By Graham Mansfield
Managing your customers, fostering customer loyalty and generating more revenue streams today is far more complex than what it used to be before the rapid user adoption of Web 2.0 applications.
In the past, information and branding were managed exclusively by companies, partners and employees and they had a relative amount of control over customer behavior. In the Web 2.0 space, the relationships between buyers and sellers have changed.
There has in fact been a fundamental shift from being vendor-centric to customer and community-centric. Conversations about products and brands in communities such as Twitter and Facebook, are now visible to everyone. Additionally, with the wide availability of third party information sources and peer forums and reviews, consumers today rely on a mix to influence their buying decisions.
A new approach to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is needed to not only adapt to the way organisations and people transact and analyse business in the social networking arena but also how they engage in these activities. People today expect a personalised experience and they expect to be able to find the answers they want quickly. Customers also expect companies to demonstrate that they know who they are â€“ and organisations that deliver get their business.
To manage this new environment requires a CRM solution that can capture vital information that occurs across channels and systems to fully connect customers, employees, and partners across a companyâ€™s sales, marketing, and service organisations.
These applications need to engage customers, employees and partners in every interaction to encourage maximum use and utility, automate, capture, and manage transactions resulting from every useful customer related interaction.
Fostering Customer-centric experiences
Only by successfully blending these characteristics can a company gather better information and richer data to deliver more engaging interactions and act upon the right conclusions to deliver a higher quality customer experience.
To accomplish this requires personalised, relevant customer promotions and communications that engender customer loyalty across all customer touchpoints and across all aspects of CRM.
Loyalty plays a critical role in every customer interaction â€“ at a point of sale, on a call with customer support, or when browsing an e-commerce site â€“ and needs to blend into an organisationâ€™s sales, marketing, and service processes. Every customer interaction â€“ no matter how brief â€“ is a chance to engage with customers and promote loyalty to increase up- and cross-sell opportunities.
That said, time is precious. CRM users need applications that work they way they do to close deals and service customers, while capturing valuable customer and transactional data as they go about their daily tasks without requiring users to manually enter data. These applications need to be focused, intuitive, and context-aware to ensure vital information is just a click away.
Additionally, each customer touchpoint must provide a wealth of information, yet this data is often confined to one employee, or at best, a subset of an organisation. Each customer interaction should be analysed to improve the next interaction, so that both customers and employees can benefit from the collective intelligence of the broader community.
Itâ€™s about conversations:
An organisationâ€™s strongest asset is not just its people â€“ itâ€™s also the relationships and resulting conversations these people have with customers, partners, and other employees that offer true value to a company. For a complete CRM solution, vital interactions and insight gained from these relationships need to be captured.
Requirements in how customer information is captured and managed in everyday CRM transactions have evolved over recent years. As technology continues to advance, companies need to deal with a vast array of interaction channels, disparate systems and information sources, and additional deployment models. This multitude of complexities and options emphasise the need to have a single, consistent view of the customer as customer information is scattered about the enterprise.
In the end, customers and employees need to be able to interact and transact through their channel of choice â€“ whether through a call centre, over the Internet, in person, via a mobile device, or through the growing realm of communities â€“ while maintaining a channel-independent CRM solution with centralised business logic is vital.
There has been a significant shift from back-office, product-centric processes to front-office, customer centric-processes and CRM is driving a significant amount of overall business. CRM, which traditionally was used primarily for account, lead, and opportunity management, is now looked upon as a pivotal point for pricing, promotions, and even order management. With CRM as an entry point in enabling an organisationâ€™s business strategy, integration becomes key.
Freedom of choice
Finally, companies need the flexibility of choice in how their business is run, whether on demand in a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, on premise with traditional software deployments, privately managed as a vendor-hosted application, or as an integrated mix of on demand and on premise solutions.
No matter the economic climate, the potential of true CRM offers organisations an advantage to transform their business and gain a significant competitive advantage over others.
By taking business intelligence to a new level â€“ far beyond reporting and basic analytics â€“ enterprises can arm its executives, managers, and individual contributors across sales, marketing, and service organisations with the insight to make better decisions and optimise processes in a brave new world that Web 2.0 has to offer.
â€¢Graham Mansfield is the spokes person
for oracle in Africa