CRM is Not a Luxury but a Necessity for Luxury Retail

According to the Economic Guru, an online source for economic definitions, the definition of luxury goods is - 'In general, a good (or service) that is not essential but makes life more enjoyable.' In other words, luxury goods are most often purchased by consumers with greater disposable income. But, how can a luxury retail establishment attract those consumers with greater disposable income and how can they maintain their loyalty in a falling economic market?

The initial problem for any brick and mortar retail institution is to understand the buying behavior of their customers; this is especially true for the luxury retailer whose customer is more likely to have a unique and sophisticated purchasing profile.

But, first we need to define the luxury consumer. The Luxury Institute of New York defines the affluent consumer as those with household incomes exceeding $100,000 per year, but less than $150,000 per year. They estimate this encompasses 10.1 million households. The super affluent, those with household incomes exceeding $150,000 per year encompasses 5.6 million households. It must be kept in mind that the luxury consumer cannot only be defined by income, but must be recognized by overall wealth – some definitions will contain home value, while others discount static investments such as home value and focus on investment portfolios. Whichever definition is chosen, the challenge remains “how do we attract and retain this customer?”

Consumers at this level have a sophisticated approach to purchasing, a 360 degree approach using all retail channels available to them. Therefore, a retailer of luxury items must maintain a consistent service standard across all channels and stores. By its very definition luxury retailing demands a personalized or hands on approach. Service levels must meet or exceed expectations, customer profiles must be maintained and communication with and to the customer must be personalized. The luxury retailer must always remember they are not only providing just a product but an overall experience.

The ultimate goal of the luxury retailer, therefore, is to maintain a one-on-one personalized relationship with each customer, creating that strong customer experience. A retail CRM solution can help in the acquisition and anlaytics of customer information which will lead to the creation of this strong and unique customer experience.

The multichannel approach offered within the retail CRM systems is ideal for the diverse and sophisticated luxury retail market. Customer's information can enter the system through on-site registration, on-line registration or through point of sale systems. Regardless of how the customer enters the system the goal is the retention of that customer and subsequent increase in life time value of the customer to the retail operation. For a retail CRM system to function within the luxury market, the retailer must also have their basic retail functions in order. The customer must have a positive perspective of the retailer and have had satisfactory one-on-one dealing with the store associates. Only when this is true will a CRM system become advantageous.

For the system to be effective, all stakeholders across the organization must buy in to the concept. A retail CRM system must be focused at all times on the customer experience. Reports and analysis of the data must focus on actionable insights. There must be a commitment at all levels to then act upon these insights to improve and enhance the customer’s experience.

When the commitment to implement a CRM solution is made the information collected on each customer will then feed the system. Basic customer information will be collected at all touch points – name, address, purchase information and more. This information can then be analyzed to determine the overall value of this customer to the retail organization – is this a one-time purchase, a returning customer or has the customer shifted in their purchasing profile to a higher or lower level of product? Using this information the retail organization can then begin to differentiate or segment the customer base.

Segments can then be treated in unique manners, those repeat customers moving towards a higher purchasing profile can be offered additional benefits through customer loyalty programs. This identification of customers with the greatest potential for high life time value will then allow marketing dollars to be spent in the most effective manner possible.

A CRM solution will also enable the luxury retailer to manage the customer base in the most profitable manner. By analysis of the customer base the retail operation should be able to identify those customers they need to defend from competitors through retention or other personalized programs, identify those customers they should maximize in terms of purchasing profiles, and identify those customers with the greatest potential for growth

It is important that the luxury retail operation recognize that it is not just the brick and mortar they need to focus on and a functional CRM system will allow them to look past the doorway to the future of their market. The system will enable them to identify new and unique market channels to reach their customer base. By using retail CRM at the point of sale to track purchase profiles, unique marketing opportunities to that customer can be formulated and acted upon.

Another important aspect of the CRM solution is the ability of a retailer to react quickly to changes within their market and define if these are true changes or simply a reaction to the economic environment of the time. If the changes are true the retail is in a position to affect its marketing programs and policies. If the changes are reactive the retailer can “ride them out” without the expending of marketing dollars, maintaining the current course.

In summary, a CRM solution is "NOT a luxury" item, but a necessity that no luxury retail operation can do without to survive and grow in this era of globalization.

Role of CRM Software During Challenging Economic Conditions

Slowing economy and its consequences
The global economic meltdown impacts every industry. There is no business or sector that can stay immune from the effects of the economic slowdown. This is mainly because this time round it has more widespread consequences and certain economies that are worst impacted are gradually sharing the debt load. The effect of this is an overall slowdown where one economy or economic zone has the tendency to pull another down.

At this time, be it for the corporate sector or the small scale industry, the business terrain is hostile. The reason for this is again a cyclical process where fiscal measures are slowing growth rates that in turn are impacting consumption. The consumer today is panicking and preparing for another long drawn crisis situation. The manufacturer is ensuring that production is at par with the expected demand which is slowing. Investment is at a record low and going by the sombre economic mood in Europe, it looks like tables will take a long time to turn after this crisis.

As a result of the slowdown across sectors, B2B selling is tougher than ever. While emerging firms are struggling with the high interest rate and high inflation regime, the more established players have taken a very cautious approach and have streamlined their business models further to ensure optimum utilisation of resources.

Technology and industry
An economic slowdown however does not warrant that innovators will slowdown too and therefore technology continues its rapid progress. In a planet where smartphones and tablets can run an entire enterprise, technology has the power to rejuvenate economies.

From a micro-economic point of view, technology can provide the single unified platform that unites every player in the industry and therefore creates healthy competition, more innovative business strategies and overall development.

So how does one cope?
The biggest question that haunts decision makers today is whether to take a defensive and conservative stance at this time of crisis or wait till the fat lady really sings. Though experts will opine that one definitely needs to adjust according to the economic weather, it is also important to understand that the present scenario may also have huge potential that may remain untapped if certain risks are not taken. Stalling or delaying expansion or capacity building plans may not be the wisest idea according to some, but it definitely can pave the way for the higher demand expected in the future.

