Seven tips for rendering data real and actionable.
Posted Feb 1, 2006
Control is moving to the customer. It is the result of an historical trend that's unavoidably linked to the maxim H. Gordon Selfridge coined at the turn of the last century: "The customer is always right." We as consumers are flexing our purchasing muscles like never before, and the effects on business-as-usual have been dramatic. Over the past 10 years many companies have responded to this shift by implementing sophisticated CRM software systems in an effort to better understand customers' wants and needs.
CRM has, in many instances, been perceived as just another way for companies to gather much more detailed data about their customers with no measurable quid pro quo. What do I, as your customer, experience from your $10 million CRM investment, besides an impenetrable voicemail system, more (albeit better targeted) junk mail, SPAM, and cold calls? It's unclear. What is clear, however, is that customers will reward companies that give them what they are looking for: better visibility into their vendors' organizations at all levels; accurate and rapid responses to queries and requests; clear communications channels; and--this more than anything--respect for their time, their most precious resource.
As it turns out, there is a significant parallel trend growing as well--the move toward employee mobility. According to IDC, close to two thirds of the U.S. workforce will be considered mobile by 2008. This trend is being fueled by more advanced, more capable mobile devices, as well as by affordable data plans from wireless carriers. By putting CRM data in the hands of mobile personnel who interface directly with customers,
data becomes real and actionable.
Increase the speed of communication
If there is one inexorable fact of competition it is the need for speed. Irrespective of organization, market focus, or corporate mission, quickness and agility are key attributes in any company. Speed lets you respond more quickly to opportunities, recover from problems faster, outmaneuver competitors, and give customers more of what they want, immediately. Solid ROI metrics for almost any system are predicated on being able to institutionalize new processes and information rapidly.
Increase the accuracy of information
Speed is meaningless without accuracy. The concept of garbage in, garbage out, has never been more relevant. If mobile technologies help increase the pace of business, then precision in execution becomes critical. Fortunately, there is no better place to correct and validate data inputs than at the point of entry. Service personnel could be prompted to enter inventory usage details if they try to close a service call. There are enormous advantages to these types of validation processes; advantages that have a ripple effect, adding substantial value to both vendor and customer alike.
Close at the point of sale/service
All sales and service activities have a beginning and an end. Of the two, the end represents the thorniest set of challenges. On the service side, for example, getting a signature to close a service activity and alerting finance that it can be invoiced is normally a congested, paper-based business process. In fact, because the process falls between service and billing, getting a signature frequently gets missed entirely, resulting in late bills or inaccurate information. Salespeople are even more susceptible to the challenges at the end, or close-of-a-sales activity. But here again, having all the necessary information at hand, including contract language, product information, pricing, and availability, can substantially speed closing activities and drive higher sales productivity.
Increase face-to-face time
Getting in front of customers is difficult. Once there, it is imperative that the opportunity be maximized. Providing relevant data to customers, e.g., order statuses, service updates, etc., helps customers recognize vendor knowledge of their account, while opening dialog that otherwise would not take place. Focused, accurate, and high-value communications between vendors and customers is the key to closing deals and maintaining satisfied accounts.
Prior to the advent of reliable mobile technologies, companies relied on telephone interactions for all field activities. As a result, staffing and equipping call centers, help desks, and technical support was a costly but necessary activity. Primarily acting as proxies for field personnel, they delivered access to corporate data needed by field employees. For example, if a sales person needed to know the contract details for a particular deal, he or she would call someone at the home office, who would then look it up and relay the information to the field rep. The advent of reliable and accurate mobile technologies has obviated the need for these proxies across a wide range of functional areas.
Eliminate information silos
The software world has artificially categorized business processes into several overused groupings, such as ERP, CRM, SCM, ERM, among others. The problem is, customers don't see their businesses as a collection of acronyms. Moreover, they are demanding that their suppliers stop treating them as such. A typical sales person will reach across many software domains during the course of the day, from sales management to order management, to financial management, to supply chain systems. Mobile technologies allow mobile workers to access information in one continuous flow, regardless of where that data resides, CRM, ERP, SCM or otherwise. This elimination of data silos offers enormous advantages with respect to responsiveness, flexibility, and effectiveness.
Move from CRM to customer managed relationships
With customers becoming more capable and competent decision makers via the drastic increase in quality data available to them, corporations are realizing the benefit of including them much earlier in business processes. Customers are demanding more visibility into their vendors' activities, and mobile technologies are helping companies respond.
The CRM revolution provided companies with the tools to capture, organize, analyze, and act on the information generated from working with their customers. But to get the most out of these systems, organizations must take the next logical step--moving this valuable information from behind the walls of the business to the employees in the field, working face to face with customers and partners. It is there that information becomes actionable, where customers value it most and markets demand its presence. The emergence of the mobile enterprise, long presaged but finally upon us, marks the next phase in customer-centric business processes and ultimately, real customer-driven business.
About the Author
Peter Semmelhack is the founder, chairman, and CTO for Antenna Software and leads the Antenna product strategy and management team. Peter is a frequent speaker at IT and Field Service conferences and tradeshows and has written numerous articles for industry publications. Semmelhack also founded the digital media production company, Antenna Tool & Die Co., where he led large-scale design and programming projects, including Web sites, television commercials and CD-ROMs for ABC Television, Time Warner, IBM, MCI, and General Mills. Most notably, Semmelhack created and designed Microsoft's fall 1996 television ad campaign "Where do you want to go today?" in conjunction with Wieden & Kennedy. He has a BA in economics from Brown University. Please visit www.antennasoftware.com
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