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Kill jargon, not buzz

Basic tools and common sense are the real underpinnings of CRM.

Don’t know about you, but I get really annoyed with buzzwords that are overused and ill defined. Customer relationship management (CRM) is one such buzzword–quite a bit of confusion exists over exactly what constitutes CRM.

Simply put, CRM tools and solutions are those that support interaction between a company and it’s customers. CRM solutions may be sales-related or focused on service, but they generally provide some sort of automation or integration that makes them a worthwhile investment for businesses.

But wait! We had relationships with customers long before we had the term CRM. That is a vital point to remember. Many people view CRM technology as an end-game rather than as a supporting technology. They think if they implement CRM solutions, they will reduce their investment in direct customer contact. But this is not a valid (or good) perspective: CRM tools and services provide useful ways for you to enrich the experience of your customers, but they should never replace interaction between you and your customers.

Large companies can afford to invest in huge CRM systems that tie into backend database systems. And they typically have many customer service representatives on hand to help out as well. But what can smaller businesses do? CRM solution providers are beginning to target the small business marketplace. You might invest in one or more CRM tools or services if you think it might help you. (Look for some helpful links at the end of this article.)

However, there are also some things you can do with what you already have on hand that fall into the CRM realm. One of the fundamental principles of CRM is anticipating what customers will want.

Your Web site is one handy resource for improving customer relations. Do you have a “frequently asked questions” (FAQ) section on your site? You should. Customers will often look for FAQs before calling or e-mailing your company. It’s not difficult to create one. Examine the typical questions you receive via e-mail or phone each week, categorize them, and place them on your Web site. Also, provide a mechanism for customers to type (or send) in new questions if they do not find what they are looking for. That way you can continuously update your FAQ section.

How do customers interact with the sales side of your company? Can you mimic this interaction on your Web site? Perhaps a simple form-mail page that contains a basic request for information or request for quote would be helpful. Follow up with periodic customer surveys via e-mail so you can determine if your customers are happy with their experience.

Perhaps most important, though, is to give your customers as many ways to reach you as possible. Your Web site should contain phone and fax numbers as well as e-mail addresses and even your snail mail address, as there are many people who still prefer offline communication, too. You might implement instant messaging or live chat on your Web site (which I’ve mentioned previously in this column), as they are inexpensive tools that can connect you with customers in real time.

Terms like CRM lead many people to believe that technology and automation will drive customer interactions in the future. These tools are a good way to augment interpersonal relationships, but CRM solutions will not likely replace good old-fashioned human contact.

If you’d like to know more about CRM, see:

www.searchCRM.com

www.crmassist.com

www.american-crm-directory.com

www.crmguru.com

www.destinationcrm.com

www.crmproject.com

www.crmcommunity.com

Contributing Editor Maggie Biggs has more than 15 years of business and IT experience in the financial sector.

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