So, you’ve forked out for a customer relationship management (CRM) system, the last thing you want to do now is hand over more cash for training. But, is this investment the only way to get the best out of your new CRM system, saving money in the long run?

There are certainly those (some of them in the business of selling the training) who would argue that it is absolutely essential. And they have the figures to back their thesis up – of the 77% of British businesses that use a CRM system around 40% weren’t getting the results that they wanted. Similar results have been found in other surveys and any reading on CRM will soon lead you to complaints about limited staff uptake of the system and over-complexity.

The people behind the research concluded that it wasn’t bad software to blame, it was human interaction with it.

The benefits of CRM training

CRM simply won’t work if your team don’t believe it will help them provide a better service and if they don’t buy in to what can initially be a potentially complex set of new processes. People are naturally resistant to change and anything that seems to make life harder is going to have your staff’s back up from the start. As CRM systems are typically designed to be organisation-wide and require different staff to chip in at different points to provide a complete picture you need to win a lot of people over. This lack of a defined beginning middle and end to what your staff have to do is just another barrier to successful CRM uptake.

If you’ve got your head screwed on, you’ll have researched your CRM decision in depth before you buy, possibly making use of trial periods before you committed. You may even want to bring in CRM consultants to guide the process and, if you do, they should give you the advice you need on training.

But be warned. This is an investment to save time and money in the long run, but it requires a fair amount of time and money in the short term, and that scares some companies off.

The process of CRM training

In an ideal world your trainers will take the time to learn about your business in order to deliver a programme that will really work for your staff and won’t waste time just sharing their comprehensive knowledge of a system parts of which your staff will never use. You should also look for a rigid focus on processes – what am I going to do? – rather than technical details. Training to the book on a system that will be heavily customised by the time your staff use it will also be a waste and this may be a particular problem if you engage the software company themselves to train your team, it may be better to go independent.

CRM training is a benefit, if you can afford it. Those users who report problems with their systems almost invariably point to human rather than technical failings. However, it’s a cost, possibly a large cost, and in the final analysis that will be the key decision, but you must remember to properly assess how much money you could waste if you fail to make a go of CRM.

Customer Relationship Management or CRM is all about the bottom line – converting browsers into buyers and occasional customers into regular spenders – so make sure you don’t waste money when you actually shell out for your system.

The problem is that CRM is a broad term and, particularly for the small business, the temptation to spend more than you need on systems that do more than you or your staff will ever need them to do is strong.

You shouldn’t let complexity and cost frighten you away from CRM. Whether it’s something you want to include in your organisation’s DNA or a system you need to invest in, CRM can provide a valuable service that will reap real commercial benefits.

However, you need to take care when you make decisions about CRM purchases. It’s an important choice and deserving of very serious consideration. Perhaps cheap and cheerful is all you need, but to know that you need to make a decent assessment of what CRM can do for your business and at what cost (and you should beware of hidden and long-term operating costs).

To get the best deal you need to think ahead. What should your system be doing in each department? Customise your system so that’s all that it does. This means that the CRM purchasing decision should be a collaborative one, involving people who are going to be using it.

A CRM that isn’t used is a waste of money and you need to insure that the process of moving to use a CRM system involves more than just installing some software – your staff need to understand and believe in the system. There is no point in taking an expensive system designed to give you sophisticated customer information if your staff are going to ignore it in order to make cold calls with no preparation.

A system that isn’t used is a complete waste, one that isn’t used properly is a waste of potential. CRM can bring a more complex understanding than a simple record of transactions – your staff need to understand that networking, prospecting and follow-up should be the fundamentals of your CRM-based sales processes.

Let the CRM pricing tables guide you

Look out for free trials on CRM systems that you’re considering using and make sure you can customise the programme that you buy and that that will mean cost savings. Be savvy about how and when you are going to pay – look for per-user costs, how much support or licensing will cost and so on.

CRM has and is being extensively marketed. Technology is at the heart of most businesses these days and a magic bullet solution to turning customers into more money is attractive to say the least. However, you should consider whether or not you actually need a CRM system at all.

Particularly if you are a small business and you can introduce CRM thinking into existing systems you may feel spending money on software is redundant. It’s also possible to get CRM for free, even if you don’t end up with that system a trial period can introduce you to what CRM can do for your company.

