How to Bring Customer Focus to CRM

Drew Robb

Updated · Apr 23, 2014

When someone goes off in all directions at once, the common advice is to focus. The same advice could well apply to CRM systems that often try to be all things to all people.

Instead of trying to put everything in CRM and ending up with a mountain of hard-to-digest data, it might be better to focus on a couple of key areas of customer engagement or else find one or two ways to improve the actual customer experience as opposed to just giving management a better view of overall sales and service activity.

Scott Hays, senior director of Product Marketing, KANA Software, feels that most CRM systems are aimed squarely at amassing vast amounts of customer data. As a result, they don’t do well at managing relationships.

“A relationship can be documented in data — described, tracked, logged and even quantified in data — but it cannot occur in data as it’s organic, interactive and has a human side,” said Hays. “CRM systems must be extended to enrich every interaction to support the acquisition and retention of customers.”

Adding Context to CRM

The point is to manage customer relationships not just to boost revenue or upsell, but to enrich the customer experience. It’s a matter of putting context into the accumulated treasure trove of information concerning who your customers are, where they are located, their habits, and what they want and need.

“Tapping into this context is key to customer loyalty/satisfaction and to delivering fast, friendly and personalized customer service,” said Hays. “The ability to deliver effective customer experiences, experiences that count, right across the customer’s journey and across the organization, regardless of channel, has never been more important.”

This necessitates more of a cross-channel approach, as well as better mapping of customer journeys. One way to achieve this is to begin any CRM strategy from the customer view first, and tailor experiences for customers on the various journeys they might make through the company and the product lifecycle. At each step, make sure content is relevant and context is understood. This last part can best be attained by enabling customers to customize their own interactions and experiences to fit their preferences.

Delivering CRM Data to Front Lines

Customer service analyst Esteban Kolsky, of thinkJar, conducted a recent survey and found this to be the point where most customer experience initiatives come up short. Front-line agents are rarely empowered and lack the tools to deliver experiences that customers are demanding, he said.

Using traditional tools, agents just can’t do what the caller expects to resolve the issue. In many cases, all they can do is take down the details of the issue, explain why nothing can be done about it or refer the person to an online form; any of these responses could lead to the end of the relationship with that customer.

Hays’ solution is to provide one system that brings together all the channels, process and context with a single routing or queuing mechanism to support it. Rather than dumping data from multiple channels into one customer bin, a better way is to connect every channel to ensure agents are provided with complete, consistent and contextual data, and can then do something about it.

Of course, many have tried and failed to unite all channels. Reason: they attempted a big bang approach – trying to get all social media, phone, email, sales rep and other customer databases unified. This is tough, if not impossible, to accomplish.

So focus comes into play here too.

“Joining up all traditional/digital/social channels is itself a journey for organizations and can be done incrementally as a method of building to full omni-channel/end-to-end processes,” said Hays. “Success in one area or department of the business breeds other successes and begins to break down silos.”

For example, he suggests prioritizing implementation and integration of the two or three channels used most, while working on improving common metrics like average handling time, first contact resolution, call deflection, agent effort and customer satisfaction.

Supporting Tech with CRM Processes

These sentiments are echoed by Jamie Fiorda, product marketing director for Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  

“A CRM implementation is not just about the technology. It’s actually about your customers’ experience, and the business processes and people using the application to serve customers,” said Fiorda. “If you don’t think through the customer experience and define good processes that your marketing, sales and service teams can use, your CRM implementation won’t be successful.”

Fiorda also acknowledges a common misconception – thinking you can control the customer dialogue. With the proliferation of social and mobile channels, expectations have changed so dramatically that the customer experience has in many ways become the brand itself. Any CRM implementation, therefore, has to enable customers to engage when, where and how they choose, versus trying to control a process.

Similarly, Fiorda finds fault with CRM projects that try to do everything in CRM at once. Most effective projects start with solving a single pain point and expanding from there.

Perhaps in some ways, CRM is suffering from how it was promoted in its formative years. Call centers and sales organizations suffered from information overload and generally poor customer service, a situation that became more readily apparent as the Internet and smartphones grew in usage. CRM was wrongfully promoted to these companies as a technology savior – just install the software, give it a quick stir and instant success.

“Many companies view CRM as a solution that they just have to install, start and let run to realize the promised ROI,” said Kurt Andersen, executive vice president of sales enablement and marketing, SAVO.

What you can end up with is this “great” new system that really just means more work for sales reps and contact center personnel. Instead of directly helping them assist prospects and customers, they are burdened with inputting data into CRM.

Management may consider the implementation a success as the additional information helps them to forecast more accurately. But talk to the guys on the ground and you typically hear resentment, or the quiet rebellion of abandoning usage of the system.

“A lot of the promise of CRM has been combined with other issues faced by sales and marketing teams, and its initial value has been overshadowed by growing expectations for sales enablement and sales productivity solutions,” said Andersen. “Leadership should consider what else they can align with CRM to get the most value for all the parties involved.”

Reiterating 4 Points

Design CRM strategy from the customer perspective. According to Scott Hays of KANA Software, companies must try to offer tailored experiences for customers as they interact with company. At each step, make sure content is relevant and context is understood. The best way to do this is by enabling customers to customize their own interactions and experiences to fit their preferences.

Empower customer service agents with information. Hays said companies should strive to provide a single system that brings together all the channels, process and context with a single routing or queuing mechanism to support it. Doing so will ensure customer service agents have complete, consistent and contextual data, which can be used to solve customers’ problems.

Ensure CRM support processes are in place. Jamie Fiorda, product marketing director for Microsoft Dynamics CRM, said marketing, sales and service teams must be provided with processes and workflows that help them deliver an outstanding customer experience.

Don’t try to do it all. The best way to begin a CRM initiative is to focus on an initial pain point, Fiorda advised.

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

Drew Robb
Drew Robb

Drew Robb is a writer who has been writing about IT, engineering, and other topics. Originating from Scotland, he currently resides in Florida. Highly skilled in rapid prototyping innovative and reliable systems. He has been an editor and professional writer full-time for more than 20 years. He works as a freelancer at Enterprise Apps Today, CIO Insight and other IT publications. He is also an editor-in chief of an international engineering journal. He enjoys solving data problems and learning abstractions that will allow for better infrastructure.

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