Why should sales have a monopoly on customer relationship management?

These days we communicate with automated telephone systems to pay our bills

CUSTOMER relationship management (CRM) means different things to different people. Even city high flyers in the most professional and IT orientated businesses, continually update their own definition of it to reflect the changing developments in software, and the use of the latest technology.

In its early days, the challenge for CRM developers was to educate business what it was, never mind how it could help. Personally I got fed up explaining the term CRM to potential customers and often referred to it as sales management software, which broke the barriers down and delivered a more receptive ear to the prospect on the other end of the phone.

If you think of CRM as being like a whole marketplace such as cars or fashion, it becomes easier to appreciate that it's going to come in different shapes and sizes. Some versions are suited to the complexities of a business unit within a global enterprise, while others fit the simpler needs of an SME or even a private medical practice. Some aim to provide a balanced portfolio of functionality across sales, marketing and customer service, while others remain firmly rooted in the sales discipline.

Just recently, while visiting an osteopath in Banbridge, I was impressed with the detail that was obviously recorded on the patient relationship database or as known in business terms, the customer relationship management (CRM) database. In this case I was the customer and the information I presented with was the data. That data would be managed, monitored and possibly reported on at a later date with the appointment being the sale.

So what’s common in all the different flavours of CRM, is that the solution provides organisations with a common system of recording what is known about their customers. This might begin with capturing the initial set of interactions required to become a customer. After all, tracking sales pipelines is what CRM is probably most famous for. Then over time, it might expand to include all ongoing engagement and transactions. These might be automatically imported into the CRM to provide a single view of the customer.

As the volume and quality of customer data grows, organisations naturally become interested in the broader insights that can be generated. Common and distinct customer buying behaviours can be identified through analysis. This leads to fresh insight into customer needs and opportunities for relevant customer messaging via e-marketing.

Indeed we are now entering a new phase of automated insight as promised by artificial intelligence, which is fuelling deep learning solutions. These will continuously trawl through the increasingly large amounts of data now captured in CRM systems to highlight the best action to take next for members of the sales team, in terms of ‘touching the customer’ with the ideal profiles, for personalised targeted marketing campaigns, via the phone or e-mail marketing.

So what is the future of CRM software solutions? In the same way we now communicate with automated telephone systems to pay the likes of our utility or credit card bills, in other words, inputting details, both customers and staff will now connect via the web or cloud and update the CRM database.

Customers, once logged in, will be ‘sent’ to their existing record, and a set of business rules triggered at this initial point including alerting an adviser. Beyond the undoubted convenience of automatically opening the right customer record on the adviser's screen, there are smarter things that can be done to enhance the customer experience.

Customers on different levels of support can be prioritised during busy times. Customers with outstanding payments or immanent renewals, can be routed to specialist teams. Customers, who in the past have scored low in any client feedback surveys, can be routed to another team, who are concerned with understanding why their customer satisfaction scores are low.

Of course simply capturing more and more customer data does not deliver value for either brand or customer. Making better clear cut business decisions, based on the data gathered, must be the aim here. If data that can be easily captured, and used for the mutual benefit of both customer and brand, then it is worth doing.

In summary, CRM provides the customer data, workflow and analytics that fine-tunes contact engagement into relevant, effective and profitable dialogue.

:: Trevor Bingham ( is business relationship manager at ItFuel in Craigavon. Follow them on Twitter @itfuel.

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