, along with getting access to invoicing information or even to information about the status of an order’s production and preparation. The latter information makes customer interactions more effective as they enable the provision of rich and real-time data to the customers. There are numerous examples of how integration with other systems can improve timeliness, accuracy and speed in customer service and marketing interactions.
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In the era of BigData, enterprises are offered unprecedented opportunities for analyzing data and deriving insights beyond corporate processes. CRM is no exception to this rule. Enterprises must explore how to best leverage BigData Analytics in order to extract hidden patterns of customer behavior, predict purchase activity, forecast sales and more. To this end, CRM systems come with warehouses of customer information, which also provide data mining tools. However, it’s also worth exploring whether and how other modern BigData analytics techniques (i.e. methods falling in the realm of Artificial Intelligence) could be exploited.
Social media provide additional channels for acquiring customer information and for interacting with customers. In several cases, these platforms are much more efficient that other channels, since these are faster and provide richer information. For example, comments posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram reflect a wealth of customer feedback that is collected within few minutes. Collecting such amount of feedback is almost impossible using traditional channels such a telephone or face-to-face interactions. Therefore, it is highly recommended that enterprises integrate their CRM with social media. Nowadays, most CRM vendors provide “social CRM” modules, which makes this integration easier than ever before.
CRM systems provide an ideal vehicle for implementing and tracking follow-up activities. Whether as part of a marketing campaign or a sales effort, it’s very important to follow-up on customers in order to understand their intentions. Follow-up is an effective way of keeping track of customers and planning future contacts. Thus, the proper implementation of follow-up features and processes can increase the effectiveness and business value of your CRM.
As CRM systems operate on customer data, managing such data can be very sensitive and raises security and privacy risks. Companies must not neglect the importance of securing their CRM operations and protecting the data they manage. They also need to invest in compliance of regulatory frameworks such as EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Such investments do not yield a direct ROI (Return-On-Investment), but will certainly protect you from potential brand damage and financial losses before it’s too late.
Implementing and operating a CRM platform is not a 100m race, but rather a marathon where continuous improvement is a must. In this post we have provided ten practical ideas for improving CRM operations, which cover a broad range of topics and disciplines i.e. from security and data protection to social media integration and BigData analytics. We leave it to you to pick and implement the ones that are most appropriate for your sales, marketing and customer service processes.
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