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Be a CRM Survivor

  • January 01 2001, 1:00am EST

Every company is addressing customer relationship management (CRM) ­ or ought to be! CRM is the most important concept of the day. Indeed, a company's very survival depends on how well CRM is implemented. Yet most companies have trouble even defining what it means. CRM is one of those all-encompassing terms. It can mean a specific chat capability to one organization, while another may think of it more broadly as anything that touches the customer. To survive and thrive in today's business economy, the organization must come to grips with how itdefines CRM, and what portions of the customer experience will be addressed through specific CRM initiatives it will pursue, regardless of how other organizations define it.

I see the world of CRM being carved up into five major pieces:

  • Marketing automation,
  • Sales automation,
  • Service fulfillment,
  • Customer self-service and
  • E-commerce.

These five areas are critical in capturing and retaining customers. If your organization has all the time and money it needs, perhaps all five can be pursued at once. However, if your organization has a limited budget and requires fast time to market for your products and initiatives, these five will need to be prioritized. What is most important for you?
Gartner defines CRM as "the art of locating, acquiring and keeping profitable customers while reinforcing an enterprise's brand across contact channels." Gartner claims that most people mean marketing automation when they talk about customer relationship management. Marketing automation "brings technology to the marketing process." Organizations that define CRM as marketing automation will generate personalization, profiling, telemarketing, e-mail marketing and campaign management projects. These initiatives are designed to get the right mix of the company's products and services in front of each customer at the right time. They involve understanding what customers do and want, matching that knowledge with product and service information, presenting opportunities to customers and measuring success.

Gartner's claim aside, for some organizations CRM addresses sales automation. Sales involves the direct transferring of products and services to customers. It covers both making sure the customer receives the correct product and the activities of people within the organization who are responsible for selling. Projects in the sales category might be client or campaign management (again), sales configuration (for configuring products, pricing, etc.), call management, contact management, ad management and sales force automation including territory, account and lead management systems. Collaborative tools that enable all parties to the transaction to interact with one another fall into this category, as well as systems that put sales reps directly in touch with customers at the point of sale.

Other organizations may think of CRM as centering on service and service fulfillment. Service fulfillment encompasses the ability of the organization to serve customers it already has. Initiatives here might be in the area of e-mail response management, telephony capabilities such as automatic call distribution, computer-telephony integration, queue/workflow management, interactive voice response and predictive dialing. Problem resolution systems fall into the overall service fulfillment category, as do workflow automation and field service dispatch systems.

Some companies may consider CRM more specifically as systems or capabilities that can be directly invoked by the customer ­ such as Web self-service, search, interactive chat, e-mail, voice over IP, browser and application sharing, conferencing and "call me" capabilities. For these organizations, CRM is more accurately described as e-CRM, which invokes not only the idea of Internet access via PC, but also via wireless devices (cell phones, PDAs, etc.).

CRM can also mean e-commerce to some companies. In this case, capabilities such as shopping, marketplace, transaction and payment processing, and e- commerce security need to be addressed. E-commerce capabilities can be some of the most essential CRM projects for companies to pursue, depending on their readiness for handling transactions via multiple methods.

The world of CRM is huge. The point here is not that CRM needs to be commonly defined or that a comprehensive list of CRM capabilities needs to be developed prior to taking any action. It's easy to get confused. Addressing too many aspects of CRM at once will cause an organization to lose focus. An organization must decide which of these five aspects of CRM means the most to them initially and then "go for it." Address the right issues swiftly and forcefully, and customers will be attracted to and remain with your organization. Accomplishing CRM success will determine who the business survivors will be. Will your organization be around to face the next wave?

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