CRM : Customer Relationship Management
What Is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System?
Even if you think you know the answer, the question has changed.
IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO state precisely what customer relationship management (CRM) means to everyone. The term has been applied to almost every element of business that even remotely interacts with a customer. In its infancy, CRM systems were a series of mainframe or server-based applications specific to sales, marketing and support business functions. The applications were lightweight by today’s standards and did little more than capture and file critical data. But as cultural boundaries within organizations weakened, individual fiefdoms of information gave way to sophisticated applications that could span business functions. By doing so, these applications created the vision of a single view of the customer. For the first time, organizations could track and analyze shifting customer needs, link marketing campaigns to sales results, and monitor sales activities for improved forecasting accuracy and manufacturing demand.
CRM has evolved since its earliest incarnation, originally driven by an inside-out focus, through three phases of evolution: technology, integration and process. Recently have we seen a major leap forward to a fourth phase: customer-driven CRM — an outside-in approach that has intriguing financial promise.
1. Technology: In its earliest incarnation, CRM meant applying automation to existing sales, marketing, support and channel processes as organizations attempted to improve communications, planning, opportunity and campaign management, forecasting, problem solving, and to share best practices. To some degree, it worked. However, automating poorly performing activities or processes rarely improves the quality of the outcome. So, for the most part, the quality of the return on investment (ROI) was meager — if measurable at all. The promise of the technology was there, but few organizations were realizing the pinnacle of performance. The metric of success was increased efficiency in sales, marketing, support and channel processes.
2. Integration: By developing cross-functional integration, supported by data warehousing and shared roles and responsibilities, organizations began to create a customized view of the customer. Support issues, Web hits, sales calls and marketing inquiries started building a deeper understanding of each customer and allowed aggressive organizations to adapt their tactics to fit individual needs. Integration focused around two primary components:
o Make it easier to do business with the seller: Instead of operational silos that inhibited superior customer relationships, the organization as a whole took ownership and responsibility for customer satisfaction. With a single view of the customer, it was much easier for anyone to respond to sales opportunities or impending support issues and take appropriate steps. Expected benefits are to improve retention and lower support costs.
o Predictive modeling: Data mining of an aggregate of corporate knowledge and the customer contact experience was used to improve operational and sales performance. By applying complex algorithms to a history of purchasing or inquiry characteristics, it became practical to predict the demands of individual customers. Up-selling, cross-selling, even the ability to preempt potential problems, was now possible for all customer-facing representatives. Expected benefits are to have better cross-selling/up-selling and improved product offerings or delivery.
3. Process: By rethinking the quality and effectiveness of customer-related processes, many organizations began to eliminate unnecessary activities, improve outdated processes, and redesign activities that had failed to deliver the desired outcomes. Then, by re-creating the process through an understanding of the capabilities of the technology, the outcomes were more predictable and the promises for a meaningful ROI more substantial and realistic. The metrics for success became the improved effectiveness in serving the customer.
Thus far, almost everything about CRM has focused on improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the seller’s organization. Organizations have evolved from sales representatives working from paper notebooks, or a card system, to a tightly integrated network that sees movement in sales activity, predicts product demand on manufacturing, and manages the logistics of complex teams to serve the buyer and seller. Marketing, support services, channel management, revenue management, resource allocation/management, forecasting, manufacturing, logistics and even research and development have all seen the benefits of a well-designed CRM strategy.
However, the past decade of CRM and its associated improvements have been based on three assumptions:
1. The past would be a logical foundation to predict future customer needs and profitability.
2. Demand for traditional value propositions would remain constant.
3. Better customer relationships would deter attrition.
All three of these assumptions have failed — or at least become unstable — in a post-September 11 environment. Historical purchases or inquiries are not a clear indication of future needs as buyers are rapidly redefining requirements to satisfy their current business, market or shareholder demands. Value propositions are changing in highly competitive markets as sellers are working aggressively to reestablish structural bonds. And, driven by sensitive financial markets, buyers move to whichever supplier can provide the best aligned, most cost effective solution that promises to stabilize, or improve, their business performance. These factors are driving CRM into a fourth phase.
Customer-Driven CRM — The Fourth Phase
Today, revenue performance has become the central theme for CRM as organizations seek to achieve and maintain expected financial results. Leading executives are asking:
• Which of my customers have the potential for a high-profit, sustainable relationship?
• What defines profitable and unprofitable customer segments?
• What must change to realize that optimal potential?
• Where’s my opportunity for growth?
• Where’s my risk for loss?
• Am I making the right decisions related to balancing acquisition, cross-selling and upselling — and for the right customer groups?
The epiphany isn’t in the questions themselves, but in the fact that we’re asking them after a decade of CRM investments — investments intended to provide just those very answers.
It is important to understand that a disruptive change has occurred causing large segments of customer organizations to reassess many of their basic needs, values and assumptions. Research indicates that this event was triggered by the uncertain complexities of the post-September 11th world. Organizations are now challenging everything from how they create value, to how they serve their markets, to how they meet shareholder expectations. It is the answers to these questions that create the framework for phase four CRM.
Without a deep understanding of what’s going on in the customer’s head — specifically what will influence buying behavior — it is difficult to establish customer strategies that mutually serve the needs and expectations of the buyer and seller communities.
Understanding the Difference
In the past, CRM has followed a basic balanced scorecard technique involving four categories: customer, financial, operations, and people. (See What Is a Balanced Scorecard?.) From an inside-out perspective, organizations first analyzed the needs and capabilities of operations and their people to determine what could be delivered to the customer. From that, they drew conclusions and predictions to determine the impact on the financial category.
As this has changed, so have the priorities. Now the focus is first on the customers:
• What will they buy, when, why and for how much?
• What creates value for them, and does this create a structural bond?
• What services can we perform that merit premium margins?
• Can we establish a new market segmentation strategy focused on potential profitability and willingness to purchase?
• Do we understand their business drivers, financial metrics, buying process and decision criteria?
Customer driven CRM means that organizations first understand the customer, then move inward to operations. Within the context of the customer, the systems and infrastructure capabilities needed to serve those customers and segmentation-based requirements must be reassessed. Next, it’s imperative to explore the skills and competency requirements for the people component of the CRM design. A decade of CRM has taught us that nothing happens until your people interact with the customer in a manner consistent with new CRM customer strategies and systems. And, finally, you should be well positioned to apply predictive modeling algorithms to establish a financia model with exceptional accuracy. Not an easy task, but case studies are proving financial predictions that can demonstrate account-level forecasting with over 80 percent accuracy.
Developing a CRM strategy isn’t an easy task. Complex organizational design, comprehensive technologies and ever-changing customer demands are just the beginning. The lessons learned are monumental but we know that the promises of customer driven CRM are worth the journey.
Here’s a simple framework for fourth-generation CRM:
• Focus on financial results: Learn how to identify existing profitable customer segments and determine what will establish a profit-based profile for moving forward. Then develop the business requirements to support sustained, and structurally bonded, relationships.
• Find cost effective alternatives for nonbuyers or low-margin customers: Not all customer relationships are profitable and very few companies can afford to pay to deliver an equal level of services. Control costs and save your best resources for premium accounts — while working to bring low performers into an acceptable profit portfolio.