In the information age, it’s vital for a business to maintain customer information and create customer relationships.
CRM (customer relationship management) software helps businesses of any size understand what their customers are buying, when they’re buying it and how to interact with them, said Sam Mandolfo, president of Mandolfo Associates in Omaha.
“CRM has become almost mandatory for companies today,” Mandolfo said. “Customers want to be interacted with in their own way. If you can figure out how they want to be sold to, you can leverage your ability to do business with them.”
CRM software can be used in different ways, depending on what a person’s job function is, said Ron Jenkins, CRM practice manager at Choice Solutions in Omaha.
“Marketing will use CRM to generate leads with marketing campaigns,” Jenkins said. “Sales will use it to follow-up on leads and manage opportunities, and service will use it to track customer issues to resolution.”
CRM software is extremely important for a customer service department, said James Foxall, vice president of Tigerpaw Software in Bellevue. When a customer service representative opens a certain client’s file, he can see all the information about that person.
“You’re completely armed when you take a call,” Foxall said.
You can create and build a knowledge base, Jenkins said. When a customer calls with a problem, the representative can add that incident to the knowledge base along with notes on how it was solved, he said.
Some CRM programs have an inventory control aspect. They can send alerts when a company is running low on part of its inventory, Foxall said.
“This makes for better customer service because you will always have on hand what you need for your customers,” he said.
Some CRM packages also feature a reporting component. An employee can create key reports organized by date, client, product or whatever is suitable.
Other programs assist in workflow management. You can define events and have the software do things such as send targeted emails to customers, Foxall said.
All CRM packages should help businesses keep track of time, conversations and schedules, said Patrick J. Nelson, marketing director at 21st Century Systems in Omaha, which is a technology firm that produces decision support systems for military and civilian customers. In addition, he said it should have the capability to e-mail clients directly from the program and allow mail merging from the CRM program to the e-mail program.
For Nelson, an important component of CRM software is that it helps with deadlines.
“It will send pop-up messages when you need to contact certain people, so you don’t need to constantly look at your calendar,” Nelson said.
One of the most important benefits of CRM software, Mandolfo said, is that it allows everyone in a company access to customer information.
“Inventory, human relations, the sales force and other systems all have different pieces of information about customers,” Mandolfo said. “CRM helps companies pull information from all systems and helps you know who your customers are.”
It creates a consolidated view of all customers and gives access to everybody in the organization,” Jenkins said. “It allows everybody an understanding of a customer’s behaviors and needs.”
Understanding a customer’s entire profile is important for all departments of a business, Foxall said. When anyone who needs to can view a particular account, it allows for troubleshooting problems, solving related problems and recognizing trends, he said.
CRM helps with follow-up, Nelson said. A business can keep track throughout the year of times when a customer needs a certain service, he said, and a major priority of any business is making sure that customers are served well.
“You need to serve their needs the best you can, and you can’t remember everything on your own,” he said.
Good customer service creates customer loyalty, which can increase sales, Jenkins said.
A business can purchase a CD and install the software, making an addition when an update is available. An easier method which is becoming more popular, Mandolfo said, is purchasing CRM software via the internet.
“Businesses purchase the software as a subscription,” he said. “They pay a monthly fee, and enhancements to the software are delivered in real time.” As soon as someone logs on, the newest version is loaded, he said.
Which CRM package works best depends on the business, Foxall said.
“See if the aspects of a particular program fulfill your needs,” he said.