Customer relationship management (CRM) is a philosophy that all businesses practice. It’s been a part of commerce since the first trade was made.
During the past few years, as energy costs have increased, much attention has been focused on plant efficiencies and route optimization through investment of technology. But what technology exists for sales optimization?
Plant technology focuses on cost reduction, while customer relationship management focuses on maximizing the potential sales of an organization’s client base.
The earliest form of CRM consisted mainly of the information stored in a Rolodex — customer name, address, phone number, and main contact person. This gave way to the day planner, and eventually to electronic formatting when personal digital assistants (PDAs) — Palm Pilots and smart phones — came to market.
The planner/PDA combination accomplished an efficient means of collecting customer contact data. However, data by itself provides the customer service representative (CSR) with nothing more than basic reference material.
By incorporating a CRM system, an organization can create an information portal geared toward customer interaction, logging customer issues, reporting, and data mining, accessible anywhere by the CSR or management.
FLEXIBLE AND USER-DEFINABLE
Of the numerous products on the market, no CRM system is ready to go straight out of the box — they’re designed to be flexible and user-definable. All CRM systems start with a basic configuration, but the organization is responsible for customizing the application to best suit its needs.
It’s expected that the organization would be able to add or drop database fields, add reports, and design user-interface screens to dial in how the CRM should work within its business structure.
Further, CRM system users can tailor their own “dashboards” to display items of interest such as new leads, customers’ cards, customer service cases, sales pipeline reports, etc., as they determine what is most efficient for their purposes.
Consider a new CRM system to be like a newborn child who grows and develops based on the level of guidance from its guardian. The more you work with a CRM system, the more it will come into tune with your organizational needs.
Warehousing of customer contact data is not the only function a CRM system provides. A key principle is the difference between data and information. The manipulation of data creates information, which is used in decision-making. Information is what’s needed for effective CRM. It allows an organization to explore how it interacts with its customer base, its potential leads, and the market potential yet to be acquired.
In part, CRM systems produce information from customer data through the creation of user-defined workflow rules.
For example, a customer could report a service issue by e-mail, website form, phone call, fax, face-to-face meeting, etc. The CRM system could log the issue, level of severity, time, and date. The workflow rules that the organization “wired” into the system would perform a number of automatic tasks, such as:
1. Send an e-mail confirmation to the customer that their request has been logged.
2. Send e-mails, text messages, reports, etc., to the “first responders” in the organization.
3. Automatically escalate issues to managers and others in the organization if the customer’s issue has not been responded to or resolved in a predefined period of time.
All the while, the CRM system would track and log these contacts, e-mails and phone calls from and to the customer.
Customer issues aren’t limited to complaints; they can be any number of service-related actions.
In the case of changes to a laundry delivery, the workflow rules could automatically issue messages to production, without involving the front office or a CSR.
In other cases, such as route accounting, a customer may request an unscheduled soil pickup. The CRM system could be configured to automatically send a text message to the route driver’s cell phone.
This direct communication from the customer to the proper staff would reduce the number of individuals needlessly drawn into the process at that point.
CRM systems are also able to collect all customer-interaction data from numerous electronic sources and compile it in reports that show how well the organization is responding to customer issues. Issue type, or the amount of time being taken to resolve an issue, can identify the organization’s weak spots.
CRM systems can also assist with sales. Many laundries that host websites have some type of “Fill out the form for more information and we’ll contact you” page as a way of generating leads.
Based on workflow rules, the CRM system could immediately send an e-mail with various attachments to give the prospect information immediately. Meanwhile, the system would also send lead information to the appropriate CSR, route driver, etc., to inform them of this potential customer for contact and follow-up. The CSR wouldn’t be required to enter the lead information. He or she would only need to contact them, keeping in mind that the CRM system would be tracking these communications.
Modern CRM systems offer synchronization with e-mail systems such as Outlook and mobile devices such as Palm, BlackBerry, and cell phones. All information about customer contacts is updated automatically, thus reducing the workload on the CSR.
If your laundry processes food-and-beverage and hospitality linen, a properly configured CRM system can greatly assist with sales lead generation. For example, if you wanted to locate new sales opportunities, a simple Internet search for businesses within your service area or a specified mileage would yield names, addresses and phone numbers.
This market information can be exported from the web and imported into the CRM system. Based on the lead locations, the CRM would create lead notifications to the CSRs responsible for those areas. As the leads were contacted, the CSR would collect additional information by asking questions such as:
• What products do you use now?
• Who processes the linen?
• What are the processing fees?
• What do you like/dislike about your linen service company?
As the CSRs enter the customer information, the CRM system could mine data to get an accurate picture of what products and services were in demand, their average cost, the level of competition in a region, and any other information that the organization deemed necessary to make decisions.
If interested in evaluating what a CRM system can do for your organization, there are web-based CRM systems that offer a free trial, either for a specific time period or for a number of users. These packages will give you an idea of how CRM systems are used and help you determine how large or small a system you need.