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How to Craft a Clear and Effective CRM Strategy
Guidelines for tackling some of the common barriers on the road to CRM nirvana
For the rest of the January 2016 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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Customer centricity has made it high up on—if not to the top of—most companies' list of priorities. A recent study from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services and the Strativity Group, which surveyed 315 business executives, found that 75 percent of respondents plan on having a customer-centric strategy in place within the next two years.

And these companies have good reason to pursue customer experience (CX) strategies, according to Bob Azman, chief experience officer at Avtex Consulting Solutions. In Azman's estimation, customer experience strategies are becoming as ubiquitous as headsets within contact centers. "CX shouldn't be an afterthought," Azman says. "It should be the benchmark by which all activities in an organization are measured and decided upon."

More firms are recognizing that to stand out, they have to start putting customers at the center of their operations. Yet while many of them work toward reaching this CX pinnacle, a lot of companies struggle to get their efforts off the ground, as the internal preparation required for carrying out an effective strategy proves daunting.

"In a lot of organizations the politics are so bad that you might be able to strategize [and create] the best CRM environment in the world and it will never happen," Scott Nelson, a managing vice president at Gartner, points out.

Whether a company is just embarking on a CRM strategy or evolving its current one, there are many challenges involved in the process, both from a cultural and a financial standpoint: convincing a decision maker that new tools are a necessary investment, for instance, or encouraging employees to get on board with the program. But there are some rules of thumb companies can follow to ensure CX plans unfold smoothly.

WHAT IS AN EFFECTIVE CRM STRATEGY, AND WHY CREATE ONE?

Gartner Research defines CRM as "a business strategy whose outcomes optimize profitability, revenue, and customer satisfaction by organizing around customer segments, fostering customer-satisfying behaviors, and implementing customer-centric processes." And CRM technologies are those tools that "enable greater customer insight, increased customer access, more effective customer interactions, and integration throughout all customer channels and back-office enterprise functions."

Azman says that an effective CX strategy is simply one that enables a company to be "easy to do business with." It's what outfits such as American Express, Amazon, Zappos, and Apple all have in common.

Azman urges clients to ask themselves whether they are also easy to do business with, and to review themselves, paying particular attention to 10 key areas: (1) social media presence; (2) Web site maintenance and navigability; (3) technological support; (4) comprehensive CRM; (5) empowered customer service agents; (6) responsive telephony systems; (7) service recovery processes; (8) customer analytics; (9) employee engagement; and (10) streamlined processes.

For Azman, companies with customer-centric strategies in place enable their customers to reach them at their convenience and engage them on the platforms they want to use, when they want to use them.

Nelson says that the marketplace has come to require these strategies. At Gartner's Customer 360 conference, this year, he pointed out a simple truth: If customers have grown accustomed to a certain way of doing business, they will hold your company to that standard, as they've carried over expectations from elsewhere. For instance, while your Web site might not be a direct competitor with Amazon, your customers are familiar with the experiences Amazon delivers, and since they know what is possible, they will expect them of your organization as well.

WHERE ARE YOU, AND WHERE ARE YOU HEADED?

Self-awareness factors heavily into defining a CX strategy.

Experts suggest that companies routinely evaluate themselves to pinpoint the areas in which they most need to improve, and to ensure they're meeting the needs of customers in whatever channel they encounter them.

Nelson points out that many companies approach CRM with the wrong mind-set, simply noting that they want to "do CRM." He uses a trip analogy to describe the process of developing a CRM strategy: You must understand clearly where you are starting from, where you desire to go, and what tools you'll need to get there.

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