3 Steps to Effective KOL Management

Pharma companies have realized how fierce the competition is right now, with not only big names trying to monopolize the market, but also generic drugs giving them a run for their money. With the ever escalating costs of drug manufacturing and patenting and the ever stringent rules and regulations that drug authorities keep cranking up with alarming regularity, KOL management has become very critical.

Using KOL management systems effectively
Enhancing KOL management with a CRM solution
A pharma company is often indiscriminate in hiring its sales representatives. For a pharma company, hiring an SR is hardly as important as grilling and training them to the extent that they can rattle off any drug’s side effects and contraindications even in their sleep. However, in today’s technology driven times, when Google has become accessible to pre-school kids and grandmas, it is impossible to simply expect a sales rep to give information about a drug in one breath and expect the person sitting in front of him to be uncritically impressed, least of all if they are a physician who knows much more about the drug than the sales rep does. Hence, pharma companies need to wake up and learn how to ensure their SRs are doing their job efficiently and effectively.

Regular updates and interactive sessions: It is common knowledge that pharma companies use regular update sessions in elaborate hotel settings for their best KOLs as a sign of appreciation and as an avenue for interaction. However, a crucial factor that pharma companies miss out on is interactive sessions for SRs. Merely being persuasive isn’t enough to convince a high end KOL. Instead, a good and competent SR will be well informed not only about the effects and side effects of a drug but will also be knowledgeable about a drug’s sales figures, survey responses and modifications under trials. These are simple yet incredibly powerful tools that could go a long way in not only ensuring that an SR convincingly incorporates a new and influential KOL into his pharma company, but also nurtures the relationship for a long time to come. Thus, maintaining a CRM software that not only updates SRs about drug modifications but also ensures that SRs regularly meet to discuss issues and strategies can aid in KOL management in the long run.
Relevant CRM solution features - knowledge management, activity management and alerts

Equipping SRs with the right tools: Whenever an SR approaches a KOL, they are usually equipped with a bright multi-coloured catalogue and a few samples of drugs. However, their simple and small single breath speech may or may not go down well with a KOL. Holding regular lectures on soft skills and ways to equip SRs with the right tools, whether it is drug related or not, helps in intriguing the KOL. Thus, SRs should work to not only comprehensively win over a KOL but should also maintain small feedback forms, that are quick and easy to fill with tick marks, on the reaction of the KOL to the drug and the sales rep. This can be fed into the CRM software, which can then help understand the trend that a certain drug is following and how well an SR is doing in helping the pharma company market that drug.
Relevant CRM solution features - training management, feedback, contact management, analytics

• Using social media for meeting sales targets: The only thing at the back of every SR’s mind is his target. If he meets his target, then he can breathe easy for a month, till his next target looms large over his head. However, such a myopic view could lead to problems in the future for the pharma company because it tempts certain SRs to turn to unorthodox and ethically questionable measures to meet sales targets. Thus, updating SRs with the benefits of incorporating technology into their sales regime will help them not only meet sales targets easily but will also help them explore their knowledge on the drug and the company. Using social media to increase awareness, drug reviews and positive trial outcomes could easily help spread the word to not only various potential customers but also various potential KOLs. Thus, social media is in fact one of the rare tools that helps target not only KOLs but also intrigues patients that are on the lookout for newer, alternative drugs with fewer side effects. A simple note ‘shared’, or a drug template ‘tagged’, could reach hundreds of people with a single click. So informing and guiding SRs on ways to use social media effectively will help them reach their targets easily and will help increase drug sales, leading to a win-win situation for everyone.
Relevant CRM solution features - sales automation, dashboards, escalation rules, social CRM, content library

Thus, using CRM software not only in managing and maintaining KOLs, but, also in managing and retaining competent SRs goes a long way for pharma companies. Many SRs tend to develop a bond with KOLs that they introduce to their pharma family. Seeing such a familiar face on a regular basis helps to improve the image and increase the credibility of a pharma company in the eyes of a KOL, thus, ensuring that trust is built and maintained, harvesting the seeds for a long standing, profitable relationship. After all, seeing a new face plugging the same drug in the face of the KOL every time is hardly going to do any good. Thus, using a KOL management system, which acts as a comprehensive, updated and interactive database for not only KOLs but also SRs, will ensure that the entire process of KOL management is properly executed, as this is the first step involved and like they say, "well begun is half done."

Using CRM to Simplify the Customer Onboarding Process for Banks

For banks, a combination of healthy CASA growth and smooth internal processes is essential for success. However, the competition has intensified to the point that banks want new customers to withdraw money from their existing accounts (with their competitors) and keep it in their savings account that offers 25-50bps more interest. This has led to snatching and stealing of customers to the extent that rates are more competitive and profitable than ever before for customers

Each bank has a different business model, yet the objectives of each remains the same - to attract new customers, to retain old customers and to enhance the loyalty of the existing ones. To achieve this, building a system that manages, monitors and leverages customer data effectively and facilitates informed decision making is mandatory. Sometimes all it takes is a little tweak of the internal model to achieve unprecedented success.