Upgrading technology could be the last thought on the minds of certain boards of directors but it is surely the right time to do it, if one ensures that the new technology will provide sustainable growth. Technology that can help take decisions on marketing strategies and also provide the board with a higher degree of control on the various departments could well be the solution. While CRM solutions might be the obvious answer, there are certain factors that need to be kept in mind while considering the same.

The customerHandling the customer at this critical juncture is the key. Market studies conducted post the slowdown will not only provide a great indication about the changing consumption patterns but also help forming CRM policies that can ensure customer retention. One of the basic strategies that most international firms are likely to adopt is to create cheaper, customised and more cost oriented products. IT firms need to come up with business solutions that respect and build upon its client’s profit making ambitions. The buzz surrounding cloud computing is a clear indicator of what the customer is looking for and going by the inclination of IT giants towards the cloud, it could well be the way of the future.

Now, CRM solution providers have to keep in mind that it is not their customer who is the key but their customer’s customers who are the primary focus. Dwindling margins and disappearance of massive projects from the larger markets like Europe and the US has forced a large number of firms to look inwards and this trend is more common in Asian countries. Solution providers that have a deeper insight into customer behaviour in specific markets will therefore enjoy an edge over its competitors.

A large amount of actionable customer data is therefore the need of the hour. Solutions need to be simple, easy, customer centric and flexible. A company that distributes data perfectly an efficiently within its various departments and exercises a good system of control over the integration of the various departments will have a better chance to cope with the rough economic weather.

Best-fit CRM solutions
At this stage, CRM solutions that work very closely with the basic functions of companies might be the best bet. Customers are most likely to look for faster ROI. However, advancement in technology and the cloud could well provide the answer to the issue. CRM solutions that keep into account the tight funds and the slowing growth of a company as well as the economy are likely to tap the market at this hour. Solutions that promise little and deliver more at a cost that does not raise eyebrows will cut the cake and eat it too.

One of the biggest advantages that CRM solutions will provide firms in this economic weather is customer retention. Access to large amounts of customer information and the ability to take marketing and sales decision based on such data will give companies an edge over others. Co-creating affordable products which simplify the life of customers is now a growing necessity and subtly encourages them to remain loyal and share their positive experiences with others.

Though the market may advocate it and the boards may be tempted to do it, moving from a product based approach to a service based approach could also be a major risk. This is mainly because the market will pick up sometime in the future and these services will have a tendency to become obsolete. On the other hand, a CRM solution that can cover the immediate needs of an organisation at this tough juncture and grow with the organisation's needs in terms of value addition as the market improves will therefore wipe its competition clean.

3 Steps to Enhance Demand Forecasting with CRM Software

An enterprise CRM solution captures data about the ‘soft’ parts of the sales, marketing, and customer service processes – opportunity and lead management, customer interactions, surveys, product reviews, promotions, business partner data etc. It’s the touchy-feely stuff where personality goes a lot further than know-how, and anyone with both skill sets is an exceptional performer. It’s hard enough to get these parts of your company to use an ERP system, but assuming you finally achieve that level of discipline, what’s left is a seemingly hodgepodge of data. It’s a challenge to find a practical use for it all.

However, an enterprise-grade CRM system does have the potential to become an invaluable analytical tool - providing a clear, concise, and most importantly, real-time view of the demand curve. Once in place, a CRM system can be used to accurately measure actual sales demand and to accurately forecast sales demand across any time period. With an accurate forecast, all production/procurement activities in the enterprise can be fine tuned, leading to on-time deliveries, zero backorders, lower inventory costs, and higher profits.

Achieving a reliable demand forecast with your CRM solution can be accomplished in a few simple steps:
i) Build a clever master data strategy.
The quality of your master data and your master data governance will drive the quality of CRM data you can capture. Make sure you create master data that can help you achieve the demand forecast you are looking for. You need to capture useful and applicable information about your sales and sales process in order for you to forecast it correctly. Be creative and think outside the box.

Identify critical events that drive a sale.
You need to be able to look at all the pre-sales activity through your CRM solution and have a good idea about how much of it will lead to an actual order. Talk to your staff and understand how they gauge the quality of their respective pipelines. For example, if a second in-person meeting with a customer usually leads to a sale, be sure to record and flag that type of interaction in the CRM system as ‘applicable to demand forecast, or something to that effect. Be sure to identify service calls that lead to subsequent orders. Be able to link a marketing campaign to actual sales either through promo codes or email threading. In the best case, you should be able to trace every sale back to an originating event in the CRM system.
(PS…If you don’t think this is can be automated, then have someone ‘flag’ the event manually as soon as a sales seems imminent. Even better, give incentives to your staff for this. You’ll be amazed to see how correct this metric becomes.)
iii) Continuously improve until it works.
No matter how much thought and planning goes into your demand forecasting project, there will always be further revisions and fine-tuning. But this is also part of the process, so don’t be discouraged. It’s unrealistic to think that you will get everything perfect on the first try – but if you do, congratulations! A simple approach here is to identify points where actual sales differ from the forecast – and/or points where the forecast was incorrect. Once identified, figure out why and pareto out a list of causes. Then go back and fix the problems on that list. Repeat. Over and over again.
Effective CRM solutions will provide smart features that for demand forecasting, but the key to making that forecast reliable does not lie in the software itself, it is in the minds of the people that truly understand your business. Over time, the savings realized with a reliable demand forecast can easily return all implementation expenses and costs of sustaining an enterprise CRM solution. Before long, you can start to turn your CRM platform into a profit-generating machine. So get started soon.

Why Mobile CRM is Essential for Optimal Sales Performance

Today’s business faces immense challenges - staying alive and ahead in the highly volatile, interconnected world. Companies must operate with the minimum amount of inventory and working resources, reducing materials and with more effective operational policies. Companies must simplify interactions and conversations with customers, automate order booking, pricing, invoicing and improve sales lead management. These are the “new ground rules” - the standard and minimum requirements for a company to operate and thrive in a globalized, fast-changing business environment. For truly adapting to the fast-changing business environment and sustaining growth, companies must master one major task - responding to every customer’s demands.

