The concept of customer relationship management (CRM) has long-existed before it was given a designation. In fact, it is a not-so-new buzzword that sounds wonderful, but is actually very hard to implement. What CRM refers to is a kind of cross-functional business strategy that allows organizations to learn more about their customers.
Typically, CRM is software-based to manage diverse sources of customer information. So, as many people within an organization may have dealings with a customer ranging from sales, marketing, customer support, consultants, management, shipping and others, they are in some way working within customer relationship management. The system of CRM creates an enterprise-wide database that is implemented where all these contacts — or relationships — can be entered and stored and then used to support the customer, making your services more readily available and catered to their specific needs.
The example of a salesperson really illustrates how CRM can work. Engaging directly with the customer by fielding questions, a salesperson has direct access to following the thoughts and needs of a client while trying to fulfil a request. Each of you, the customer and the business, has a mutual interest: meeting the needs of the clientele. The salesperson has access to a lot of valuable information as to how these two mutual concerns might be better met.
There are various factors to consider when gathering customer information to ensure a successful CRM solution. As with anything, high-quality data is critical; personal bias should be minimized, and any contacts should be accurately entered into the CRM solution. In addition, all data gathering and storage should conform to federal and provincial privacy legislation. So, a casual comment made by a client not pertaining to business relations should most likely be left out of the data network.
Consider employing any one or more of the following data-gathering techniques. Remember that once any data has been collected — or a customer interaction has occurred — it must be entered into the CRM application to become part of the customer’s working file.
Work with staff: Employees within the organization can easily obtain valuable customer information — if told why the information is important and where to forward or store it. For example, salespeople are usually excellent sources of information, but they may not know how to gather information or where to enter it. Training on CRM is critical to the success of such systems.
Work with technical staff: Technical service staff typically work closely with customers and may have the best opportunity to obtain valuable data. Consider requiring call reports — summaries of technical calls — to capture customer information.
Review warranty forms: Consider offering an incentive to encourage customers to complete the warranty form.
Follow-up shipments: In some cases, consider directly contacting customers after sending a shipment to ask for a review of the shipping process.
Offer training and seminars: Offering customer training schools or field application seminars can provide a captive audience of customers, furnishing an opportunity to identify their needs and requirements.
Conduct focus groups: Although a focus group may be expensive, the resulting data may offer many tangible benefits, such as identifying the effectiveness of a certain advertising campaign or suitability of a potential product or service.
Get designers in the field: Having designers and engineers go into the field to observe how customers use products is an effective way to gather customer data — and potentially uncover new and innovative approaches.
Support product groups: Most products and services have an affiliated organization with the mandate to promote and regulate a certain generic product(s) (e.g., Society of Plastics Industries). These organizations can be an excellent source of competitive information.
Conduct customer surveys: Customer surveys provide valuable information about customers’ opinions of a product or service. They can also uncover differences between the ways an organization and its customers perceive that product or service.
Jeffrey D. Sherman
BComm, MBA, CIM, FCA
Jeffrey is a popular presenter, and was an adjunct professor at York University for 15 years. He is a frequent course director and course author for many organizations, including provincial bodies of Chartered Professional Accountants across Canada.
He has written over 20 books including: Canadian Treasury Management, Canadian Risk Management, and Financial Instruments: A Guide for Financial Managers (all published by Thomson-Reuters/Carswell), as well as Finance and Accounting PolicyPro and Information Technology PolicyPro (guides to governance, procedures, and internal control), and Cash Management Toolkit for Small and Medium Businesses (all published by Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada [CPA Canada]).
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