Five Ways to Be a Good Customer

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1. Get an Attitude Break out the positive attitude. Planning and implementing an ideal CRM initiative takes a lot of communication with customers, internal staff, and vendors to uncover their ideas, needs, and concerns. Communication of this depth requires a healthy attitude and lots of listening. Organizations that have gone through an initial implementation have experienced this firsthand. "It's all about how you approach everything, from having a positive attitude with customers, to listening to what employees need, to working with management and dealing with vendors," says John Casalou, customer relations manager at Boston-based messenger service City Express. "The biggest part of that is listening to people." Remember, too, that as the project leader your attitude will set the tone for all others involved in the project. Bonnie Henn-Pritchard, assistant vice president of technical services for The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company (BNSRC), says that being a tough-minded optimist is the right mindset. "I think we are a demanding customer. We push the product to the limit," she says. BNSRC is one of six major North American railways and moves freight across 32,500 route miles in 28 states and two provinces. The $1.5 billion company, which has more than 36,000 workers, has a complex logistics system that requires real-time monitoring of all its freight. To do that the company has 700 microwave sites, 1,308 data hubs, 158 switches, 570 routers, 283 Unix servers, 248 Intel servers, and a data warehouse with 12 multiprocessing nodes. The company's more than 500 sales representatives and agents are all using Siebel to make sure freight is picked up, handled, and routed to its final destination. The system also allows BNSRC's customers to plan, ship, trace, manage, and pay for freight via a customer portal. In addition, the railway is planning on implementing Siebel analytics to analyze its infrastructure, including maintenance of rails and switches, along with data about on-time delivery and customer patterns. "I think being a good customer goes hand in hand with being successful," Henn-Pritchard says, "so I'm going to do whatever it takes to be a positive force in the relationship." 2. Be Educated Organizations that use CRM strategies and technologies need to know their customers and their own business. Only then will they know what CRM solution will work best for them. "You owe it to yourself to be educated, whether you're looking at a CRM system or a home appliance," says Michael Fields, director of business sales operations for Cingular Wireless. Fields oversaw a Siebel redeployment, the success of which was based in large part on working closely with the users to define their needs. "You have to understand what you are using the tool for, what the business processes look like, and what drivers support them." One important reason to have a deep understanding of your needs is to help you stay on track when meeting with vendors. "Software vendors are often eager to talk about the bells and whistles of their products," Casalou says. "They lose track of the nuts and bolts. That's why it's important to be able to accurately articulate the importance of exactly what you need, and not get blinded by the flashy features." One way to educate yourself about your CRM needs is to create a project road map based on your requirements and expectations. "The best way to educate yourself is to do a business plan first--before you even get to the requirement and technical specifications," says Stan Martin, who can speak about both sides of the CRM equation. He was previously at a midsize company and was responsible for implementing a CRM system. Currently, Martin is the CEO of Chicago-based Adroit Consulting, which specializes in CRM implementations for mid-market companies. "Depending on the business goals [the business plan] will drive requirements definitions. Define what CRM means in your company," Martin says. Some vendors consider educated customers to be so important that they shy away from those who are not. "I would avoid customers with a lack of clarity. I want customers who know what success is and can derive maximum competitive value from it," says Larry Barbetta, vice president of analytics at Siebel. "A good CRM customer is intelligent and integrated. Generally the customers that get the highest value understand that doing CRM today is more than automating processes. It's how to use information to get effective action and interaction with customers. It's the ability to take data and use it more effectively. [These customers] get more satisfying and profitable relationships."
3. Get Buy-In Purchasing the right CRM application is crucial, but will mean zip if no one uses it. And the less buy-in there is at the executive level, the less likely the front line will embrace CRM. For this reason, among others, buy-in has to happen at all levels of an organization. "You cannot be a good CRM customer if no one is using the tool," Fields says. "The users are driving the solution." Although executive and user buy-in is critical, they are only two of the multiple-stakeholder acceptances required for CRM success. Other stakeholders, like customers, business partners, and of course the internal IT department, are equally critical to the CRM initiative's success. "You have to have customer alignment with the people who are executing the project and the senior management teams," says Duane Cologne, senior director, marketing and international sales, for Siebel Systems. Creating buy-in should begin even before the initiative. Marketing communications, superuser evangelists, and a cross-functional development team are some of the basic ways to foster buy-in. But it all comes down to demonstrating the specific value the initiative will have for each stakeholder group. 4. Remember That Vendors are Partners True CRM is an evolution, not a one-time implementation. This is why it is important to select a vendor that you can consider a partner. City Express has 20 people using an in-house CRM system. The company implemented it to help streamline dealing with customers. Customers can enter data to help schedule pickups and deliveries, and to track packages. They can also get into the system to access their respective accounts, and look at the number of shipments, time of shipments, and total cost. For City Express the CRM system means having fewer agents taking calls from customers and not having to enter customers' names or data each time. The system also has reduced the amount of time agents spend on the phone tracking shipments and answering general calls. In addition, City Express can gather data that it uses to proactively work with customers to schedule deliveries in advance, and look for ways to offer volume discounts and deals to regular customers. "If you don't partner with [vendors], then CRM is an event, and not a process," Casalou says. "An event has a clear-cut beginning and end, whereas a process is ongoing--and that is what you want from a partner." Casalou says that it's all about improving on--and building--communications. "It's a two-way street," he says. It also means that there should be a sense of shared responsibility. "That means there isn't any blaming or finger-pointing," he says. "Instead it gives you a comfort zone of knowing that you have a partner, an ally, and someone to lean on." BNSRC's Henn-Pritchard says that there needs to be a certain level of honesty and trust that can only come when you consider your CRM vendor a partner. "The supplier in all these situations has to have skin in the game," she says. "The more both parties have vested, the better the outcome. It is good for everyone to have strong and defined accountabilities, but at the end of the day, it is your business." Because most CRM products cannot be purchased off the shelf and used without modification, having your vendor as a partner is imperative, according to Bob Heinrich, national sales manager for NUS Consulting, in Park Ridge, NJ. "You have to work with the vendor to understand the limits of the product and set realistic expectations," Heinrich says. "Also, vendors can help you make minor modifications in the way you do things to get more out of the system. Small changes can yield a lot of benefits, and vendors are the ones that can help you with that." Adroit Consulting's Martin says that businesses need to hold their teams and vendors accountable on two levels: what needs to be executed to achieve benefits, and return on investment. Integral to this is setting down expectations in writing at the outset of the initiative, and at the outset of any upgrades or modifications. 5. Make a Commitment to Success CRM project leaders and users, and the executives who support the initiative, not only have to want to be successful, they need to make a major commitment to it. And if something doesn't work out, then it should be like the adage--try, try again. Heinrich, who has implemented CRM more than once to find the right software, says he believes in CRM and is committed to making it work. "To be a good CRM customer you have to understand how [CRM] will impact your own sales force. And make sure that the CRM tool is easy to use, because if it's not, then no one will use it and that defeats the whole point," Heinrich says. In fact, being a good CRM customer means creating a long-term plan for CRM success. The initial implementation is just that, the beginning. CRM project leaders need to maintain their positive attitude, need to stay educated about their companies' changing requirements, need to keep reminding stakeholders of the benefits to keep buy-in strong, and need to maintain a solid partnership with their vendors. "I think customer success is paramount--that's the whole point. Otherwise, who needs the aggravation? It's important for the business to have vision, management buy-in, and engaged and confident IT who know what success is and how to measure it," Siebel's Barbetta says. "Everyone needs to really focus on how CRM provides the most business value." Contact Senior Editor Lisa Picarille at lpicarille@destinationCRM.com
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