Enter CRM, a business philosophy that aligns strategy, business culture, customer information and technology in order to manage customer interactions for the mutual benefit of customers and the enterprise, it’s a process that leverages customer data and marketing models to improve overall customer satisfaction and gives businesses the ability to perform customer segmentation and provide better customer connections. CRM is all about winning in saturated marketplaces and creating new opportunities. Companies wishing to survive in a globalized, fast-changing business environment must understand customer relationship management. It plays a crucial role in today’s marketplace and more importantly as a competitive advantage in some industries where it becomes important to use these strategies to change the perception of the brand in the marketplace. CRM solutions can help businesses get a clearer picture of what their customers really want, it is also effective in securing new business relationships through market analysis and trend research.

Today’s competitive business environment has forced companies to be more competitive, innovative and to look for better ways to maximize resources -essentially to do more with fewer resources. They’re realizing that through mobile CRM solutions, they have the potential to improve business processes and increase productivity. Customer facing teams today need to access highly accurate and reliable customer information anywhere, anytime to successfully do their jobs. Mobility has become a major issue in today’s businesses. Mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones are becoming the preferred interaction points; it’s the new trend in business. Companies are starting to see the growing potential of real-time interaction and on-the-go type capabilities of mobile CRM. We are now living in a society which expects real-time information on products, services and interactions. An 'always-connected' solution like Mobile CRM enables companies to achieve this, resulting in increased productivity, efficiency and profitability.

CRM on-the-go provides streamlined workflows, this means less paper work and data entry plus real-time access to accurate information anytime and anywhere in the world. More than just streamlining workflows and improving information access, mobile CRM solution is also about improving the customer experience through efficient follow-ups and quick responses. Customer facing teams can analyze their customers’ needs, buying patterns and even complaints on the fly, it also provide the ability to view past buying trends, determine order statuses and study collated critical published items. The availability of customer information everywhere can assist close deals faster and build rapport effectively - there will be no need to say - "Can I get back to you on that?" or "My team hasn't updated the system, I'll send you the details by EOD."

John is an engineer for an IT service company that provides comprehensive in-house technical support for a wide range of technologies. His profile is to provide home users with the technical support they need to get the most out of their computers. With work that is constantly on the move, the company needs to provide its workforce with real-time information and accurate customers’ data to maintain performance and a competitive advantage. The company also needs to speed-up approvals and invoicing to improve cash flow, they need a mobile platform capable of handling business processing, it’s a daunting task. John needs to complete the work within 8 hours of receiving a customer's call asking for technical support. With their workforce constantly on the move, his company needs to make some major adjustments, they need to make a transition of their CRM operations from an old, traditional way of working to a paperless and wireless system-they need to adapt to the fast-changing environment. The updates from the field staff should be available for the back-office staff to make follow-up calls to customers and initiate the process of approvals and payments.

The company has a very large workforce - it has an army of technicians and engineers working round the clock, responding to every customer’s call. A CRM system can automatically assign complicated Cases to experienced personnel and escalate overdue or reopened ones.

With a mobile CRM implementation, John can close a case onsite and update its status through his mobile phone, this means that all relevant staff are always in-the-loop regarding closed, open, escalated and in-progress cases. Escalated and reopened cases can be handled efficiently by specialized technicians and closed ones can be processed for payments. Customer requests can be created immediately through always-connected devices and their related activities monitored to ensure action is taken within SLAs. Also, referrals can be captured as Leads on the CRM and shared with the sales team instantly.

The mobile CRM solution can dramatically improve his company’s performance and profitability - reports and dashboards can be analyzed regularly to pinpoint bottlenecks and stay ahead of competitors. Customers' social networking activities can be tracked to study feedback for your services or to capture new cases - overlooked customer comments on Facebook or Twitter can overnight change the popularity of a product or service. Additionally, an effective CRM solution's assignments, escalations and alerts ensure the senior management has a realistic picture of their field and back office employees' performance regardless of their location.

Mobile CRM provides real-time updates and eliminates the need for customer service representatives to call their field technicians about pending cases, the technical team simply refers to their Blackberries, iPhones or Android devices for details about current and upcoming jobs. Technicians’ mobile devices synchronize in real-time with the company’s CRM system over a wireless broadband network - a technician like John has no problem, he can constantly access updated customer information and payment details. With mobile CRM, technical teams have access to centralized information needed to do their jobs effectively - a customer’s case details and approved solutions database before the team knocks on a door. The team has the customer’s schedule, contact details, address, case notes and interaction history with details of related activities. Mobile CRM solution enables accurate scheduling and coordination of the mobile force which results in efficient use of staff time for core activities. It provides streamlined invoice processing, rapid deployment and scalability too.

With the rapid growth of mobile workforces, accurate and real-time access to information is no longer a “good to have” solution, it's something that is critical in order for most companies to remain competitive. Mobile CRM also helps companies solve information inter-operability and security challenges to increase user visibility of technical information and drive innovation and productivity through more-efficient business processing.

With the rapid growth of mobile workforces, accurate and real-time access to information is no longer a “good to have” solution, it's something that is critical in order for most companies to remain competitive. Mobile CRM also helps companies solve information inter-operability and security challenges to increase user visibility of technical information and drive innovation and productivity through more-efficient business processing.


How to Evaluate Marketing Automation Systems

Today, there are a number of CRM solutions with marketing automation capabilities, but, finding the one that works best for your company requires some key information and sound decision making. Finding the right marketing automation solution that will assist you in creating a superior marketing mix to drive your company’s sales depends on many factors. Marketing mixture differs from one company to another; you will find that B2B businesses as opposed to B2C will have a much longer sales cycle.

With so many marketing automation software products available, it is hard to understand the potential and benefits associated with each product. These tolls are essential in developing, executing and tracking the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. Using these solutions, one can automate lead generation, work flows, collaterals etc. to assist the sales team. Because many of the new products have advance capabilities for data mining, cross sell and up-sell opportunity generation, based on industry size, geographic location based on behavioural sales patterns, the sales division is assured they are receiving only quality leads that will most likely close with a sale.

