Making Good on the Promise
Is CRM the answer to your company's sales and marketing needs? If you are depending on the great things promised by a big investment in CRM software, training and consulting do not forget about the other critical elements of relationship management. The proper selection of software will have a great deal to do with the relationship you want with the outside world. More importantly, however, your internal procedures and processes can make or break your system, and your company.
Recently a friend recalled an experience that he had when dealing with his Internet service provider. While working late one evening he was having trouble accessing the Internet and decided to call for assistance. After spending over twelve minutes in a step through phone process, he was informed that the billing department had canceled his account. He asked to be connected to the billing department and was told he would have to wait for them to open in the morning at 8AM. When he finally reached the billing department in the morning he found that there was no over due balance but rather the technical support people (Including a supervisor) had misunderstood a notation on the account. What does this tell you about this company's customer service?
This is not a unique story. We all have examples of good and bad customer service, typically with more of the latter. CRM software is designed to be a tool, just like a pair of pliers, a phone or the Internet for that matter. Using a tool properly depends on having the right personnel, the right training and the right processes in place to make it all work together. Your organization should already have a good track record for customer service before you purchase any CRM tools. Expecting CRM tools to make your customer service record improve is like asking a hammer how to build a house.
If you want to improve the relationship that you have with your customers, first take a look at what works. From your own experience recall some good examples that you have seen. What made them stand out? Chances are that no matter what industry you are talking about there are some common threads to good customer relations.
Here is a new twist on an old Customer Management philosophy, REACT. This stands for Responsiveness, Empowerment, Anticipation, Consideration, and Truthfulness.
Responsiveness: Managing the element of time is critical. Some of the biggest frustrations come not from what you are saying to your customers but rather what you are not saying. Examples include leaving people on hold too long and not returning phone calls. The best thing that you can do is to manage expectations up front. If you can't return a call for 3 days then tell them that. If you think someone will be left on hold for an unreasonable amount of time then offer to call the back when you can give his or her call the attention it deserves. Watch for trends in your business so that you can staff for this appropriately. If your customers are working 24 hours a day, then you probably have to as well.
Empowerment: Make sure that the representatives you have dealing with your customers are empowered to handle the issues that are being presented to them. If you don't trust the people who work for you then get new people. A customer should not have to go through layers of your organization to get an issue resolved. Empowering people makes them more effective and helps your organization grow. If you need a good example of this check out Nordstrom's. The sales staff there is expected to make the decisions necessary to meet the customers needs. This has resulted in a tremendous customer service record.
Anticipation: Know what your customers want before they do. Look at industry trends and study best practices. Signals and economic indicators such as large mergers and changes in trade regulations could be affecting your customers. Continually look at how this is impacting your customers and then update your staff regularly so that they are ready do deal with these new issues. Your customers will notice that your are on the ball and appreciate that you have a clear understanding of where they are at.
Consideration: Remember that the people that you are dealing with are literally your bread and butter. This should never be an adversarial relationship. These are people who mean everything to your bottom line and the best way to keep them happy is quite simply to be nice. Staff should be trained about using the correct tone of voice and learn a multitude of non-threatening phrases and answers. Make sure that your customers know that you are on their side and that you really care.
Truthfulness: There is nothing more damaging to a company than lies. If you lie to a customer once, you have lost them. If you are having supply issues tell them. If half of your staff is out with the flu and the only temp agency in town just folded, call your customers before they call you. Let them know where you are at and show them that you have a plan to get back on track. Bottom line, people may not like it -- but they will respect you for telling the truth.
Customer Relationship Management is a business, not a technology, solution. It is a logical extension of your company's image and culture. Your image can be a powerful one if based on sound principles of human interaction and common sense. You must have a clear vision of the objectives you hope to achieve and that vision must be embraced throughout your organization. A great deal of thought and planning must be done on the front end to effectively lead and manage changes to your customer management model. Most of all the company as a whole needs to "buy in" to the concept
We are still in the early stages of the evolution of systems to act as facilitators of customer relationship management. Keeping the concepts of REACT in the overall plan can mean the difference between building loyalty and alienating your customers.
[William G. Sarine is President of PotsTek Inc.]
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