With the advent of social networking and global competition, banks are sensitized to the need for efficient onboarding of customers for new accounts and the dispersal of information/ welcome kits to new account holders. Streamlining the process to ensure compliance with internal timelines and ensuring optimized customer experience from scratch is critical to gain a strong foothold in a business landscape dotted with competitors.

Bank Account Opening Process
CRM software can be an effective tool in enhancing business models. Several renowned banks have witnessed amazingly successful CRM implementations. At every step, the platforms assist the departments to achieve a smooth and effective model that is aligned with the primary and secondary objectives of the organisation. A good example of CRM in banking is the CRMnext implementation at HDFC Bank, where over 30,000 users reap the benefits of optimized processes to manage day-to-day operations.

Let us have a look at how CRMs can help improve basic processes in a banking model:

Prospecting phase - Managing massive databases was never easier as CRM software help segregate data effectively. The tedious work of classifying leads, setting up appointments and organizing the background information of the prospective client base has been reduced significantly by these systems that eventually allows the marketing and sales teams to concentrate solely on their primary functions. These systems can also help filter data (from duplicate/incomplete details) that enhances the quality of the databases. With real time data and secure sharing options, sales and business development teams can coordinate better and the former’s meeting and follow up schedules are always up to date.

Approval phase - This phase involves a great deal of document hard copies that are tough to manage. Bank officials often struggle to keep all the documents safely preserved while a lot of scanned copies also do the rounds online. Organizing the data at this stage is a crucial part of stepping up the processing of the accounts. CRM solutions go a long way in sorting the issue with a simple user interface that instructs the user about the preservation, transfer, documentation, clearance, dispatch and attestations. A step by step breakdown of the procedures allows experienced employees and freshers to deal with documentation effectively and safely.

Finalization phase- As the account processing enters this phase, the documentation becomes more crucial. An automated system ensures that the processing of the documents and required subsequent actions such as physical verification/scrutiny take place within the time framework. Earlier, when the work of CRM solutions were done manually by bank employees, it was this phase of the processing that took the maximum amount of time and was also prone to the maximum errors. Thanks to these advanced systems, today, customers can expect loans, investments and other financial products to be activated within days of applying.

CRM solutions can be a useful tool in building effective onboarding strategies that are aligned with the marketing and sales plan of banks and other financial organisations. By incorporating assignment rules, escalations and customized alerts, managers can ensure their front end and fleet on street are performing at optimal levels. In addition, real-time customer information and efficient activity management can ensure a more efficient onboarding process with a far lower likelihood of customer churn.

8 Factors to Consider when Evaluating CRM Software for Lead Management

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a concept which inundated the business world in the 1990s with the promise of changing the way businesses would target and interact with their customer base. For many reasons, early CRM systems proved too expensive to customize and to maintain.

Throughout the decade changes continued to CRM systems for making them easy to customize and maintain. Businesses also began to look outside the system – using it as a two way street – providing information back to the customers. This heralded the beginning of such popular programs as Frequent Flyer Miles and stores' loyalty programs. CRM also became a tool for lead generation and not simply customer retention.
Sales automation for faster lead conversions
As systems have become more turn-key and more readily customizable more and more companies are entering the world of CRM. This article will help you define the eight key elements which will enable effective lead management through CRM.

1. Multi-channel lead management Research from Gleanster, a survey based research project out of Evanston, Illinois says the upward of 50% of all leads generated aren’t ready to buy on the day they are first contacted. Lead generation is time and resource intensive. In light of the Gleanster findings you will want to manage these leads going forward.

First, the company must develop a detailed definition of a 'lead' and be sure that all those in contact with the system have a complete understanding of the definition. Once the definition has been established, the sources for leads can begin to be tracked. Common lead generation channels include:
  • Referrals 
  • Online banner or some other form of advertising 
  • Industry directories 
  • Purchased leads lists/ third party information and databases 
  • Commerce web sites 
  • Social network marketing such as Twitter, text and mobile media 
  • Direct marketing including warranty card information 
2. Lead collection and tracking
It is important that the CRM system has the capability to capture information about each and every interaction a customer has with your company. It is not enough; however, to simply capture one source the system must capture the initial source and all intervening customer contacts.

The system must be adaptable to acceptance of new channels and deletion of non-responsive or non-effective channels. The system must accurately record the lead generation channel for future use and analysis. It is through the analysis of this information that a company will be able to determine the number of times they must “touch” a lead prior to consummating a sale.