Many marketing automation solutions have built in lead nurturing features like email marketing, campaign management, sms marketing etc. that allow “stay in touch” relationships, which ensures purchases down the line. For most companies, large databases of consumer information are the norm. Marketing software can segment the database into various categories. Once segmented, targeted campaigns can be designed that require a direct response from the purchaser, while others can be targeted as a call list of prospective clients that are directed to a telesales call center.

Marketing automation solutions also need to have good analytic and reporting functions. Measuring each campaign’s performance can be tracked by managers who can then study which campaigns have fostered the best leads, as well as tracking the costs and revenues associated with each individual campaign. By tracking these initiatives, the company can better allocate its resources.

Today due to rapid adoption of social media powerful CRM software should provide extended built-in collaboration tools, supporting large number of users and allowing the use of various third-party platforms like twitter, facebook, linkedin etc. to be used within the CRM solution. Ability to capture conversations about your brand, products and competition from social media has become critical. Also the marketing automation system should have the capability to organise these conversations, route them to the correct personnel who can act on it. Sales leads and customer service requests are the most important elements generated from social media. Also social video platforms like youtube, vimeo etc. can be used to create viral campaigns. The best part is everything can be easily measured and actionable information can be derived.

Surprising to some companies, sms and email marketing solutions have become the driving force in many automated marketing campaigns. These segmented marketing campaigns need to reach prospective clients and track actual responses, before determining if they are, indeed, qualified leads that will generate sales. If the leads are found to comply with the company’s goals, the software needs to forward the leads to the sales division so that direct action may be taken.

An effective marketing automation system as a part of a CRM solution will not only need to develop and track marketing, sales, and support activities, but also do so in a user-friendly manner that is cost effective and reliable. The software needs integrate with other core systems and databases also the company website to provide an end to end solution.

Selecting the right marketing automation software that will support and implement your business strategy, while integrating with third party applications will provide a competitive advantage to your organisation. A high impact marketing automation software integrated with the CRM solution can prove to be critical in planning, implementing, reporting, and tracking how well individual marketing campaigns are performing and its ROI.

Create a Distinctive Competitive Advantage with CRM through Multi-system Integration

Most modern organizations feel that a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution should best be used to provide support to individual departments like Sales, Marketing or Customer Service (Call Center). The truth of the matter is that a good CRM solution needs to be much more than a single point solution, with proper CRM integration which can make different business processes across departments including back offices and customer facing, more efficient and effective.

Why integrate various systems?
So, what exactly should you be looking for in respect to multi-system CRM integration solution? To answer this question you have to understand that the core of any CRM solution involves use of data related to your customer. Such data is normally stored in various systems which can in turn lead to creation of redundancies and inconsistencies because different data related to a customer has to be collected in order to provide proper support to different departments within an organization.

Common set of data
If you integrate all relevant data pertaining to your customers into just one platform, you will succeed in ensuring that personnel across various operations will get to work with a common set of data. Another spinoff of using multi-system integration in your CRM solution is that you can improve communications both within and without your organization.

Better access to information
Different personnel will get to access information about different customer interactions – irrespective of which department contacted the customer. The end result is that integration will give your organization’s personnel an opportunity to react quickly to any issue that arises with your customer. This ready access to information will also mean that personnel across your organization can be made aware of information and other interactions with customers that they may not have been aware of because without integration the organization would be disjointed.

360 Degree View of the customer
The result of efficient CRM integration solution with other core systems is that you can provide a high impact 360 degree view to all the stakeholders which empowers them to improve levels of satisfaction and build long term relationships. Also visibility of processes across the organisation can make them more efficient and reduce costs of sales and service. For example, a detailed view of customer’s product portfolio can understanding buying and selling patterns and thus helps to cross sell and upsell more. Also if there is an irate customer with a pending services request the sales person will know how to smartly pitch the customer by assuring that he is aware of his complaint and will get it solved.

Even though service management modules are often part and parcel of the bigger CRM solution these are not always used. It is therefore imperative that an organization takes a holistic view and approach to their operations. This will help them uncover areas that will benefit the most from being integrated.

An example of this can be seen when you wish to link your CRM solution to several different systems including your marketing department, services department and payment department as well as certain tools including an ERP or Enterprise Resource Planning system which provides full support to management of invoicing and billing. It also makes sense to integrate a third-party system which is handling services related to subscriptions and phone calls.

How to achieve effective CRM integration
This brings us to the question regarding how best to achieve multi-system integration. There are sure to be many challenges that are to be faced along the way and so it makes sense to keep in mind certain tasks which include:
  • Defining the problem as well as business processes 
  • Ensuring Technical Feasibility 
  • Training end users
Real-time integration can be achieved with-
  • Web APIs 
  • Mash ups 
  • Messaging
Batch-mode integration can be achieved with-
  • Batch import/export 
  • File import/export 
  • External API
Define the real problem
When it comes to defining the main problem and the various business processes that need to be integrated it is important that you define the various business processes so that you know how best to integrate them. Different departments will need to look at information within the CRM solution and so you need to define best use instances to ensure that all departments get to use the data in the optimal manner possible.

Ensuring technical feasibility
It is important to understand how different systems can talk with each other and exchange data. Also what is the frequency of data exchange- real time, batches etc. There are many ways you can integrate for example- web services, mashups, import/export etc. The criticality of the exchanged data and security should be taken into consideration.

Training users
Finally, be sure to take time to provide ways and means by which to train your users. For this, you have to provide sufficient time as well as resources so that the training is adequate and that the personnel feel confident and comfortable about using the integrated CRM system. It is also important to create an interface that is easy to use and one that is intuitive. Failure to address this issue can lead to failure of your integrated system.

It is also important to take the right approach to CRM integration with multiple systems. For this, you have to address issues such as the type of business that you are running as well as the size of your organization. If you are running a small business with small number of customers then probably running a single platform CRM solution is advisable. If the nature of system is complex and delaing with a large number of customers and transactions then you need to ensure that you use an integrated system which reduces the time that an agent needs to spend when dealing with customers.

The bottom line is that you need to address the issue of multi-system integration to your CRM solution by taking a holistic view so that you succeed in changing the way that your organization positions itself to the customers. Integration will also help you cut costs while also providing improved service to the customer and it will increase the opportunities to upsell and also cut down time taken to deal with a customer and other prospects.

