Whether or not CRM turns into the next IT monster after initial ERP efforts

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The logic behind CRM is hardly rocket science: if you design your business around your most valuable and desirable customer requirements, they are likely to become better, more profitable customers.

If it works as planned, businesses can provide better customer service, make call centres more efficient, cross-sell products, close sales deals faster, discover new clients and increase customer revenues.

But whether your business is selling rocket engines or hot dogs, organising the enterprise is easier said than done. In fact, CRM is not for the faint-hearted. It requires a lot of time, money and management effort.

While organisations still believe that they have to beef up their IT infrastructure and workflow and customer service, the solution providers and integrators in the CRM industry are treading water.

In fact, there are not so many large CRM implementations going into the market. There are some big projects but the demand has certainly tapered off.

Why? Sure, CRM is not the bride of ERP. Sure, it is not plug-and-play product suite. And it is not going to magically transform your business into customer relationship mecca.

Matching expectations

While there is a sentiment that vendors oversell on CRM technology, it really becomes a case of matching expectations. Companies providing solutions within the CRM space are stuck in ‘hyperspace’ and have to wait for their CRM partner projects to take shape before their applications can clip on and add value to the process.

Most organisations believe that if they buy the technology, they will reap the rewards which other companies receiving. But in many cases it is far more feasible to embark on a CRM project with mediocre technology backed by a solid business case than try it with excellent technology and muddled sense of what it all means.

It certainly requires more work and dedication in order to derive maximum benefit out of CRM solutions, than any applications businesses have ever employed.

You will find today that when companies start to look at CRM systems, they have spent a lot of time discussing what that strategy is and know exactly what they are looking for and what the CRM system is supposed to achieve.

It is your strategy that drives your CRM. CRM is an enabler and it just makes achieving that strategy a lot easier because people have access to organisation-wide information on a particular customer, which, without the technology, is very difficult to track down.

Businesses have to look at different channels which customers use to access their businesses be it Web sites, physical stores, remote access by sales staff etc, and where the information is stored and how it is retrieved.

CRM systems link up these different information silos, and analytical systems can snoop through these records for patterns and have a 360-degree view of each customer and can possibly determine whether better service is required.

Does this sound unreal? Does this really happen? Is there too much red tape in organisations?

Firstly, while businesses are abuzz talking about CRM implementations, very few companies have actually allocated a budget for it.

CRM has been mainly seen as an IT sell with a little bit of business fudging processes around it. Looking from a customer’s perspective, there is a massive gap between what the customer needs and what the vendors are trying to give them.

And that is a major reason given as to why CRM has failed until now. Is this true?

This brings the responsibility back to the customer. It is not just about what the vendor is giving. Vendors cannot do it on their own. No. Very few vendors have a wide enough in-depth knowledge in the various market segments to implementation a solution without a symbiotic relationship with its partners and the customers.

The customer must preferably have a business process consultant within a company that is a key part of assisting the vendor in overlapping and translating the business drivers and technologies, through its best-of-breed vendor/ business practices.

But very few companies have implemented this strategy. This has changed CRM initiatives into glorified call centres that have alienated many people in the process.

Businesses have to face up to the fact that CRM is the only thing that a company will ever do that touches every individual within that company and every facet of their business.

This results in more transparency into the company’s lines of business and customer base, which creates a lot of internal politics and empire-building within departments.

And most of the time the human factor is totally ignored. No, employees do not have relationships with computers. Chances are they are working on a restrictive infrastructure, where the concept of CD-ROM and sound card is seen as a nice to have.

Businesses spend millions of rands on technology without addressing the human element and have become, like call centres, the sausage factories of the modern age.

So what is the answer to this? Businesses must essentially create employee and customer data management warehouses that evolve, improve and create more ROI over time through intelligent reporting and data analysis and data management to make their lives and jobs easier.

But whether an employee works with a flashy high-tech flagship best of breed CRM package or thousands and thousands of papers on his desk, the sad part of it all is that it depends on whether the employee had a fight with his spouse, or has a hangover.

The blame does not lie with the vendors or the businesses. There needs to be a way to successfully bring the two together. This is where a company’s culture must be geared up to move in that business’ strategy direction.

In a down economy, businesses should focus on the most valuable customers and grow them while having small projects which could quickly show their ROI.

However, a company still has to look at its overall strategy and how to incorporate all the channels, to finally link the front office with the back office, and link timely information with customer profiles to serve all the channels with one high standard level of service.

I think businesses should rather start answering their phone calls and e-mails, provide timely statements and information about their customers’ products and how best to harness them. These are basic processes that are lost in today’s business world.

Employee buy-in, business culture and departmental incentives play key roles and require a special type of workforce.

If customers want to embark on a CRM initiative, a good start would be to look at reference sites of similar organisations and speak to the employees rather than the IT managers involved in the process.

There will never be an IT manager who will admit that their implementation was a failure.

Often businesses already experience tremendous ROI on the data while not having a consolidated database, but just by throwing out the redundant information, splitting information about and for the customer, such as when service is due and defining your high and low net-worth customers.

CRM operations have real goals that have to be achieved, that are measurable, and have the intrinsic value that they will deliver the value-add on top of the fact that they are already sustaining themselves financially.

www.ictworld.co.za

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To varying degrees, most companies these days find themselves operating, either directly or indirectly, within the new economy. This can entail implementing new business practices, new processes, new equipment and, in many cases, a complete change in business culture. In recognition of these changing market needs, and to help improve their efficiency and competitiveness, companies need to revisit their way of operating in three strategic domains: Converged Networks, Customer Relations, and Virtual Offices.