And, remember one of the surest ways to waste money through CRM is by getting fined by breaking the data protection act – security should be an important part of any CRM system.

It’s a big choice and an important choice so give it the time it deserves in order to avoid wasting money. There’s lots of information out there, but be aware of who’s behind it, many sites that claim to offer reviews are making money from sales.

Microsoft have been in the customer relations management (CRM) game for a decade, and on July 28th their latest product, Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013, went into closed beta testing in preparation for a release sometime before the end of the year.

So, what can CRM users expect from the software giant? So far, of course, we only have Microsoft’s view, which is – as you’d expect – that this is going to be a fantastic product. Their last release was in 2011, and that system did indeed get good reviews in general.

Microsoft promise a ‘reimagined’ user experience that will put practical, useful information easily at hand and even claim that MS Dynamics CRM will ‘reignite the passion’ sales, marketing and customer services workers feel for their jobs.

Microsoft says Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 release has been based around five themes:

  • A cleaner, faster interface;
  • Processes that allow quick responses to changing circumstances;
  • On the go access;
  • Collaborative processes between departments;
  • Improvements to the user platform.

The upshot of all this should be that, “users recognise value, opportunity and insight immediately — either on the road or in the office,” says Microsoft.

The user interface should offer a single point of access to all information, with no pop ups or screen switching. Data entry and record creation is said to be super simple and customer records can be made more personal with images and map locations.

Users can now design processes and are guided through them with lists of options and with a clear idea of where you are going. Microsoft claims this is a breakthrough in CRM; a change from focusing on transactions to making outcomes the centre of the system.

You’ll get just one process already installed when you buy Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 along with samples, but new ones can be downloaded online. (See picture below, you can find more pictures here or here .

microsoft dynamics crm 2013

Everyone is going mobile these days and Microsoft have made sure this edition of Dynamics CRM is accessible from tablets and smart phones. There will be a slight lag between the release of the Dynamics CRM and its availability on phones.

Microsoft’s purchase of enterprise social network Yammer and Skype make sense now, as the use of both is integrated within Dynamics CRM 2013. Communications are a big part of this new release, which has (or soon will) email connectivity, the ability to Skype of phone call from within the CRM as well as chat and instant messaging. Webmail like Gmail and Hotmail will also be supported.

Microsoft also continue their shift towards cloud computing with regular updates which can be scheduled to suit users. Actions in the CRM can be created and edited even by non-developers.

Naturally, there is full compatibility with Microsoft’s office products with which the new interface shares many superficial similarities judging by the screen shots made available.

A release date for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 is yet to be confirmed, with two updates to complete some of the integration with email and phone systems due sometime in 2014.

As few people have actually got their hands on this new release, we shall have to trust what Microsoft is saying for now, but things sound promising and the interface shots look great. You can find out more and take a test drive here.

This is very much a beginner’s guide to technology in customer service, often called CRM or customer relationship management systems. If you’re looking for the answer to the most basic questions (including what is crm), you’re arrived at the right place.

What is CRM?

At Redspire, we like a long yet all-embracing CRM definition as follows: CRM is “the aggregation of customer-centric strategies which drive new functional activity not only for sales, marketing and service, but often back office functions such as accounting, production, and shipping which demand reengineered work processes for everyone affected which require technology support to implement“. That’s pretty exhaustive but don’t worry – if the theory sounds overwhelming, you can look at the more practical side of CRM below.

What do you need to do when customers contact you?

  1. You need to ‘capture’ the enquiry. This now means dealing with telephone calls, email, texts, Tweets and Facebook comments and emails. Customer queries can also come in from web forums and customer self-service systems.
  2. Once the enquiry has been captured it needs to be sent to the right people to deal with it.
  3. The agents need to set up a file for the enquiry that links it to the customer’s record on your system.
  4. Now we’re on to actually answering the question, which can bring into play a whole host of other systems which hold customer data.
  5. The answer is then communicated to the customer.
  6. Finally, the file is completed with notes on the outcome of the query and closed.