Simply put, if you don’t know where the customer is coming from you’ll never know where to look for new customers just like him.

3. Business Analytics, Business Intelligence and Key Performance Indicators 
Business Analytics - 
Business Analytics are defined by TechTarget and other sources as an iterative, methodical exploration of an organization’s data with emphasis on statistical analysis. Data driven companies will use Business Analytics to optimize their business processes. Examples of Business Analytics include, but, are not limited to:
  • Exploring the data to find patterns in the relationships which can be applied to customers with similar profiles. 
  • Analysis of a specific result and how that result was achieved.
  • Providing forecasting through predictive modeling. 
Business Intelligence - 
Business Intelligence, while closely related to business analytics is not identical in what is provided to the company, Business Intelligence can be viewed as a system designed to answer the four classic marketing questions of:
  • Who bought from the company 
  • What did they by from the company 
  • Where did they buy from 
  • How many units are purchased in a single transaction 
Where Business Intelligence asks “what happened” Business Analytics ask “why did that happen.” Business intelligence asks “when” while Business Analytics asks “will this happen again.” In many ways, Business Analytics will prove more influential in making solid management decisions as it is predictive and not static information.

Key Performance Indicators -
A key performance indicator is a measure which can be quantified and used to determine how well a company is meeting its operational and strategic goals. The information from Business Analytics and Business Intelligence form the backbone of the Key Performance Indicators. There are several key elements in the defining of a key performance indicator:
  • They are quantifiable – expressed as a whole number or a percentage of a whole number 
  • They are practical – they support the company’s mission and goals 
  • They are directional – they tell a company if their performance is changing in anyway
  • They are actionable – they can be assigned and carried out to specification 
The use of Business Analytics' predictive qualities and the anecdotal qualities of Business Intelligence support and help establish the Key Performance Indicators. The system must then be able to produce management/ staff friendly reports highlighting the analytical aspects of the data, the intelligence aspects of the data and show how these elements support the Key Performance indicators. Reports must be user friendly and adaptable to specific queries.

4. Augmentation of Leads
Not all leads are created equal. Some contain one hundred percent of the information required while other records have missing pieces.

What is meant by the augmentation of leads is that a company fills in the “blanks” in a customer’s profile using resources other than the customer. A primary and simplistic example is an address which does not have a postal or zip code provided. By using the local post office the postal or zip code is located and attached to the appropriate file.’

While postal or zip codes, phone numbers and area codes can be rather simple to acquire and append many of the “blanks” in a customer’s profile are not easily available to the public. In these cases there are numerous third part vendors who supply prospect lists which carry complete customer profiles.

In some cases this data is used solely as an internal update source, allowing the appending of missing data and updating other areas of the profile. They may be used to “clean” the data base of duplicates or files which have become inactive.

5. Lead scoring
All leads do not carry the same potential, therefore, lead scoring can be used to determine which leads have the greatest potential for success.

Before leads can be scored, it is imperative that the company develop and agree on what is a 'high potential qualified lead'. This definition must be developed and agreed upon by all who may have contact with the customer – marketing, sales, and customer service. This definition will highlight the explicit information required on a customer and the information which will require augmentation.

The data will then be looked at for the best matches – what information does the company possess about the person and if based on this information are there any ideal lead candidates. Then data will be looked at for potential “engagement” – what will be required of the company to turn the lead into a sale. Using these two dimensions a matrix can be developed which elevates the most likely candidates to the forefront.

Lead scoring is not a stand-alone or static application. Each time a customer is engaged by the company or seeks out the company it must be entered into the scoring matrix. If the matrix is not updated on a continuous basis the leads generated from it will be moot.

With a multi-departmental CRM solution it must be mandatory that all contact information on a customer be entered immediately so that the lead does not degenerate.

6. Lead nurturing
What do you do with the leads on the matrix that have high potential but are not yet ready to purchase? These leads must be nurtured until such time as they are qualified sales leads. The purpose of scoring and nurturing is to become more effective at closing the deal. The basic approach to lead nurturing: 
  • Focus on the prospect – understand the prospect so that any and all communication with them will be relevant (targeted) to them. 
  • Focus on a consistent message – message reinforcement of a central principle will enable the leveraging of all communications to the prospect. 
  • Focus on the process – be aware of buying cycles and economic turns which can be leveraged to move a lead to purchase. 
A CRM solution will enable the marketing department to maintain their focus on the lead and will provide them with relevant information which will allow the reinforcement of the central principle as defined by the organization.

