Top Customer Relations Management Issues

By: Michiel Van Kets

Many industry analysts have speculated as to whether CRM is dead or just in a process of evolution. As a model it originally had it roots in the main "front office" functions of call centre systems, help desk applications and sales force automation.

Reviewing the developments, we see Siebel and Clarify (now Amdocs) offering solutions for the consolidation of function across the front office operation with SAP and Oracle taking care of finance, management of the supply chain and what we know today as e-business. This finally lead to the much awaited Oracle-Siebel deal that saw the front and back office operations functioning under one roof, one data base and a common set of end-user tools.

So we can see the original function of CRM was to streamline business functions and processes thereby increasing cost savings. CRM solutions were offered to companies running a call centre or sales organizations to reduce inefficiency, standardize processes and monitor the progress of the business. Specifically CRM systems could allow executives to track customers, route and assist in-coming communications and provide information on the on-going progress of marketing and sales activities. The focus of these solutions was essentially to automate all processes for dealing with the customer from the company point of view, but it could be argued the customer in a way did not figure explicitly in the equation. What these solutions failed to do was show businesses how to:-

-deal effectively with customer problems
-answer questions and provide information quickly and efficiently
-help customers solve some of their own problems themselves

In the light of the above, the primary shift in focus for CRM has become the customer. What is being advocated is the idea that in order to take care of the customer (who is after all the lifeblood of your business) systems should be provided to allow the customer maximum control of their business with the organization.

With this focus on the customer involvement, Allen Bonde, a leading industry analyst has suggested that the new-generation CMR will centre around three priority issues that he calls the three C's. Below is a summary of these points

-Customer experience - this refers to the idea that there should be customer involvement at all contact points within the organization.
-Content - This is concerned with utilising systems that will allow information content to be at the fingertips of reps and customers alike.
-Collaboration - Collaboration here is with social networks that have an ever-increasing influence on knowledge sharing among customers and customer loyalty.

He argues that adopting this focus on these issues has the potential to improve and streamline processes within the organization and simultaneously allow customers more control over their business and make better use of self-service applications thereby reducing calls. These priorities have emerged in response to the rising interest in Web 2.0 technologies, wikis, RSS and social networks, which have already begun to foster stream-lined communication between customers and the organization but also accelerate information sharing between internal staff.
With these priorities defined, we can see that the future focus for CRM will be customer-facing technology. The advice by analysts to ensure success is to build these priority issues into business planning way before new technology is deployed. Practically this means, talking to customers and finding out what they need to maximize the use of self-service applications and making better use of information about customer needs already gleaned from account records, marketing records, blog postings etc. In other words "spring clean" your existing CRM systems before you introduce new ones.

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