Use CRM Software to Break Silos Within your Organisation

Barriers in communication within an organization can often lead to underutilization of resources and increase the share of unproductive activities. Organizations big and small often find it a major challenge to ensure smooth vertical and horizontal communications and this is exactly where an highly effective CRM solution can do wonders. With cloud computing making data management and storage affordable to one and all, CRM solutions are bridging gaps between the customers and businesses as well as between various verticals in organizations.

It is essential for any firm to identify silos that exist in the form of closed verticals and LOBs before deciding on an agenda that would help break them. Silos can be defined as close structures within which a particular department works. Due to the watertight nature of certain division there is a tendency to develop an isolated approach that may not contribute to the overall growth of the firm. If such a plan is not executed to perfection, a measure such as this could lead to serious misuse of vital data and even breach of privacy. The important thing to keep in mind therefore while breaking silos within an organization with the help of a CRM system are:
  • There is consent of all departments 
  • The shared data is authentic 
  • There is verbal communication within and among departments to back the data sharing exercises 
  • There is no impact on the primary objectives of the company (live projects of individual teams, revenue growth, etc.)
With growth comes confusion
Every successful organization will grow. While growth in every positive aspect of the firm is always welcome, it brings with it several challenges. As a small firm reaches out to a larger market and begins to increase its foothold, it also needs to expand in terms of departments and size. A very small firm can operate in following broad departments- sales, marketing and operations. A larger firm however has a larger number of departments and therefore there is a greater chance of friction, miscommunication and overlapping of responsibilities.

In a larger organisation, often various product lines and operations work in silos, where on e department is not able to leverage the efforts of other departments. For example in a larger bank there are separate teams for asset products, liability products, credit cards, third party products etc. Due to silos cross selling becomes difficult. Also there is very limited visibility of information which leads to average level of customer services. Since customer data lies in multiple systems, no one is able to provide true information to the customer. If the work of each department is completely compartmentalized, there is a strong chance that its members will not to communicate with other departments. This will impact the overall objective of the firm and may not be in line with the company’s growth plans.

Avoiding silos
Introducing a CRM solution that tackles all such silos is therefore a highly strategic move that involves not just the top management but also managers of each of the teams. It is a cultural change that needs acceptance at all level of the organisation. It is after all the platform that would not just allow real time data sharing but also allows everyone to respect and understand the company’s, team’s and department’s objective individually and as a whole. Making all the silos work together as one and in line with the company’s objective therefore becomes easier.

In sectors such as banking, insurance, retail, pharma, and IT the silo structure is a common phenomenon when a company becomes larger than 40 to 50 people. Breaking them down could thus have its share of challenges and implementing a CRM solution that is customized to address these needs is therefore a critical decision.

If one looks back at the history and case studies of CRM implementations in some of the largest and most successful mid-sized firms in the world, it is clear that CRM solutions could go a long way in solving some of the burning communication issues within an organization.

Monitoring users
While CRM solutions can in fact break down barriers in communication within an organization, it also increases the risk of sharing crucial information with the wrong team. Sensitive information therefore needs to be tackled very carefully and therefore at the onset of the CRM implementation program there is a need to make a trial run of the system while documenting and monitoring the access privileges of the various departments and roles.

CRM solution providers thus have the massive responsibility of training and hand holding the various stakeholders with privileges and access to the information in the system. An effective system and the right implementation methodology can break the silos and channelize efforts across the organisation which can result in exponential benefits and growth.

Developing 'Corner Store' Relationships with Customers is Critical

Today, we live in an age of fast changing Technology. The virtual world is getting so close to reality that even what seemed bizarre a few years ago, could be a definite possibility in the near future. There is hardly any aspect of human life which has not been affected by this change. This is the rate at which technology is growing and people expect new products to be friendlier and cost-efficient. Does your current CRM solution allow your business the flexibility to capture the needs and values of this new generation of choosy customers?

The benefits of this growth are innumerable. It has given consumers a world full of choices. There is a mind boggling variety and myriad options available for every single product category. Then, there is ease of transactions. The way business and transactions were carried out has gone through a sea change in the recent past. Processes have become much more user friendly and the idea is to target a large segment of clients in the shortest possible time.

However, the question for a business is how to sustain growth in this competitive environment. The technical advancements play a critical part in the overall business. But, what it doesn’t account for is the human factor. And that changes the axis on which the graph is being plotted. When one has people at the base, 'emotions' become an increasingly important deciding factor. In fact, it becomes more important than evident calculations proving profits and losses. Customers tend to attach more importance to what and how they feel about a brand and how they are treated. They can even let go of the monetary benefit in lieu of a better and more satisfying experience. And that is what companies need to focus on.
It is 6-7 times more expensive to gain a new customer than it is to retain an existing customer” - Bain & Company study in the Harvard Business Review.

The kind of client relationships that companies need to envisage and focus on building are the ones people have with their neighborhood 'corner stores'.
The above by far can be described as the one factor nurturing the human sentiment the most. Local corner stores' owners cater to their neighborhood, clients are mostly nearby residents and they frequently visit the premises. Owners usually know their clients on a first name basis and have an idea about their families, preferences and tastes. They are aware of the consumption levels and demands of their locality. This familiarity with customers likes and dislikes is also facilitated for organizations through an effective CRM solution's social networking tools. Salesman can now pleasantly surprise customers by offering products they are bound to like, similar to the way a corner store owner slips in the latest edition of your favorite magazine with the groceries.

With long term transactional relationships, a level of mutual trust also develops between the owner and customers. Now, that is a fairly small set up and the major argument could be - can this be applied by big organizations with hundreds of employees and thousands of clients to cater to? Store owners get so involved and show so much interest in their customers, primarily because they are the owner of their businesses. The profits and losses, the money they make is their own. So the prerogative completely lies with them.

In a large organization, the responsibility falls on the employees who act as touch points for the clients. Building client relationship is crucial for every business and in any company the emphasis and importance of this factor should be made clear to the employees. It is the thought process of individual employees that will determine the overall culture of the organization. If the focus is clear from top to bottom in an organization’s hierarchy, then building such client relationships are not an agenda which is out of reach.