7.  Lead management process
The lead management process is the conduit by which leads which are developed and nurtured by the marketing department are passed to the sales force for closure of the sale. For lead management to work, leads must be clearly defined: 
  • Demographically –where are your customers 
  • Behaviorally – how often do they purchase 
  • Lead Source – where do your most effective leads come from and is this lead identical 
Once a lead is defined, it must be fostered until they are ready for purchase. The scoring application of the system will enable this process to take place – moving a potential lead up the matrix until it is ready to be passed off to the sales department. The marketing or services department which forwards a lead must also provide the sales department with all relevant information about the lead. In turn, the sales department then takes on the task of cultivation until the lead is ready to purchase.

The CRM software should be designed to accurately provide timed information which will support the lead management process

8. Integration and APIs 
The ability to integrate with a third party system provides access to leads which may not be in the immediate target market – but have high potential to move into this target. With this integration every opportunity has the ability to be realized and converted in real-time. APIs or application programming interfaces allow the CRM software to request other software systems to provide data or perform services which are not part of your usual system.

Integration of a CRM solution and one or multiple APIs allows for a closed system of marketing. Through integration the first seven elements can be enhanced and expanded, providing a competitive edge in the market place.

6 Reasons for Sharing Company Objectives Through a Social Interface

Social networking is bursting in popularity and the one obvious indication that comes to surface is how individuals enjoying ‘sharing’ occurrences in both their personal and professional lives. Employee recognition and appreciation is magnified further when consistent social feedback is provided through awards, comments, likes and more. Positive comments and feedback on recognizable social platforms and even company intranets provide a huge boost to employee morale.

It has been discovered that just about 19% of organisational employees from various industries manage to align their goals with overall business objectives, whereas over 65% employees remain disengaged. A primary reason for this is the growing grudge employees increasingly feel these days when it comes to annual performance reviews. Performance appraisals conducted once a year are viewed as too late, not enough, and feel like a reprimanding annual report card. It is also a general feeling among organisational workforce that performance appraisals conducted only one time in a year are largely based on the manager’s discretion and rating is mostly based on events that are recent. Quality of feedback is not up to the mark either, as the work performed by employees in the process of working with their cross-functional teams is not completely captured and taken into consideration. As a result, focus is lost on the larger picture as far as overall long-term employee contribution is concerned.

Samuel Culbert has mentioned in the Wall Street Journal that Annual Performance Reviews discourage teamwork, result in morale lowering and destruction, and adversely affect the bottom line.

Social Performance Management (SPM) – an overview
The main issue in recent times is that today’s generation craves and appreciates constant praise for their efforts, and productive feedback to help them function better and boost their morale. This recognition is wanted in a notably visible format.

A pat on the back for significant achievements and fruitful contributions is what every person truly wants. Old school reward schemes and compensate-as-per-performance incentives are not satisfactory any longer. In light of this fact, an international group named “Recognition Council” has been created. This Council aims at raising awareness about how rewards and recognition in varied forms form a notable part of effective business strategies and thereby elevate business performance.

Social Performance Management (SPM) steps in as a solution to all these problems -
a social interface to transparently share objectives, goals and achievements. A fairly recent business dimension, however, SPM works wonders as it enables organisations to explore undiscovered talent; engage people in better and interesting ways; align social goals with those of the business with more speed and intelligence, and as a result produce excellent business outcomes.

Performance management using social networking outlets
Professional recognition made ‘socially’ visible is the new driving factor that augments employee engagement, motivation and subsequently retention. It is a clever approach to performance management through an additional social interface layer for employee appraisal. Praiseworthy efforts of the workforce are showcased openly on a public platform and top performers are awarded special badges for their specific achievements.

Social media tools and mobile applications have given a whole new dimension to employee recognition. The tools are immediate, interactive, informal and very frequent, and above all are visible to everyone. Offline praises are moved on to an online, public, and highly visible forum. They bring forth employee accomplishments, inputs, skills and knowledge for jubilation out in the open.

Earning overall social visibility has an inherent feel-good factor that is hard to ignore. Therefore, it only makes sense to align these motivational triggers with organisations' platforms so that employees are rewarded with ‘real time’ recognition at every relevant opportunity, all year round, even when on the move. In addition, requesting or sharing feedback ensures clarity and makes matching expectations of reporting managers easier.

