Posted Saturday, February 12, 2005
When people ask, �What is CRM?� the literal answer is, �Customer Relationship Management,� but that doesn�t really convey much in terms of what all CRM does for a business. This CRM definition is too narrow to really explain everything the system does if it is working to its fullest potential and is user-friendly enough to expand and grow as a customer-client relationship changes and grows.
CRM in the broader sense encompasses not only customer relationship management itself but how customer relationship management is handled and the most important elements of a CRM program that are essential to its being successful. The range of CRM software options vary from those that provide simple customer tracking and live chat capabilities to the more complex CRM solutions that can integrate all of the customer relationship data an enterprise has on each client past, present and future in a dynamic information data network.
What should I look for in a CRM software package?
If there�s an ideal CRM software package that works for every company and every situation, it hasn�t been discovered yet, simply because every company has slightly different needs for their customer relationship management needs as well as software implementation.
In general, however, when you are looking for a strong CRM software package there are a few things to keep in mind. If you are shopping for a CRM package, try to forget about the initial price tag at first (as difficult as this may be) and focus on the adaptability, usability and integrity of each system you evaluate as it relates to your particular needs. A few things to consider:
* What are the most important facets of customer relations are we looking to address, and does this CRM software support tracking and updating all aspects of this? For example, if your company wants to customer service to have ready access to changes in customer spending habits and an opportunity to offer new product options based on these records, make sure this capability is built into the software. Customization down the line will be time-consuming and expensive -- if you have a primary goal, make sure it is standard in your CRM software package.
* Will the CRM software package integrate smoothly with all platforms currently in use at your company? If you will have to re-enter all databases such as client names, addresses and phone numbers, this will significantly increase the amount of money you�ll spend in the long run. Make sure that you can either integrate smoothly or import all information needed flawlessly.
* Is the product more than you need? An enterprise solution that offers fifteen functions you don�t need and never will isn�t a bargain if you will never expand into that market niche. Just because it�s available doesn�t mean you have to have it. Selling custom-sewn hats? You won�t need a CRM software package for tracking million-dollar overseas accounts.
* Has this CRM software package been used for a company of your size before? If it has been used for companies up to 10,000 and you have 150,000, the system may simply not be able to sustain the volume of data and crash or develop glitches. Look for something more powerful with a support system capable of understanding the size of your company.
Can you build me a dream CRM software package?
Hmm�let�s see. The best CRM software package would be optimally functional across all platforms and have its own customer support backing it, and �. Well, let�s take a look at our own list of what we�d really like in a CRM software package if money was no object and we could �have it all,� so to speak:
* A CRM software provider that has partnerships with other vendors for support in the event you need it for integration of platforms.
* Extensive training from certified CRM software technicians who will walk your people through the process of setting up, using and training others on the system.
* Full data migration capabilities to and from all programs in current use to the new CRM software.
* Offsite server storage backup for all information in the CRM system for added security.
* A toolbox for company programmers for customizing templates for company use -- this will save huge amounts of time by eliminating the need to write custom codes from scratch.
* Either in-house consultants or a choice of contracted consultants they recommend (try not to be at the mercy of one consultant when there is a problem).
* A CRM software package designed by a company familiar with our specific industry and its structural needs.
The best CRM software packages enable customer service representatives to review the account information of each client or customer when they are talking to him or her and immediately understand something about that person�s needs, wants and spending patterns.
For banks, CRM software can indicate their banking patterns -- are they investing through the bank? Have they recently looked into a money market fund? Do they have substantial funds that could be put to better use than languishing in a simple CD?
A mail order company can note your shopping tendencies and make Christmas shopping suggestions based on past purchases by seeing that you buy a lot of kids� clothes and that you spend about $200 each holiday. Used correctly, a toy company can steer you toward some bargains and suggest alternatives, enriching your shopping experience and building customer loyalty.
Why does CRM software fail so often after it�s put into place?
You�ve heard the stories about a company buying a CRM software package and then realizing it hasn�t really changed anything. The big-wigs are disappointed, customer service is frustrated, and the clients are aggravated with the new changes that don�t seem to show any improvements in customer service or client relations. How does it happen?
Because CRM software was purchased that wasn�t appropriate, was purchased too soon, or wasn�t implemented properly. If you don�t purchase CRM software that specifically addresses what your customer concerns are, you may have software that is very detailed in an area you don�t need and somewhat lacking in exactly what you do need.