70% of the customers left because of lack of attention from front-line employees" - International Customer Service Association.

Employees need to have a sense of ownership. Especially employees in customer facing roles need to understand the criticality of their position, as they directly represent the organization. Their job is not just to complete an error free transaction, but take the onus of making the overall experience very satisfying for the customer. That is the thought process the organization needs to inculcate. Clients, who do not have any emotional bond, will go to the competition for any discount option or promotion offered. On the other hand, clients who have had an unflattering experience might not be tempted back with similar offers. Customers might not remember the name of an individual employee who interacted with them, but they would always refer and link the experience they have had, with the brand. So while the top management works on strategies and changes involved, the implementation needs to be carried out at every level.

‘Corner Store’ relationships with clients is what will slowly create that bond. It ultimately taps the emotion factor, which has so far been neglected and not been accounted for. Giving a slight personal touch to the transaction makes all the difference. Using CRM solutions to ensure personalized greetings, best wishes and condolences are sent to customers is the first step in the right direction. With all the technical advancements being made, what still holds true is, humans are not driven by logic alone. Sentiments play a big decisive role. While customer loyalty is also a function of quality and utility experience, it can be heavily attributed to how a customer has been treated over time. Competition is extremely tough these days; ‘customer service’ has been identified as a huge distinguishing factor by most companies. But what needs a concurrent focus is the 'type' of client relationship that is being pursued. Exemplary service, moderate levels of personalized products and attention to detail for the client’s needs and requirements can place an organization a couple of notches higher than competition.

Ignoring Customer Tweets can Rapidly Increase Churn

An industry thumb rule states that good PR covers up bad problems. But, an undercover understanding of customer service management reveals its ability in preventing problems to become bad ones in the first place. As per a consumer’s mindset, customer service management is associated with automated menus, lengthy hold times and outsourced staff. On the other side of the line, customer service representatives fear a consumer who whines about the weather and forgets to turn on a router before stating that it is broken!

Time and energy have become a luxury in 2012. In this age, we as consumers expect a television to be controlled by the same device we use to text while we hope the world news is delivered to us in 140 characters or less. While we were in the single digit years of the millennium, intangible medium such as mobile phones or email were the “new” technology. As we advance to 2012, intangibility has gained mistrust and decline in popularity. In this scenario, automated customer service has higher potential of losing consumers over satisfying them.

Customer satisfaction Index or popularly known as the Heat Index of a pissed consumer was the highest in 2006-2008 as per the ACSI study. It declined drastically through the 2008-2010 phase. As of the past 4 quarters, customer satisfaction and participation is on a slow increase. Clearly the economic turn down has brought about a remarkable change in mind set of consumers. With lower disposable incomes, individuals are inclined towards a complete package. Best value for money and extended customer service for higher longevity of the product have gained top priority while making a purchase. Additionally the insecurity brought about by recession has compelled consumers to indulge in credible research before committing a purchase.

The above figures also present an opportunity to companies to understand the 'Threat' and 'Opportunity' of its SWOT analysis study. Here, the threat across all industries is redundant technology and intangibility. While the opportunity lies in increasing tangibility, personalization, customization and eventually saving time and energy for consumers.

Recently, bigger companies have started investing in Twitter to increase their visibility and tap its potential as an effective customer relationship management tool. IBM, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Hilton and Samsung are examples of companies that have allotted considerable budgets in new media/technology developments specifically in Twitter. Not surprisingly, a study on segregates these companies under the Top 10 companies for customer satisfaction.

Twitter integration with service management solutions has several benefits for companies. Customer service representatives can track, participate and solve customer queries using Twitter. Since this specific medium allows only 140 characters, consumers tend be precise and expect specific responses. This limitation eventually saves both parties time and energy, thereby increasing efficiency. This efficiency rate is incomparable to the call center efficiency that is measured by success per second. Additionally, Twitter allows a company to build and/or protect its brand image, as the medium allows free consumer participation and a high viral capability. Thirdly, the immediacy and transparency of twitter makes a conversation less formal, ultimately making the company more approachable and engaged with audiences. Auxiliary to addressing consumer concerns, customer reps can also provide product tips and tricks, real time data visibility, thereby increase overall customer satisfaction.

The marketing landscape is rapidly evolving with changing consumer psychology and social CRM. Traditional methods need to be revamped as per consumer demand. Twitter offers companies a variety of tools to improve customer service management. It has the ingredients that companies can alter as per taste and preference and provide a tasteful solution. Unlike other social media platforms, Twitter is more quality over quantity. This benefit allows companies to increase depth of engagement over breadth of marketing objectives. Thus, it won’t be over ambitious to start addressing customer service management in terms of tweets, quotes and 140 characters over automated services. Additionally, collate records and customer information through a CRM solution integrated with Twitter to better analyze trends, pinpoint bottlenecks through feedback posted and improving products by understanding customers better.

New Trends in CRM Software, 2012

Customer Relationship Management or CRM have been the buzzwords in the business world for some time now. The last twenty years have seen the concept grow, evolve and radically change the way business is conducted. The idea has been dynamic and had to mature and catch on in the current age of Information. Every product goes through various stages like inception, growth, maturity; and every stage requires a different strategy to manage it. What starts today as a novel concept, advances and gets upgraded over time. The newer versions hit the market and slowly the old becomes obsolete. So what is an absolute necessity is innovation.

Product life-cycle management (or PLCM) is the succession of strategies used by business management as a product goes through its life-cycle. The conditions in which a product is sold (advertising, saturation) changes over time and must be managed as it moves through its succession of stages - Wikipedia.

CRM solutions have also witnessed these changes and it has been constantly evolving. A discussion about what the future can behold is very intriguing. A broad classification can be-
  • Overcoming the existing limitations
  • Integrating technological advancements
Existing CRM limitationsCRM as a concept has proven its utility over time. However, in the current form there are certain factors which need consideration.