Why  use Social Performance Management?
Jeffrey Mann – VP, Gartner Research - opines that Social software can have a positive business impact from overall company point of view, since it creates an open and collaborative work environment by altering organisational culture for the better. It is quick, easy, and secure even when used on internal networking sites. At just a nominal cost, the impact is massive and value extraordinary. This apart, the non-monetary recognition adds value of its own.
  • Synergy in conversations - SPM is a valuable tool that promotes valuable mentoring, timely and actionable training and above all a high degree of motivation to workforces.
  • Empower employees - Using SPM, managers clearly demonstrate deeper interests in elevating employee performance levels by providing coaching and also opening up avenues to connect with mentors and experts.
  • Share and request feedback - A 360 degree view of feedback from across departments and roles is captured every single day for each individual. This information can be used used for appraisals too - regularly capturing feedback makes yearly reviews seem fair and relevant. The result is a highly charged performance culture where each person’s feedback matters.
  • Highlight outstanding achievements - Visible inputs from all business networks and cross-functional teams enables managers to quickly notice worthwhile contributions and immediately put forth their appreciation. By awarding 'Badges' to top performers with associated reward points, managers can ensure their team is competitive and highly motivated. Also, people across the organization can view badges awarded for contributing towards team goals/ company objectives.
  • Clear visibility - Rapid alignment and continuous communication between employees and managers assists everyone to gain clarity in understanding how business outcomes are impacted by their work through a friendly interface. This creates further motivation and drives engagement.
  • Multi-department collaborations - Often, while engaging in talent reviews and succession planning, the concerned executives have visibility limited to those people in their own immediate Business Unit. However, leveraging social network visibility makes discovering talent from other BU’s quicker and easier. This creates a broader talent pool and important projects are better executed.
  • Optimal CRM - if the SPM is part of your organization's CRM solution, it can ensure quantitative and qualitative analysis of the achievements of teams related to customers. In addition, hyperlinking comments to records within the CRM software ensure better transparency and enhanced collaborations. 
Using SPM for impacting employee psyche and assisting in goal alignment
The Social Recognition and Employees’ Organisational Support conducted a research where almost 1,000 employees from various service organisations were studied. They concluded that recognition of efforts socially on public forums intensify self-respect as a result of which the workforce makes better efforts to align their goals with the best interests of the company. 
Visible validation: 
  • Social approval and appreciation make employees feel that their efforts do not go unnoticed.
  • This feeling is amplified further with approvals and congratulatory remarks from all over.
  • The validation enhances their self worth and self perception within the company.
  • The workforce feels naturally more loyal, inclined, supportive, and anxious to improve their performance even more, and thus a deeper connection with the organisation is established. 
Dual benefits:
When employee success stories are broadcast, there are dual benefits.
  • The concerned employees are encouraged to continue in their upward performance curve.
  • Other people in the organisation also feel motivated to act similarly and earn success and appreciation like their co-workers.
  • From the organisational point of view, an opportunity is directly created to epitomize the liked and valued behavior and activities, thus re-in forcing the corporate culture that the company truly desires. On the other hand, the euphoric recipients will use social networking sites as a medium to make public claims of how their company is a great place to be working in where good work never goes unappreciated.
Horizontal recognition: 
Apart from recognition across verticals, there is also the aspect of horizontal recognition where peers notice one another. The management benefits substantially because it not only helps to tap key talent, but also assists in performance reviews. Employees know what kind of performance should be projected on a regular basis while management can directly take note of the employees’ behavior and performance.

To summarize.. 
Many renowned companies are gradually turning social/public recognition into a company asset and reaping tangible as well as intangible rewards at all levels. KPMG, P & G, Symantec, DHL are some companies which have reported a considerable rise in employee engagement in less than one year using SPM.

However, even though social performance management offers a host of unmatched benefits, research shows that top corporate organisations which have earned rewards and recognition for best business practices use a healthy balance between monetary and non-monetary rewards in combination with social recognition. Also, SPM should not be perceived as the top management's policing tool to ensure employees are being carefully monitored to track their contributions and achievements.

In a nutshell, SPM helps engaging and mobilizing top performing teams, offers continuous training, guidance and mentoring using social feedback as the platform and thereby raises performance to topmost levels. Simultaneously, business is positively impacted since there is rapid goal alignment. In addition – unknown, hidden talent is brought to the surface, key information brokers are pin pointed and appropriate reward and retention plans can be created for all deserving workforce.

However, what truly sets SPM a class apart is its spontaneity and unexpectedness. With relatively minor monetary outputs from companies, a huge impact (largely intangible) is created. Employees are elated that their work, time and efforts have been acknowledged, appreciated and applauded.

Effective CRM Progressively Enhances Customer Experience

It is common knowledge in the business world that “the customer is always right”. This age old adage has been the mantra for all business types whether or not in every instance the owner actually believes that is the case. Often business owners find the opportunity for employee sensitivity to be one-dimensional. Handling customers' needs only after there has been a negative issue opposed to providing training in how to deal with a variety of scenarios successfully during their hiring process would defuse any negative ties to your business.

Have you ever been in a restaurant and noticed that difficult patron that has an issue with their table, their silverware, their drink, their meal and then finally their bill? If you haven’t witnessed an incident like this one first hand you might have been the difficult patron, but I digress.

