Often thought of as a corporate luxury, a CRM system is a tool facilitating sound communication between a business – both large and small – and its customers.
Ask the founder of any fast-growing company what is needed to grow the business and, along with a great product and talented, committed staff, one thing they’ll almost certainly mention is a CRM system.
However, the way a CRM system can be leveraged is certainly changing. Although customer relationship management started as a sales tool in the seventies, many people would argue that it really took off in the 1990s with the launch of Siebel Systems and later with technology created by Gartner and IBM. Since then it has evolved and found new applications including obtaining customer feedback, maintaining contact with customers between sales, monitoring sales campaigns, managing suppliers and handling job applicants.
Increasingly, a CRM system is being used to manage potential clients before they’re actually signed up. To handle applicants for loans, UK Car Finance, a finance provider based in the North East of England and founded in 2015 with a staff of 14, opted for a system that is specifically designed for the motor industry.
“We have applications coming through a multitude of marketing platforms including PPC, email and social media,” said managing director Craig Rutherford. “Our system allows us to see the quality of these applications since, with our customers’ permission, it pulls through their credit scores. This means we can see which applicants are the most likely to get car finance, which ones are the most cost effective and which marketing channel they are coming from – maximising both our sales and marketing team’s efforts.”
Applications are sent directly to a panel of lenders, speeding up the assessment process. “We know that people who apply for car finance with us have most likely applied elsewhere,” said Rutherford. “We can contact the customer quicker than ever before and hopefully beat our competitors. Not only does it aid us as a business, but it also helps the customer get a decision more quickly.”
When a lead becomes a customer a CRM system can help companies to develop a more accurate and complete picture of each customer to ensure all communication, whether it’s about support, contract renewal or other non-sales related information, is relevant and timely.
Almost everyone has had that infuriating experience of ringing a support centre and having to recite a mass of detail about themselves and their purchase – only to have to repeat the process once they’re passed to another department. As such, when a customer contacts the support team these days a CRM should be able to provide staff with that customer’s personal details, purchase history and communications around this particular issue.
These days a CRM system can also act as a collaboration tool. As companies have to handle customer interactions through a variety of different channels and manage staff who are working from home or who are on the road as well as dealing with outsourced business processes, CRM can help with coordination. Someone in one department might bring a colleague from another into a conversation, for example. Where a customer interacts with the support team someone in new product development might see an opportunity.
Using a CRM system to handle both customers and suppliers effectively has been a key driver of success for holiday company France Skiing. It opted for a CRM system developed by a specialist provider for travel companies, whose software linked to an independent trust account to ensure companies comply with package travel regulations.
Suppliers can be managed and supplier payments made through the system. This includes not only direct sales, but supplier management, payments, ATOL audits, bookings, itineraries and among other activities.
“We know a customer’s date of birth and so we can send them birthday greetings or offer congratulations on their wedding anniversary and then provide a discounted offer – it helps us to develop a closer relationship with clients,” said David Conrich, founder of French Skiing – which employs 12 and is based in Essex, having opened for business in 2015.
“We wanted a complete system, including back office administration, which would allow us to liaise with our customers and let them see when their payments had gone through, for instance, so that everything is very visible,” said Conrich. “It also means that our suppliers, such as hotels, apartment owners and ski lift pass providers, can log in and see when they’ve been paid. People demand more protection and visibility these days.”
This transparency for clients is key to the way that Ascent Digital, a search engine optimisation consultancy based in the North East of England, uses its CRM system to manage client relationships during campaigns.
“By updating all interactions, we’re able to offer an entirely transparent service, something that isn’t common in our industry,” said Lauren Muxworthy, head of outreach at the company. “Transparency is very important as it allows us to be better aligned with our clients. By working alongside the client, integrating their internal marketing team with our activity, we can achieve greater results.”
The primary tool used by Ascent Group, which has ten members of staff, is “basically a smarter alternative to using emails”, said Maxwell. She added: “This allows us to present various opportunities, in a traditional ‘to-do’ list format. Within individual tasks, we can exchange ideas with the client on one consistent thread, keep track of deadlines, and set reminders for follow-ups.”
All too often, she believes, a CRM tool goes wrong when companies don’t have a customer-focused approach. “Each client or campaign should be treat as an individual,” she explained. “We review all potential opportunities and apply a unique, data-centric approach, we don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to relationship management. As an agency, it’s up to us to adapt to the requirements of the client.”
For Tim Prizeman, director at Kelso Consulting, a six-strong London-based public relations agency founded 21 years ago, choosing a CRM system that is flexible was also important. “We use it for tracking our press relationships on behalf of a range of clients, and also for targeted mailings of press releases,” he said. “One particular use for us is that journalists may well be simultaneously targeted by different team members for different clients, so our service allows the whole team us to see past and current dealings easily, as well as the track record or emails and press releases sent to them.”
As well as clients, potential clients and suppliers a CRM system can be used for managing other stakeholders. NCC Education, a provider and awarding body of British education around the world, uses its system to register students onto their specific qualification journeys, schedule exams, conduct online exam assessments, receive qualification results, monitor and track students’ progress, throughout their learning journey and to download and view key resources.
The company, which opted for a not-for-profit CRM specialist to supply its new system, also wanted a cloud-based rather than on-premise system so that it wasn’t saddled with the responsibility of managing and supporting any infrastructure. Cloud computing along with other technology, such as artificial intelligence and big data, will continue to make CRM systems more sophisticated and comprehensive – allowing them increasingly to be used for so much more than sales alone.
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