Customization - CRM solutions started off as a general concept. The idea has been promising, but what has also changed alongside is, the way businesses and economies have evolved. In today’s business world, information is the key and moreover that information needs to be customized. So what companies will increasingly look forward to is specification. Every organization is different and so are the strategies that need to be implemented. Going forward, personalized or company specific software are sure to be more in demand rather than standardized software solutions. This shall enable the user to focus on the details primarily important to him rather than getting generalized reports.

Scalability - Large organizations/ multi-nationals spend millions per year on CRM solutions. The concept of Cloud CRM though economical, is yet to find its place with such organizations as they prefer On-premise CRM to Cloud. The volume of data handled by these organizations is huge, so, scalability of the software needs consideration. Also integration with core systems tend to break when the size of data increases and processes are complex.

Security - Large corporations are not very comfortable hosting data with a third party provider and prefer licensing the software. This of course has high cost implications. Balancing the cost dimension with the requirements is what the future CRM solutions might look into.

Technological Advancements in CRM, 2012The most exciting feature of technology is how it co-relates and fuses with other technologies and produces results which weren’t really fathomed before. Certain areas which are rapidly forming way for new age CRM are:

Social CRM - A fast evolving concept which is growing by the day is Social CRM, also known as Collaborative CRM. The idea is to understand the client completely and engage the client in the process to provide an overall satisfying experience. The importance of Social CRM can be gauged from the growth in social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in where the growth in the number of users has been phenomenal. It is here that the social customer expresses his interests, enquires, makes his deals and gives feedback. It is fast becoming a process companies need to integrate into their systems for analyzing the future trends.

Voice-enabled software - Consider this, the recently launched iPhone 4S comes with your personal assistant - Siri. Siri can follow your voice commands and you can talk to it the way you would talk to a person. Though currently launched under Beta label, which admits to possible enhancements in future; the concept is certainly new age and a pointer towards future. Well iPhone 4s isn’t exactly a CRM tool, but it gives a direction to what future CRM software can encompass. As users get more exposed to such speech oriented technologies, the interactive capabilities shall grow manifold and the usage for CRM solutions then can multiply exponentially.

Real-time, anywhere - As the concept of CRM developed; companies have made heavy investments into the product. However, they are now increasingly looking at maximizing the return on their investments in a dynamically changing business scenario. Real time CRM analytics is already gaining prominence and is set to further revolutionize the way business is conducted. Responding to client’s request or enquiry in real time and maintaining the credibility and integrity of the decision making process is what will become of prime importance. What cannot be compromised alongside is the high level of personalization of information which will be sought. As the users get savvier and more demanding; efficiency, effectiveness, reliability, customization and speed of decision making will need a much higher level of integration. Also this information is made avaialble using tablets, mobile phones, sms, email, voice etc.

CRM solutions are so intrinsically embedded in the core concept of businesses, that the only way for it is forward. As environments change, technologies advance, users, providers and markets mature, the demands shall grow further and the need for innovation will be higher. Companies shall look forward to unlocking the potential and adding further dimensions to this ever-evolving concept, thereby scaling new heights.

Use Social CRM to Retain Positive Customer Perceptions

The concept of the social CRM has arrived to say the least. Almost every brand, emerging or established is now on Facebook fishing for ‘likes’. More personal than the mobile phone today, social media encompasses markets across hemispheres and is therefore one of the most effective tools for CRM now. Regardless of the giant leaps in social CRM and social media marketing and PR, the atypical customer still has a short attention span when it comes to social media. This makes social CRM a rather delicate and tricky matter on social media.

No brand can ever be absolutely sure what puts off or interests the customer. While established players leverage their position in the market and constantly make their presence felt through one or the other media, the smaller players always tread a dangerous path where a brand can quickly disappear into nothingness for a small mistake. Social media is no different and social CRM as a concept has consumer behaviour as its backbone.

Adverts on social media
Facebook has begun to categorize ads so that users know which ones are sponsored. Companies advertising on the popular social medium should be extra careful while choosing the image and designing the caption, as it needs to make an instant impression and grab attention. The photo of a cute baby cannot sell everything, though it is sure to get clicks. Google ads are gradually moving towards becoming annoying rather than interesting. However, the massive reach of these ads can be a great tool to make your brand visible.

Social media monitoring/ tracking is a great CRM tool for understanding customer sentiments. Product launches, name changes, new appointments, expansion plans and all other news of the company and the public’s reception to the same has the right platform for analysis through such research.
Most efficient choice?One of the biggest advantages of CRM through social media is that the platform is relatively cheap and sometimes even without a charge. While some experts may feel that it is the ultimate way to gauge free public opinion, there is however a tendency of Facebook users to support or oppose a cause or a brand without personal experience with the same. This tendency makes social CRM a rather complicated concept where authenticity of the opinions may often be a question.

In the present global economic scenario, brands need to find CRM solutions that are not just cost effective but can also drive sales to keep the top-line and bottom-line intact. To find a CRM solution that gives an edge over competitors at not only the social level but also from business prospective is thus a major challenge for big and small firms. With research firms venturing into sectors such as social media monitoring, tracking and marketing, the available options have increased.

Target audience
One definite advantage of social CRM is that firms can target customers in a far more filtered and segmented manner. This is not possible in any other form of CRM, as none of them are as interactive. Marketing, sales and services teams can expect feedback in seconds, making it a tremendous tool for emerging players to design and modify their products and services in accordance with customer needs. In terms of decision making, the CRM solution can provide not only specific data, but also allow a great deal of insight into public sentiments towards a product or service.

Google+ has already announced the expected launch of a business platform which will help segregate information for each department through the Circle mechanism. It is a matter of time before other players in the market also come up with solutions that can boost CRM for firms. In spite of the Google Wave project failing to make it big, a similar concept is bound to find more success with social media and cloud computing assuming such mythic proportions.

6 Ways to Ensure your CRM has High Impact

The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer”- Peter Drucker.

The above defines the objective and goal of business in extremely comprehensible and basic manner. It however embodies the basic fact of the business world. Customer is what a business caters to, at the end of the day. And CRM emphasizes the relationship in its name.