The new economy has had a huge effect on the way companies operate: not only on how they do business with their customers, but also on their dealings with partners and the ways they organise their processes. By using the Internet, companies have become available 24 hours a day, and even small enterprises are becoming global players. In order to react swiftly to changing market conditions, decision-making processes have become accelerated to produce so-called ‘real-time companies’.

An increasing need for two-way interaction with customers is also influencing companies’ business processes. Many companies are focusing on building customer loyalty by offering value-added services, rather than standard products. The most successful companies focus on individual customer needs and organise themselves so that marketing, sales and customer service all contribute to the management of customer relationships.

Business foundations in the new economy

To address the needs of the new market environment, companies must undergo changes affecting their main assets: their customers, their employees, and their own organisation. They must enhance their customer relations and customer loyalty, increase employee mobility and flexibility, and improve their organisations’ overall efficiency.

Surveys have shown that one of the main reasons customers look for alternative suppliers is a perceived lack of personal attention. Information and communications technology (ICT) can perfectly support customer-driven business strategies and improve business results. ICT provides the means to optimally communicate, interact and collaborate with customers, as it allows entire organisations to share all their relevant data derived from existing marketing, sales and service channels.

Employees also need to be provided with the right tools and working environment to make the most efficient and flexible use of their time. They need to be able to work on the move or at home while still having access to all of the information and applications they have at their own desks.

Besides having to cater for the needs of their customers and employees, companies are becoming aware of a strategic need for a single, powerful communication network that offers voice, data and video communication to every part of the organisation. Converged networks allow voice and data communication to be integrated within a unified IP-based network. This reduces operational costs and maximises the value of voice and data applications.

Many ICT suppliers offer various solutions for setting up Internet networks, mastering the entire value chain, implementing e-business and e-commerce, and automating desktop applications, often, however, neglecting to add and integrate the vital element of human voice interaction to these business processes.

Philips Business Communications is an example of a company that has set itself the goal of addressing these needs, offering expertise in terms of services and applications in three key domains: Converged Networks, Customer Relations and Virtual Offices.

Converged networks

A converged voice/data infrastructure offers companies the flexibility to make the most of the opportunities currently being presented. Converged Networks domain provides the means to truly integrate voice and data networks, at a company’s own pace and while protecting its existing investments. It allows companies to extend their telecommunications infrastructure over their existing data network or intranet, without loss of functionality.

The main advantage of gradual migration towards IP telephony is that it paves the way for the introduction of new applications that combine the flexibility of a web-based environment with the full range of traditional telephony features. It makes it possible to combine traditional circuit-switched telephony and packet-switched IP telephony and data transfer environments, thereby offering the best of both worlds. Organisations setting up entirely new branches may wish to implement full IP solutions, cutting out the PBX completely.

Customer relations

To achieve maximum customer satisfaction and business gain, organisations nowadays are implementing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) strategies so that they can serve and manage their customer relationships in much more personalised and efficient ways. They use the Internet to increase sales and improve efficiency and to nurture customer loyalty.

To meet customer expectations, CRM needs to be embedded in a company’s business strategy and in the mindset of all the employees that deal with its customers.

Offering a single point of contact to customers, irrespective of the medium through which it is made, helps companies enhance their CRM capabilities. A web-enabled contact centre, for example, combines voice and data on the same network, enabling unified queuing facilities for voice calls, web calls, e-mails and chat requests. Skill-based routing, meanwhile, ensures that voice mail and e-mail contacts are routed to the appropriate employee.

Organisations can also incorporate self-service facilities, through Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems or the company’s website. To add a personal touch to the company’s website these facilities can be supplemented by a request button for direct voice contact with a live agent. In such a case a customer’s details will immediately pop up on the agent’s screen as soon as the call is received, cutting out what can otherwise be a lengthy process and, again, adding to the quality of service. Such a contact centre can also provide additional assistance in the form of real-time web collaboration facilities. This allows agents and customers to view the same web pages during the call and enable agents to ‘push’ web pages while providing spoken guidance.

Virtual offices

Companies make substantial investments to give their workforces central communication solutions, such as voice mail, directory information, secretarial support, and automated office facilities. They also provide access to web-based applications via the public infrastructure, such as ISDN, GSM and the Internet. But what good are all these facilities to the mobile employee if they are only available in the office?

In what Philips calls its Virtual Offices domain, solutions are offered that help companies present a single face and point of contact to their customers, while improving their employees’ efficiency and productivity at the same time. A web portal allows employees to access and use a variety of voice and data applications, anywhere and anytime, through the company’s Intranet. It can, for example, offer the complete telephony environment, including unified messaging, directory information, phone settings and call routing facilities to the home office.

Domains of expertise will support your business

Technology alone is limited in what it can achieve. Building virtual offices in today’s business environment means much more than simply providing every employee with a mobile phone and an Internet connection. A converged network is not just about connecting a PBX to a LAN and customer relations cannot be improved merely by setting up a call centre.

Companies are increasingly seeking system integrators that can help them translate technological virtues into satisfied customers, productive employees, and effective communication structures.

Combining expertise in the complementary areas of Converged Networks, Customer Relations, and Virtual Offices, helps companies prepare for and meet the demands being made by the new economy. It means companies will be far better positioned to improve their efficiency, nurture customer loyalty and increase employee productivity.

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