Tailor CRM for All Contact Points

Today's online customers have more complex demands and higher expectations for great service than ever before. It is no longer good enough, for example, to offer only Web support. World-class customer relationship management must include every communications channel that customers use, from phone to fax, e-mail to chat.

Often, customers communicate with businesses through more than one channel within a single transaction. Customers not only want to interact with vendors through multiple communication channels, but they also demand the ability to move seamlessly from one medium to another.

Once a browser decides to become a customer, a whole range of potential customer interaction scenarios arise that engage the vendor's back-office applications. To provide complete customer satisfaction, all the resources and systems within the vendor must be fully integrated with the CRM process and made into customer-facing systems.

Beyond excellent communications, companies derive value from having a complete, 360-degree picture of their customers. It is important to know their recent purchases, customer service contacts, past warranty issues, preferences for communications channel and more.

Growing user demands are quickly shifting the focus of the CRM industry from sales-force-centric applications to customer-centric solutions. This shift places new requirements on the organization's CRM infrastructure. Traditional customer interaction methods, such as voice-only call centers and Internet-only electronic services and sales channels, are being replaced by multichannel customer interaction systems that combine all communications into one system.

Companies that can master these technologies can create high-value, lifelong customer relationships and deliver higher levels of customer satisfaction than ever.

Connecting islands of customer data. Companies that have already implemented a CRM suite know that it fails to present all relevant information in real time. A recent study by Gartner Group, Stamford, CT, indicates that the average Fortune 1,000 company stores customer data in a minimum of 10 disparate systems. Gartner does not expect this complex environment to simplify anytime soon.

Most companies cannot provide this type of information because it is organized in disparate databases across the enterprise. While CRM suites may look like an answer, they actually can compound the problem by creating another database with fragmented information about customers.

Imagine the effect on a business if its employees — at the point of interaction — were proactively presented with the answers to questions such as these: Does the customer have other accounts with the company? Did this customer receive an offer from marketing recently? Is there an unresolved problem that should be addressed before attempting to cross-sell?

In addition to establishing organizationwide oversight of CRM, smart executives will seek solutions that consolidate and dynamically route all types of customer contacts into a single profile matched to the best service representatives.

High-level strategy. Building such integrated CRM systems cannot be a matter for the information technology group alone. It must include the highest executive involvement and integration with overall enterprise business strategy.

The reason is that a complete solution will touch nearly every major domain of an enterprise. Thorough executive involvement means that organizations are changing their priorities and the way that they make decisions to be more CRM-savvy and include technology, business and customer service issues simultaneously. Because various business groups within a company can operate under different guidelines, budgets, etc., successful, integrated CRM systems must have the oversight from the highest-level executives and company strategists.

Historically, businesses have had two application options. First, they could purchase various point products from multiple vendors, then either integrate them inhouse or work with an external systems integration firm. Second, they could create a fully customized solution, either inhouse or through an outside consulting firm. Both solutions, however, have proved to be problematic.

While the point product solution is the cheaper of the two, it offers higher risk and a lower percentage success rate. Using current CRM software technology, it can take two years or more for a company to plan, integrate and deploy a rich CRM system. With vendor selection, architecture development, application integration and client environment integration, the task is complex and risky.

CRM is a team sport, so it must be played that way. To be successful, it must have executive power connecting the islands of customer data across multiple functional or divisional groups. CRM must be considered a core part of overall company strategy and addressed with personal responsibility for its proper implementation.

The real winners will be the customers They will reward vendors with loyalty and long-term sales that sustain a company for reliable growth and value.

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