Recently on a dinner outing with some friends, I had the privilege of witnessing two of the greatest exhibitions of employee sensitivity and customer relationship management that I had ever seen before. It’s already understood that a job that deals with the public in such a personal manner (that of feeding you) would have to be dealt with in a very thoughtful and sensitive manner, but the length of patience entailed by the employees in the restaurant business are unparalleled.

First, a woman and her husband were out for what seemed like a romantic diner for two. They were escorted to their table close to the bar area as the hostess motioned them to their seats, immediately the woman glanced around and noticed a more appealing table. She then informed the hostess that she would rather be seated away from the bar and blatantly demanded another table. Although it was a full restaurant and customers were being seating by a rotating station method the hostess complied with the woman’s request and proceeded to seat them next to my table (a table for a larger party) and let them know that a member of the wait staff would be over soon. The hostess obviously ignored protocol and made adjustment to appease the couple.

Next, as the couple sat waiting for their server the woman systematically began to pick apart all that she didn’t like about the table. I knew for certain that this was not going to be good.  Finally the waiter approached their table and introduced himself. Before he could get out another sentence the woman began with her complaint. “Wow, it took you forever to get over to our table, we’ve been waiting for over 15 minutes with no bread or drinks.” The woman was rude and a bit condescending with her remarks.

I braced myself for the waiter’s response. “I am so sorry ma’am we had a slight issue with our computer system, but it is back up, I apologize for the wait, can I get you a complimentary beverage while you decide on your orders?” I was shocked at the calm and composure in which the waiter handled the customers attitude and obviously so was the woman.

Her only response was “Thank you so much I will have a lemonade.” In an instant the situation was defused. At the end of the evening the waiter brought over their bill and thanked them for their service, apologized again for the wait earlier and invited them to visit their website and fill out a customer survey for a discount coupon for their next meal.

No doubt both the hostess and the waiter had been trained in employee sensitivity and making sure that regardless of the situation the customer is always right and should be made priority and appeased in every way possible. In today’s competitive business arena building your customer base and maintaining them makes a difference. Had the hostess not complied with their table change or the waiter had openly taken offense to the woman’s tone not only would they have probably never returned to the restaurant but undoubtedly they would of taken the opportunity to enter in negative reviews of their experience on the survey. 

Tracking customer opinions
In the restaurant business alone the opportunity for operational CRM and collaborative CRM can be the foundation for a successful business. After all the lifeline of the business can be gauged by word-of-mouth experiences that tie into a more structured and analytical process of surveying a customers experiences and how the employees handle their needs. Another key tool to ensure CRM success is social CRM, using which an organization can use Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and more to clearly determine the mindsets of specific types of customers, forecast demand for new products or services and track customers' experiences with their frontline staff.

I learnt later from a friend who is a food critic with a local magazine, that the couple at the restaurant were probably eating there for the first time. Usually, the staff would use their CRM software to study the preferences of a regular customer and carefully optimize their dining experience by making suggestions based on a carefully collated holistic customer profile which would include details of their feedback form, social networking comments of relevance and information (date, time, branch, etc.) on their previous visits including what dishes they ordered. For example, if they know a particular customer is allergic to seafood and enjoys drinking vintage wine, they would accordingly shortlist the most relevant items from their kitchen and cellar to offer the guest. With time, they would build strong customer loyalty by continually optimizing their shortlist of food and wine to offer this customer based on previous customer interactions.

Training employees to deal with all kinds of customers, the many demands and in some cases personality issues weigh heavy. As business owners, it is imperative that you champion your employees with the training necessary to succeed in making your customers priority and implementing tools that can gauge those experiences. 

Leveraging Social Media to Enhance Customer Relationship Management

Social Media is not just about vastly popular networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook – it is about brands engaging in conversations. It is about people interacting live with companies, products and brands; gaining and giving insights; and being ‘virtually’ vocal about their ‘likes’ and dislikes.

Obviously, ignorance is not really bliss when it comes to social networking. Understanding this, several CRM software vendors are acquiring startups which empower businesses to deftly manage the growing number and variety of social media platforms.

Fruitful alignment of social media with company CRM systems, which is - adding an additional ‘social’ layer to existing CRM systems, brings about higher productivity levels for end users and is the inevitable path to success.

It is however important for organizations to realize that real success lies not in revolutionary infrastructural amendments, but in important evolutionary ones. A key point to remember is that CRM users should not merely use this channel as an outbound marketing effort, but should literally “listen and have their eyes open” using social CRM applications. Doing so will facilitate intelligent information capture and significant reductions in customer service costs.

The issues with old CRM software
Shoddily executed CRM programs can be a complete disaster for both customers as well as companies, giving rise to different connotations to the CRM abbreviation. Customer Relationship “Management”? Not really.