In order to complete this complex process, the following technologies are used:

  1. Multichannel communication. There are a whole host of these systems today. Telephone call distributors, telephony integration, speech recognition, email response systems, chat and virtual assistants. Social media has a range of its own systems and mobile services are growing in importance too.
  2. Knowledge management. The encyclopaedias of information that customer service staff need to answer client questions are in this category. These resources can also be made available to customers directly for web self-service customer care. Databases, knowledge management software and communities and forums as well as video production systems can be considered in this class.
  3. Agent productivity solutions. The systems that allow agents to see a query through to its conclusion. This will include monitoring their performance for consistency and scheduling systems. Case management software, unified agent workspaces, workforce management, quality monitoring and process guidance systems belong here.
  4. Customer service analytics. To serve a customer well, it’s necessary to know as much as possible about them. These technologies – next best action and interaction analytics for example – facilitate this knowledge.
  5. Voice of the customer. Customers often solve their own problems and then share this advice. Voice of the customer systems keep an eye on this important information, including social listening platforms and enterprise feedback management systems.

Have you heard any other useful definitions of CRM? What is CRM for your business?

We all are B2C customers with our own set of expectation about vendor’s business processes. We don’t tolerate ‘hiccups’ well unless the particular company happens to be our preferred provider.

When it comes to the B2B market, this is somewhat similar but a lot more complicated. The stakes are much higher, and the higher rationality of B2B relationships is a double-edged sword: customers are more reasonable but it also takes plenty more effort to persuade them.

So how is your company doing when it comes to success in building customer relationships? Look at our quick checklist below and assess if the following statements apply to your own business:

We act up because we realise the person dealing with us is risking their career and the whole company is risking their reputation – for us. We do everything so they look great in front of their customers.
We know we’re the experts and our customers look for solutions, not products. That means we keep improving our product and/or service based on previous feedback so the clients have increasing confidence in our abilities.
We keep the quality of our service consistently reliable rather than over-delivering in some tasks and failing in the others.
We sometimes act selflessly: we act humble and human because we know people buy from real people and this boosts our chances to get recommended.
We treat our customers as individuals: before and after the sale. We target our campaigns specifically to them and we use a single business funnel for each customer.
We understand our customers’ business and environment: we know what troubles them and why they came looking for us. It’s about them, not about us.
Our sales reps have personal responsibility for their sales: we follow up even after we make the sale.
Our sales reps know all about our product and the competition too.
We deliver unique value: we go the extra mile and deliver more than the client would be able to source or create themselves.

So how did you do today?
There is always room for improvement.

And remember: actions speak louder than words and solely measuring customer satisfaction is not enough. You need to be proactive and deliver what they want before the smile fades away from their faces.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that many information technology systems, whether customer-facing or back-office, were designed on what is sometimes called a vertical basis.

That can be a serious problem for an organisation, unless CRM (customer relationship management) systems and techniques are implemented to deal with it.

Why is that a problem?

Historically, information technology systems were designed to reflect organisational hierarchies. As these were essentially vertical silos, such as Accounts, Shipping, Customer Service, Procurement and so on, systems were designed to support those functional requirements.

The net result is that information relating to an individual customer, may be scattered across a range of systems that have little in common with each other in terms of design objectives. That information is also typically used fundamentally differently by the owning organisational silos.

This means it is sometimes difficult or even impossible to obtain a single horizontal customer view cut across the organisation as a whole. Those organisations that have one customer with multiple customer numbers are a good illustration of the problems that can arise.

That is sometimes a critical inhibitor to optimal product development, behavioural analysis, cross marketing and customer retention activities. Typically these functions are horizontal in an organisation and not vertical – so they will need integrated data in order to support their objectives.

Modern approaches to data management

Today, enlightened organisations design their processes and supporting systems on a matrix rather than vertical silo basis.

CRM systems and techniques are instrumental in helping to make that happen, for example, by having a single integrated repository of information relating to a customer.

CRM achieves a single customer view, primarily through two things:

  • Making sure that all interactions with the customer, through whatever channels, conform to a single integrated process relating to data storage and eventual use;
  • Being able to integrate information coming in through new customer-facing processes and systems, with that held about the same customer on existing possibly vertical legacy systems (e.g. back office).

The benefits of this to the organisation are potentially staggering.

Not only does it avoid embarrassing and potentially highly-damaging errors in terms of customer engagement but it also provides a fundamental platform for things such as productivity improvements, product development, cross-selling, customer retention and in some cases, customer or market disengagement where things are no longer profitable or viable. What are your insights on customer data management?