Magazine article New Zealand Management

Helping Hand or Abusive Practice? When It Comes to Customers, What Does CRM Really Stand for? Vikki Bland Reckons Some Companies Still Need to Learn How to Use CRM to Make Customers' Lives Easier

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Helping Hand or Abusive Practice? When It Comes to Customers, What Does CRM Really Stand for? Vikki Bland Reckons Some Companies Still Need to Learn How to Use CRM to Make Customers' Lives Easier

Article excerpt

For a long time, customer relationship management software and associated CRM business strategies have been touted as a good thing--but for whom? The benefits to business efficiency and profitability have been shouted from the rooftops, and there's now enough evidence to suggest that's fair enough: a CRM strategy properly planned, strategised and backed up with well-suited software can deliver for the business. But what about the customer? Business efficiency and profitability aside, is the customer any happier as a result of CRM?

In her new book, Talk to the Hand: the Utter Bloody Rudeness of Everyday Life, British author Lynn Truss argues customer-facing CRM systems seem to exist purely for the benefit of the business.

"In common with many people today, I seem to spend my whole life wrestling resentfully with automated switchboards, waiting resentfully at home all day for deliveries that don't arrive ... and generally wondering resentfully, 'Isn't this transaction of mutual benefit to both sides? So why am I not being met halfway here?'" writes Truss.

Of course CRM systems and processes are supposed to do more than meet the customer halfway; they are supposed to delight the customer, who hopefully isn't even aware that a complex CRM strategy and software system is delivering that delight. While Truss' comments relate more to self-service CRM tools--think websites that allow you to pay your own bills or automated telephony systems--and CRM is a wider process than that, CRM software vendors are prepared to admit Truss has a point. And they're not being overly generous--if the customer ends up steaming it's probably not the fault of the CRM software, but the processes and philosophies behind how they are being used.

John Biggs, CEO for CRM implementer Complete Solutions, says approaches to CRM planning differ widely between companies, and while the desire to get closer to customers is a "universal business requirement" how businesses go about it, and how well they understand what customers want, is the make or break of any CRM project.

"Like any application, people ask for CRM because they have been told it is something they should do. [As consultants] we bring a lot to the table by explaining that CRM is actually a business process with steps that need to be followed," says Biggs.

He says CRM is essentially about getting access to the right customer information at the right time (whether the customer does it or the business) and about ensuring every customer interaction is a straightforward and positive experience. Businesses need an overview of the customer and of their own interactions with each one, says Biggs.

"The minute you have CRM is the minute you have the potential to keep your customer and [internal staff] better informed; the downside is that CRM communications can end up looking like mass mail to the customer," says Biggs.

Or at least a lot of work, which Truss insists should not be the responsibility of the customer.

"Everywhere we turn for a bit of help, we are politely instructed in ways we can navigate a system to find the solution for ourselves--and I think this is driving us mad," she writes.

The challenge for businesses then, is to ensure CRM system generated information is personal, accurate and relevant for the customer--but this is easier said than done. If a telephony system thanks someone "for their patience" this is neither personal nor sincere since few people are prepared to be patient and have no interest in being placated; or as Truss puts it: "Traffic cops may ask you politely to get out of the car, but that doesn't mean you have a choice." If a customer wants to call and speak to a live person it doesn't matter that they can get the information they need from a website. The point is they may not want to.

Ben Green, business solutions marketing manager for Microsoft New Zealand, says there is bottom line impact to be made by increasing customer satisfaction. …

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