An annoying IVR system which causes frustrated and “agent desperate” customers may as well be labeled Customer Relationship 'Minimization'!

A CRM system that makes absurd presumptions about the complete future purchasing profile based on one single transaction can be referred to as Customer Relationship 'Mechanization'. Still other times could make customers swear that it is nothing but Manipulation when they are fooled with fake personalized mails. But, worst of all is Customer Relationship 'Monetization' – advertising, inquiring, following-up and an overall information overload from ten different departments of the same company!

What is forgotten is that CRM is all about reciprocal relationships based on 'trust' and not mere 'information'. When too much emphasis is laid on capturing and leveraging data, trust is naturally compromised upon. The biggest trouble with traditional CRM systems is that relationships are converted into rules and people into data, forgetting that an inanimate database can never match up to live assistance by a real person.

Emergence of Social Media
  • Regardless of the fact that social media is a relatively recent development in the business world, it is becoming an increasingly vital aspect of sales and marketing efforts and also a stabilizing platform for client base development. 
  • As of today, social media marketing is not just viewed as a passing phase, but is now perceived as a flexible, productive tool for better business opportunities and higher market exposure. 
  • The ‘Big Three’ – Google plus, Facebook and Twitter have now become inseparable from any smart business strategy that forward-looking businesses incorporate in both traditional as well as digital market spaces. What was earlier seen as achievable only through a traditional website, now needs added support by strong, receptive social media tools.
Understand the Business – and Capitalize
No matter what the nature and size of business, it is crucial to closely understand company strengths, weaknesses, products and services, and target market. Success in social media marketing largely depends on knowing your business in and out.
  • Customer retention: For local / smaller companies, it makes sense to use social medial to offer close, personalized services and thereby build a loyal and dedicated client base. 
  • Increase visibility: Larger companies should use social media to capture a bigger audience and thereby gain national and even international exposure for brands. 
  • Stand out: If those products and services are offered which are purchased primarily by individuals, social media can be used to cultivate a large customer pool that differentiate your brand based on aspects like modernity, stylishness, better quality, easy availability, etc. 
  • Improve networking: If the service or product is mainly bought by other businesses, then social media tools can be effectively utilized in order to network with other businesses and organizations to elevate market place visibility commercially.
Sales, Marketing and Social CRM mutuality
In the current market scenario, social CRM is heavily encompassing the world of sales. According to Gartner, this industry is going to grow at the rate of 11% of all CRM by the end of 2012. The reason why social CRM is rapidly seeping into company plans and strategies is because it enables organizations to harness cost cutting opportunities by offering various channels to reach out to customers quickly and more effectively.

However, even though Social CRM empowers the sales personnel to connect with customers at amazingly high speeds, it must always be borne in mind that social CRM and basic sales tools must always complement each other, let us see how:
  • Blend: The power of personal connection should never be underestimated. Before moving towards finalization of a sale, clients would prefer getting to know the company beyond the online profile. Blend social CRM strategies seamlessly with the old school personal phone calls and messages. 
  • True projections: It is a fact that virtual conversations are instrumental in building mental images of who the person beyond the virtual world is. 
  • Consistency: Interacting with clients via social CRM is delicate and it is very important to maintain the same conversation tone and persona which would have been used in person. Clients want to meet the same person they “spoke” to over social networking websites. 
  • Keep it crisp: Usage of complex language and jargon is a big no-no when it comes to pitching. Explain ideas and concepts with simplicity and clarity to avoid confusion. If a particular social networking site has a word limit, use it as an advantage to make a crisp and concise sales pitch. 
  • Net Etiquette: It is a common mistake to lose the tact that face-to-face conversations include, when engaging in online conversations. While making a sales pitch, care should be taken that the customers are given a fair chance to talk in as much detail as they wish and to carefully understand and listen to everything they voice. 
  • Integrate: Integrate social media with marketing platforms to automatically generate information forms, and create sharply targeted marketing campaigns. 
  • Collaborate: By smartly merging social media tools with sales and marketing efforts, overall employee productivity is raised. This is due to the “push” mechanisms facilitated by the social platforms which make sure that employees stay updated and engaged, and spend less time on non-core activities.
Amalgamation of Social Media with CRM Systems
Social media merged with existing CRM systems in an intelligent manner can bring forth a plethora of advantages such as -
Capturing specific Tweets with SCRM
  • Centralized management of social media contests, promotions, advertising and measurement
  • Social media audience research and acquisition, content promotion and measurement tools
  • Competitor insights from Facebook, Twitter, etc. directly delivered to dashboards
  • Messages can be published on popular social networking websites quickly and easily
  • Detailed, graphical and informative reports presented intra-company and also to stakeholders. For clients particular about reports and data, PDF and CSV exports are provided
  • Team collaboration helps in campaign creation as a group, also campaign reach is increased
  • Better tracking of ROI
  • Businesses better equipped to monitor, manage and measure their reach across the various social media channels
  • Higher business and market exposure
  • Innovative and productive sales pitch
  • Reduction in marketing expenditure
  • Newer, better business collaborations
  • Qualified sales leads, rise in conversion rates and won deals
Social media is all about people and relationships. It is an inexpensive yet time-intensive marketing instrument to connect with customers and gain important insights. These connections can then be leveraged to elevate brand awareness and make a strong impact.

