Customer relationship management systems can be found in all shapes and sizes; their central purpose to help you gather data which leads to a better understanding of your customers. Only by understanding your customer will you be able to: offer them the customer experience they desire; assist them in buying the products they need or want; improve internal efficiency; identify new customer and product opportunities. In effect: only by understanding your customers will you create organisational success.
The value of the intelligence that you get out of CRM systems is only as good as the quality of the data that’s collected; therein lies the challenge. In order to capture up to date, meaningful and valuable information on your customers, share it across all your internal teams to create a joined up, holistic service to your customer; you need to create full alignment within your internal culture.
What does this mean? ‘Understanding your customer’ needs to be more than a one off project; reserved for the few; it needs to be embedded in the culture of the organisation. All employees must embrace it; the reward system must incentivise it; Management Information must measure it and customer feedback should shape it.
To help bring some of these CRM discussions into reality, below I have outlined a few scenarios which we’ve experienced in working with our clients.
Customer advocacy: can you measure it?
Many companies are struggling to find the right solution to generating more income when in actual fact the answer to that problem is right under their noses. Companies shouldn’t underestimate the hidden value of their customers; a great customer experience strengthens the emotional connection with customers and then manifest itself in customer advocacy; most of which you will never hear about.
The power of customer advocacy has never been more real, with more choice being made available to customers and an increasing squeeze on disposable income encouraging customers to analyse their spending in more detail. Sales through improved service is a strategy which can make a huge difference to both the customer experience and ultimately the success of the business.
So what’s all this got to do with CRM? Before we start exploring this, lets define what customer advocacy is in a little more detail.
A standard referral is simply the passing on of details at arms length without committing to the quality or direct suitability for the particular problem at hand. A good example of this would be providing someone with the details of the nearest garage, you may not know whether they solve the specific mechanical problem for the person, you have simply pointed them in the right direction.
Customer advocacy goes far beyond this, as the Advocate is putting forward a personal recommendation; and therefore essentially putting their own reputation on the line by advocating you. True advocacy, comes not just from delivering technical competence, but also from customer service too.
I could name dozens of businesses and people that I have advocated as potential suppliers or partners, all of whom say after they’ve started with new a service provider how happy they are and what a difference it makes – which is not surprising. What’s really interesting is that most of these (if not all), are just taking my recommendation and just getting on with it, so the advocacy is extremely powerful in attracting new clients.
However, the reverse can equally be true, as much as customers can advocate you and bring you more new customers, by the same power of recommendation; they could also be discouraging potential customers. This is why ensuring that your customer service delivery matches customer expectations is so important.
So where does CRM come into play? A CRM solution which enables an organisation to capture information about customer advocacy; and use this insight for profiling customers (and potential customers) and the relationship they have with the customer, will be extremely powerful. This takes it beyond the transactional level of just a ‘customer database’ including: contact history; communication preferences; and predictive cross-sell/up-sell opportunities. Many organisations use the Net Promoter Index to gauge the level of customer advocacy; this provides management information but not intelligence. Net Promoter outlines the likelihood of Advocacy, not an actual measurement of the customer advocacy happening for the organisation, which is much more meaningful. A CRM solution which allows an organisation to track referrals will enable them to develop customer insight on a deeper level, thereby forging a stronger relationship, and offering rewards for the organisation in terms of retention, sales and new clients through advocacy.
Improving efficiency : avoid eliminating your vital customer interaction points
We have seen organisations re-engineer processes and customer interactions in order to improve operational efficiency; but then in streamlining processes and using CRM solutions to automate tasks, the organisation has lost a prime customer touchpoint. This touchpoint could have been used to: provide a service experience which is different to the competition; gain customer insight to inform the organisation; and/or been used to cross sell another product or services. So, in the plight of operational efficiency, CRM solutions can save operating cost but at the same time; leave gaps in your customer intelligence; negatively impact your customer experience; and create missed sales opportunities. So, when looking at processes and how a CRM solution can help, seriously look at the customer experience from both the customer and organisations point of view.
It’s all about the technology: people make the difference
Every customer interaction needs to be viewed as an opportunity. Staff need to maximise customer contact by asking questions which will give the organisation more customer intelligence. Customer behaviour is changing dramatically and rapidly, so asking questions beyond just resolving the specific query/request will provide huge insight into the current customer challenges, concerns and issues. Capturing this insight into a CRM solution enables the organisation to be dynamically informed of how customer behaviour is changing; allowing it to be nimble in its product and service development.
Systems cannot provide all the answers; staff need to be trained in how to introduce these key questions into the conversation. The way this is executed makes a significant difference to the customer, and the results for the organisation. Not every customer may want to be asked these more probing questions, so staff need to gauge what’s appropriate, and lead the conversation appropriately to ask the right questions, in the right situation. This deeper level of discussion will build a higher level of emotional connection and hence loyalty with the customer.
Cross-selling and up-selling: Make the right sale by asking the right questions
The problem with many cross-sell or up-sell conversations is that they are too artificial – staff are following guidance/scripts rather than engaging in a more natural free flowing yet inquisitive conversation. This means that the customer is not emotionally in the right place in that point of the conversation for a suggestion of an additional product to be naturally introduced and discussed. And guess what? The customer spots it a mile off! Too often the customer feels like they are being ‘pushed’ a product, whereas the real benefit comes from training staff so they can ask the right and natural questions to lead the conversation to discussing the customers other genuine needs. Train staff in asking the right questions and take guidance from their answers, rather than ensuring they have the cross-sell/up-sell conversation with every customer, at every conversation. It’s about helping the customer to make a decision to buy, rather than being sold to – that’s customer alignment. Think about your own personal circumstances and situations where you have been sold to, versus, assisted to buy something you needed or wanted.
Any CRM solution should appropriately support staff in their plight of providing an exceptional customer experience, but take care that technology doesn’t encourage the interactions to become mechanical or impersonal.
Information sharing: will it happen?
At the heart of CRM solutions is a principle of sharing information, which, no doubt, we would all agree is a sensible and valuable thing to do. However, most organisations do not have the right internal culture to support information sharing, and hence leverage the full potential of a CRM system. Information sharing does not come naturally to a lot of people and isn’t actively encouraged either – in most situations people do not view communication and information sharing as high enough in their priority list of things to do each day. It may also be that people do not understand why they need to share information or even worse, they are incentivised not to share information.
One of my colleagues was working with a global investment bank reviewing the UK implementation of a company-wide CRM solution. Whilst conceptually the CRM solution had a great business justification and benefit case: a holistic view of client relationships; quantifying the true value of the client relationship; identifying and spotting extra opportunities; unfortunately teams worked in their own functional/specialist areas and were not willing to share their information on the client with people outside of their specialist area; nor were they rewarded for doing so. The culture within the organisation was built around teams of specialists working together to deliver results in their area, so when it came to sharing across specialist areas this conflicted with the culture which was so prevalent. Changing this would not just be down to strong leadership of the CRM implementation; but more of a fundamental culture shift. Whilst the CRM solution looked fantastic in the logical world, unfortunately, the emotional world of the organisation culture is what determines whether something will happen or not.
So when looking at implementation of CRM solutions and quantifying the benefits which can be captured, a strong look at the internal culture of the organisation is required. A CRM implementation will not deliver the benefits itself, the people who have shaped and work within the culture of the organisation will deliver the benefits. Unless the organisational culture is aligned to what its targeted to be achieved, any CRM solution will fall short of its aim or true potential.