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01 Mar 10

One of the great ironies of New Zealand business today is that we often don’t seem to practise in detail what we demand for ourselves. We have come to expect greater customer service from all aspects of our experience as a consumer – be that from our daily personal transactions to those that we conduct in our business life.

As consumers, we have set expectations that the organisation and individual serving us know who we are and what we are about to transact with them. For the end user, this experience must happen without a hitch, no credit decline and certainly not without knowing your last significant order.

This is a scenario happening every hour, every day and every week across New Zealand: customer expectations managed with people and technology.

The good news is that we have both the people and technology to ensure that this can happen successfully. Many organisations have made the investment in the software, hardware and data networks to collect those ‘transactions’ and ensure they are stored against customer X for the next time. Unfortunately, this is where too many organisations thought that taking this action was enough to tick the box when it comes to CRM.

There has been significant investment in CRM technologies and processes over the last five years. The most successful are the ones the customer doesn’t know about. These solutions lead the way, both in terms of the application of technology and people – the ‘elusive foxes’ of the CRM world.

Firstly, the owners of successful CRM projects have stood in their customers’ shoes and let that experience drive the configuration of the technology implementation. They also involved frontline staff in the planning and development stages, and canvassed them as to how the solution would be practically applied.

One trend coming out of 2009, and into this year, has been the focus on spending less. This has meant that CRM projects have been shortened but focused on the most important outcomes needed to be achieved. An investment in CRM often isn’t a one-off, and nothing ever gets in the way of expanding or extending the project later. Supporting this, there has been a move to focus on shorter, phased implementations.

Cloud computing and on-demand services are also having a big impact in all aspects of technology delivery. Today all the major CRM providers have an offering in this space. The functionality is still the same, but we are seeing a change in the price point. We have started to see the Kiwi ‘must own’ mentality changing over the last year, perhaps driven by economics and shorter term horizons. No longer is the new server in the rack and IT support staff the way forward. Out-of-sight is the new black!

With the rapid change in technology and its affordability, it has been great to see the adoption of CRM solutions by so many medium to small businesses. In the last two years we’ve seen a number of companies not only implement CRM technologies but also use these in ways not traditionally seen. They haven’t been constrained by the product manual, and more often asked "Can I do this with it?" as they tried to get the most from the application they’ve invested in.

CRM applications are starting to become a core management tool of a large number of companies, and ERP is being relegated to a finance and stock keeping function. Perhaps customers, and not company capital, are being recognised as the true asset in business?

One frustration that continues into the new decade is the lack of marketing and sales resource involvement in the organisation’s CRM implementation. Some trends don’t (or won’t) change. CRM is not an IT project and never will be. The companies successfully using CRM solutions have their marketing and sales teams running the project, and the IT team managing the appropriate technical aspects. The difference between success and ‘ticking a box’ is the business team that drives the project.

The success of CRM does come down to the people – it’s the business team that makes the difference. It has been rewarding to see that there is greater involvement of the right people, within an organisation, in what was previously considered an IT project.

Getting the best result means involving those that need to be involved – whether it be the high school checkout operator at the supermarket, the 48-year-old account manager who looks after key customers, or the marketing co-ordinator emailing the prospect list. You have to involve all those who are integral to managing the customer relationship.

So, next time you are swiping your loyalty card, paying by credit card or meeting an account manager, think about your experience and how you are being treated. Is it up to your expectations; do they know you and understand your relationship? In the supermarket, at your office or shopping online, it should all be geared to meet your experience needs, underpinned with a hint of CRM technology. Understanding this first should ensure that we aren’t being out-foxed by technology projects, and remember: the human touch is the most important aspect of CRM.

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