From customer sentiment analysis to social customer portals, companies are taking advantage of the benefits of social media to increase customer engagement, improve brand visibility, and reduce costs. Consumers openly share their opinions and suggestions with total strangers through social networks and often subscribe for real-time updates about their favorite personalities, TV shows or brands.

In due course, a shiny new generation of social applications is going to emerge. The learning curve is still developing for both companies and customers. The key is to strike the correct balance between traditional, SaaS and social CRM to reap the benefits.

Tools are dead objects without the skills and expertise of end users. Understanding this, companies must focus on the development of their social media roadmap and implementation of the most appropriate supporting software.

Just like clients should never be bombarded with persistent meeting requests and cold calls, going overboard with social CRM by sending constant online requests and messages is also not recommended. In order to achieve growth and success, client-company social CRM interactions must be respectful, polite and spiced with the right amount of persistence.

Turning Around Customer Perceptions with Actionable Insights

Have you ever been stranded in an airport for reasons other than a weather issue? Airlines are systematically wrecking havoc on their customer’s lives through insufficient crews set up to man flights with no feasible CRM systems in place. Recently, I was traveling from North Carolina to New York on a popular airline for a family function to be held later that afternoon. I booked an early morning flight, which was set to department RDU airport bright and early at 5:30 am and scheduled to arrive at LaGuardia Airport at 8:30 am. Leaving approximately 8 hours until the event.

When I arrived at the airport two hours prior to my flight (3:30 am) and made it through security once they opened up at 4:30 am, my phone rang from an 800 number.  I answered the phone to hear a recording stating that my flight had been delayed and would no longer be departing at 5:30 am, but, instead at 6:15 am due to delayed arrival of the flight crew.  Although this method of CRM would normally be effective, with the new security guidelines in place for airports, being informed one hour prior to your flight means it is more than likely you are already at the airport.

With no other alternative, I proceeded to the relevant departure gate to wait.  At 6:15 am the flight marquee changed once again, indicating that the flight was now cancelled because the flight crew was unavailable.  As over 150 passengers became disgruntled and everyone pointed out how their plans were now ruined for their cruise trips, connecting international flights, important business meetings and family functions that they would now inevitably miss and so on. The boarding staff now worked to contain this hostile crowd and find them alternative means of getting to their destinations.

The airline tried to accommodate passengers by rerouting them on other flights within their airlines and other airlines as well. In my case, I was traveling with a small child and there were no flights with two seats available on anything that would get me to New York in time for the event.

It seemed, I had no other choice but to camp out at the airport gate and wait 6 hours for the next available flight to New York that had two seats.  Just then, my mobile rang, "Ma'am, this is Jennifer, I can see on my computer that you have missed your flight to NYC and are traveling with a child. We're very sorry to put you in this situation and would like to offer you two passes for the Platinum Lounge until the departure time for your flight, all facilities and meals will be complimentary. We would also like to upgrade you to first class for your trip to New York and back!"

"That's OK, but, I will be late for my family function!" I responded.

"Oh!..Let me coordinate with the team in LaGuardia, they'll ensure you can disembark the flight and be transported to your family gathering in the shortest time possible," Jennifer said emphatically. 

Holistic customer view
Unfortunately, there were many passengers that could not be given restitution - they were missing cruise ships and could not reschedule time off work to take a different cruise. One woman was a bridesmaid at a wedding and there was no way she would get to her destination until the next day. The airline tried its best to keep everyone as happy as possible under the current circumstances, I'm sure their CRM software played a big role in identifying the optimal solution for each passenger's issues. I could tell a lot of their frequent customers and other international travelers were offered discounts and coupons that would compromise for the airlines poor performance on this particular day. 

While being driven to my family gathering in the airline's limousine, I wondered, although, the airline made attempts to diminish the anguish of a cancelled flight, the restitution definitely did not compensate for the lost time. 

It would be interesting to find out how many of the over 150 passengers whose plans were ruined that day have returned to this airline for other flights - regardless of the freebies and pampering offered to each, consumers rarely forget a negative customer experience.