Is CRM the sure shot formula for success? What has been the trend among businesses that have adopted this popular evolving since past two decades? Do we have a confirmed answer for this? Or is there another dimension to consider? Let’s look at some statistics related to data analyzed by different research firms over the last decade or so -

2001- Gartner Group: 50% CRM Failure Rate
2002- Butler Group: 70% CRM Failure Rate
2002- Selling Power, CSO Forum: CRM 69.3% Failure Rate
2005- AMR Research: 18% CRM Failure Rate
2006- AMR Research: 31% CRM Failure Rate
2007- AMR Research: 29% CRM Failure Rate
2007- Economist Intelligence Unit: 56% CRM Failure Rate
2009- Forrester Research: 47% CRM Failure Rate

The failure rate of CRM solutions as analyzed by these firms has been clearly and consistently on the higher side. Though the firms analyzing data are different and may have used different parameters for their study, the figures definitely demand attention and seek answers.

So, looking at the above figures, should it not be assumed that CRM could be losing flavor with time. However, that is where the bigger anomaly lies.

CRM as a concept has been growing consistently; improving and improvising technically, getting a deeper penetration in the market and getting a bigger chunk of budget allocation year on year, by companies big and small. Statistics focusing on this aspect:

Research Organization
2004 IDC Research
Worldwide spending on SaaS touched $4.2 billion, 39% increase over 2003.
AMR Research
Hosted CRM sales reached $403 million, thereby posting a growth of 105%.
2005 Customer Interactions Solution Magazine
Global CRM software revenue was $7 billion, 13.7% increase over 2004
2006 AMR Research
CRM spending reached $12.6 billion mark
2007 AMR Research
With a 12% jump over previous year, CRM software market reached $14 billion
2009 IDC Research
“By the end of 2009, 76% of US organizations will use at least one SaaS delivered  application for business”
2010 Gartner Executive Programs (EXP) CIO agenda survey
attracting and retaining new customers will be the No.5 business priority for CIOs in 2010
2011 Gartner Group
CRM SaaS is forecast to grow 26% annually through 2011.
Gartner also predicted that by 2011, 25 % of new business software will be delivered by SaaS
2012 Gartner Group
Forecasts more than $12 billion overall spending on CRM software.  Spending on  social software will exceed $1 billion worldwide by 2013

Now, considering the statistics in both categories, a feature that emerges paramount is, in spite of the hiccups, CRM has grown and is further poised to grow. It further establishes the fact that companies do understand the importance of CRM and view it as a necessary requirement. Another detailed research can go into what causes CRM implementation failures or why are companies not able to reap full benefits of the system. But the entire situation highlights one prime objective- Organizations realize the potential of CRM solutions, however the need is to fully understand the utility and effects that,

a) will be brought by the new deployment
b) change management once the new system is implemented.

Maximizing the impact and utilizing the complete potential of CRM solutions, by driving that change in organizations, which is not just technology based, but is an integrated strategic methodology is High Impact CRM.

CRM could have been a management tool focusing on driving sales and numbers during infancy, but increasingly the idea is to adopt it as a strategy implementation tool. High Impact CRM works on that idea. The focus here is to look at the concept as a whole and if need be re-working the modus operandi as per the changing needs and requirements of the business environment.

Taking up a CRM initiative without clear objectives and measurable goals, acts as a big challenge later on. It is not a market frenzy that needs to be adopted just because it’s the trend. Neither is it a software solution that just needs to be deployed and used like any other technical tool. Allocating the budget, getting the applications on board and imparting training to end users, does not guarantee CRM success. When classified as a strategic tool, the focus moves to people and the overall sentiment of change involved. The importance of usage and the benefits need to be understood at every level in the organization.

"Successful CRM is about competing in the relationship dimension. Not as an alternative to having a competitive product or reasonable price - but as a differentiator. If your competitors are doing the same thing you are (as they generally are), product and price won't give you a long-term, sustainable competitive advantage. But if you can get an edge based on how customers feel about your company, it's a much stickier--sustainable--relationship over the long haul." - Bob Thompson, CustomerThink Corporation

The impact of CRM solutions varies from organization to organization. On-premise, cloud CRM, Social CRM; the technology is changing and the advancements are for everyone to reap. The premise also remains that ultimately the focus is Customer Relationship Management. However, companies can only benefit the most if the following factors are considered and applied well in advance:
  • Know your own requirements first - Every organization, even within the same industry domain, can have different requirements. It’s important to evaluate one’s own objectives and desirability and have an exact idea of expectations.
  • Define success - Before implementing the project, have quantifiable targets for deployment. Higher sales numbers, greater customer satisfaction, higher customer retention, increase in productivity, better transaction experience; to name a few. Not all of these are measurable in absolute numbers, but the agenda should be to focus on these factors as well and they should also be measured up to define the success or failure of CRM. Having right parameters and metrics plays a critical role in CRM implementation.
  • Educate the organization - it’s not just the user who needs to be aware, but the entire organization needs to be prepared for the change and should be aware of the advantages of the system.
  • Take care of cultural change - an organization that has been running in a particular fashion for some time, might require a change in culture. The focus has to shift to being customer centric at all times and during all transactions.
  • Special focus on all customer touch points - It is not just face meetings or telephonic conversations, which are important. When talking about the overall experience; everything right from pitching the product, giving quotes, follow ups (both verbal and written), sales process, billing, references, becomes crucial. For achieving maximum impact this feature needs definite focus. What would also ensue alongside is high level of inter departmental co-ordination. In effect what this would make internal customers within the organization equally important.
  • Understanding the evolution - Since the environment in which organizations operate these days is highly dynamic, an understanding of the fact is important that new features, ideas, applications would be incorporated time and again. CRM is a highly developing concept and organizations need to be aware of these changes and also analyze where their own benefit lies.
If all of the above factors are considered, what emerges as an obvious fact is that CRM implementation is not a just a technical change but an overall strategic turnaround. And that is what a High Impact CRM solution can do for an organization. It is a strategic move and is far beyond just technicality. The impact can be understood from the fact that if implemented in a planned and phased manner, the concept can finely integrate the organization from top to bottom, identifying a common goal and seeking overall efficiency and growth on every level.