Purchasing too soon means you bought the software before you had evaluated what you really wanted. Many companies by CRM software with a goal �to improve customer relations,� which is not a clear business goal! You should have a very specific, well-defined objective that your CRM software solution can address, and you company should have developed a formal objective before you went shopping for a solution. Retaining customers? Improving the size of current customer portfolios? Penetrating a new market niche? Reduce customer complaints? Improve customer repair response? Determine what it is you want to focus on as a goal, and then choose your CRM software solution based on how it will address it.
Finally, implementation of a new CRM program requires proper management support and effective training. That means that management must be behind it one hundred percent, and not have �head in the sand� approach where they determine that �that�s for customer service, I never did understand that stuff,� and avoid learning how the CRM software works. It is an attitude that will pervade the company.
Second, training is essential and must encompass the company to ensure that all levels of personnel will embrace the new system and understand the genuine need for it and the real goal of what you are trying to achieve with your new CRM software solution.
Some CRM software options for small and medium sized businesses
For small and medium businesses, the most common customer relations management software request is for anything that enhances online communications and improves the time between a customer complaint or question and resolution of the issue for them.
For many companies, there are software solutions that can be purchased or downloaded to be used through their Internet website for basic services such as online customer support through live chat and customer assistance with online purchasing that is both efficient and relatively inexpensive. If your need is primarily to improve sales volume, improve response to customer questions and complaints and to make your company website more personalized, look into these solutions that are at the lower end of the price spectrum while providing solid CRM products:
* LivePerson offers two different versions, Basic and Enterprise that provide live chat, email and a variety of interactive forms customized to meet companies� needs for customer relations. This company has developed live chat solutions and online forms for everything from universities to financial services firms. This company provides a wide range of services, including online marketing, case studies, and software designed to improve online shopping cart capabilities.
* LiveHelper offers many of the same features, and adds real time traffic monitoring and other data assessment features as well. For the price, LiveHelper is a very good CRM software value.
* GroopZ includes customer routing software so that you can transfer entire chat strings from one customer service rep to another if you need be, along with an efficient filing system for chat transcripts and customer records. For improving customer relations, the software support suggests pre- and post-service questions for all customers who contact you.
Also included are templates you can set up with specific, pre-scripted answers to frequently asked questions in online chat to save customer service representatives time and make the process clearer and more efficient. This company does a bit more customizing on the front end to fit your needs, and pricing is adjusted accordingly.
* SupportWizard gives you three CRM options that give you some flexibility -- you can buy, lease or let them host your customer service/relations solutions. Interactive FAQs, live chat, standard answers to frequent questions, and Boolean search capabilities to review past interactions all make this package extremely effective. SupportWizard also has more customizable features than some, including an �escalation alert� that can be tailored to specific situations when a supervisor would be notified if a customer service situation exceeds certain parameters.
This is one of the more expensive packages available, but rather than a monthly fee you are paying for lease or outright purchase options, so factor this into the cost. You will also get spectacular customer support and constant upgrades and patches when necessary. The integration of email, live chat and telephone information into one database is also a plus with SupportWizard.
* BoldChat offers free CRM software for online customer service chat that you can use for a limited time, and offers a $9.95/month and a $39.95/month customized version of their CRM software. Both offer live customer service chat, but one adds customized windows and more options on buttons and the number of available customer service reps you can add.
* CSLive offers the most comprehensive CRM software solution available for small and medium businesses, with live chat, email, and the usual customer service features you expect from a small business CRM solution, but with plenty of extras. CSLive also offers an extensive tracking and filing system, an Internet server site where you can upload and store files of customer help articles that customers can be referred to that can by emailed directly to clients by your reps. Throw in the message center and online meetings, and this is practically an enterprise sized solution at a small business price of $29.95 a month.
CRM software, whether on a monthly user basis or purchased outright and downloaded onto your own server, will make serving and understanding your clients and customers a more productive experience, and you will all be happier for it.
This article on the "How CRM Software Works" reprinted with permission..
Copyright � 2004 Evaluseek Publishing.
About the Author
Lori Wilkerson is a full-time freelance writer who has extensively researched CRM software, customer support software and live chat software. She has been a customer service representative in the retail and technology sectors and is currently honing her skills as a customer in the shopping malls of America.