Ask any executive of a mid-sized firm what her organization’s priorities are, and “serving our customers’ needs” is bound to appear near the top of the list. Yet despite the centrality of customers to any company, this rich source of insight is often mismanaged if not overlooked altogether. Enter customer relationship management, or CRM. While the term is often used to describe database solutions, CRM is actually a comprehensive approach to serving and building your customer base that goes beyond just the tools used to implement it.
The idea behind CRM systems is to capture every customer touch point across the organization, from sales to service, in order to fully understand them on an individual as well as aggregate basis. It functions as an organization-wide memory, so that anyone who interacts with the customer can see, at a glance, not only descriptive details of the relationship, but also a history of interactions. By fostering these deep relationships with customers you’ll not only encourage loyalty and repeat business, but you’ll also be able to segment customers and prospects for targeted marketing, and gain insights that could lead to entirely new markets and product innovation.
Here’s how to implement CRM systems in your organization:
- Start with the customer. It may seem obvious, but any implementation should be built around the needs of the customer, says Steve Rueve, senior vice president, business services administration at Regions Bank. “We keep the customer at the center, because they’re going to have a multitude of needs,” he explains. “Our relationship managers need to ask the right questions in order to provide a solution as opposed to merely a product.”
- Build a cross-functional implementation team. Because a CRM system is designed to work across functional siloes, it is important to get the input of those who will be using it. The obvious reason for doing so is to make sure that the system captures all the information necessary to support the customer and gain insights. But there’s an equally important though less obvious reason as well: encouraging adoption. “The challenge with these systems, as with any business process, is making it so valuable to the user that they will want to use it every day,” Rueve says. “And the more they use it, the better information we all have.”
- Decide what you want to know. The primary task of the implementation team will be to choose what information to track and how that data will be gathered.
- Structured data is universal for every entry, such as phone numbers and e-mail addresses, or information that will be tabulated or quantified, such as sales figures or answers to survey questions. Structured data can also be helpful to make sure that your sales and service reps are being thorough with their information-gathering so that you wind up with a 360-degree profile of each customer.
- Semi-structured data is more free-form and descriptive. It might be product feature requests, questions or concerns raised by the customer, or even a note that your regular contact is out on maternity leave. Rueve feels this type of information is a potential gold mine. “Many of our customers have complex needs, and we don’t want to squeeze them into one box or another,” he says. “As a solution-based provider, we need to understand these nuances and complexities.”
Once you’ve gathered information into a CRM, you can mine it for insights. Are your customers falling into predictable segments that can inspire marketing campaigns to draw in more like them? Are there feature requests that can be turned into product upgrades? Is one type of customer more profitable than another? These are the types of questions a well-planned CRM can answer. And as your knowledge evolves, so should your CRM, adding new data, and asking new questions. By making sure that your customer relations are continuously optimized in this way, you’ll hold onto current customers even as you discover new ones along the way.