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Customer Relationship Management, CRM, programs as the name suggests attempts to Manage Relationship with the Customer. However more than often the program looses steam on one or more of these aspects- either you don’t achieve a good Management of the relationship; or you don’t build a Relationship; and worst of all the Customer himself is lost somewhere in all the transactions and interactions we capture over time- and don’t know him any better than what we started off with.
Almost all the organizations and CRM programs sampled in this research wanted the Customer to mean the end Customer (end user of their product/service), irrespective of their business model. Even if the end customer means secondary or even tertiary sales customer being serviced by their dealer or retailer network respectively!
The lower we go down our supply chain or the closer we go to the end-customer, the number of people who influence, interact and transact with him increases. The end customer eco-system widens. And so does our Customer definition.
As an organization selling thru dealer network, our level of invoicing, our customer would have been the dealer. However volatile business environment, competition, and a market forecast that does not hold water for more than a quarter drives organizations go down lower. Some stop at tertiary level, customers of your dealers and build their CRM up that level. But a large and significant number would go down even further- right up to the end customer.
The CRM Program would therefore need to capture information not just about the dealer but also about the retailer and down to end-customer. From 300 dealers to 3000 retailers to now several hundred thousand end-customers!
It is only when as an organization we understand and agree on what we what the C in our CRM to represent, that we can start defining the customer.
Once we have been able to identify who the customer is in CRM, we would then need to understand the level of information we need to capture about him. Some considerations include: whether it is a B2B or B2C customer? What are the channels, thru which we connect, communicate or collaborate with him? What level of information can we capture about him? In case the channel thru which we communicate with him is SMS, then perhaps the only information we may receive from him is his mobile number. And likewise for email! Organizations usually have several types of customers based on the considerations we just discussed. And for each customer type we may decide the set of information we would capture to define the customer master.
Subsequently we need to set into process whether a customer master would be created only if all the information we seek is available? Or do we wait till then? Or we identify a minimum set of information mandatorily required across all customer types, before we can create a customer master. We may create the customer master with this minimum set. And have processes by which we can reach out to customer for other information we deem important to define our customer and customer master.
It is critical to understand that a minimum set of information should be mandated across all customer types before allowing creation of customer master. This would help ensure there are no or little instances of duplicate customer master in the CRM system. We shall discuss this aspect in subsequent section.
Another key information to be understood regarding customer master is information that would help identify the sales region/territory and/or service region/territory to which the customer belongs. Usually this is missed out in the customer master and this information is captured only in the customer interaction and/or transaction.
Last but not the least is to either capture or account of information that your Logistics/sales/loyalty management systems would require, when you send customer data, customer transactions to these systems for processing. Example: capturing customer currency or pricing related attributes could impact how a customer order may or may not be processed in a Logistics/order management system.
The challenge now is for the organization to build a practice where this information is systematically captured down to your lowest level in the sales hierarchy. Almost all organizations sampled in this research have failed to keep up the discipline. Common pitfalls include: the customer information solicited is high at the 1st instance of creation. Meaning, if the sales person is supposed to capture customer information he is requested to capture 10 odd fields. This is too much to ask of a sales person. Then there is the issue of rigor in process of following up on some of the prescribed CRM processes. For example: organizations have laid down a process of Call Centre reaching out to customers post 1st visit by sales person, to solicit more information like date of birth etc. But these processes are not closely monitored- and why would it be- the Call Centre is outsourced and there is no owner to keep track.
These challenges are the beginning of the end for the C in your CRM. At least 25 of the sampled CRM Programs stumbled at this challenge and have been a downhill since. Some of them have kept themselves ‘busy’ with large Master Data Management (MDM) projects to clean up their customer database.
As discussed above another important aspect of customer definition is understanding and capturing information regarding the customer eco-system. The further down we go in the supply chain wider the eco-system would become. For example if the end-customer is our Customer in CRM, then the eco-system could include our Sales Team right down from Zonal Office to Regional Office to Area Office; and also the dealer team including his sales team; influencers who impact sales.
This is easy to understand but considering the challenges we discussed in Customer Definition section, maintaining information- especially keeping it updated- is a herculean task. Almost all the CRM programs have failed to maintain information about customer eco-system. They have either severed ties with their CRM implementation partners or have replaced or will replace their current CRM systems.
Apart from the challenge of collecting this data, it becomes extremely difficult in keeping this data update, as we have little or peripheral or support role beyond our primarily sales. For example: how often do we ensure that the dealer sales team data is kept up to date?
Almost all organizations sampled have failed to maintain data on customer eco-system. The key recommendation is for organizations to understand and set expectations among users that such an exercise as collecting customer information and data regarding their eco-system is NOT easy. And then build operations such that it enables data capture in stages and/or by teams dedicated for such activities.
Have clear cut processes and teams responsible for capturing and updating information across the supply chain. A “CRM Dealer Team”, a “CRM Retailer Team”, a “CRM Field Sales Team” et al. The sooner we accept that there is no easy way around this and ramp up the CRM team, the sooner we shall circumvent this fundamental problem.
Customer Relationship Number is for banking industry? Customers in banking would remember this Code because they need it to transact, but in our industry/business, customers won’t remember this number? Most organizations would agree with this thought process; and the reason why they may capture customer information, create a customer master, create a customer code in this process- but will not communicate this code to each customer.
The Customer Code is not just for customers but also for our internal CRM team. Imagine if your customer were to remember their codes, we could retrieve their information in a jiffy.
The researcher has quizzed several leaders in the sampled CRM Programs and they do agree on the benefits they could reap if each of their customers could remember their customer code. This would be the height an organization could achieve in their CRM journey.
However the very thought of creating, maintaining and communication a couple of million customer codes is a difficult proposition, not technically, but operationally.
The researcher would like to recommend a path breaking organization structure where the CRM organization is as unique as traditional organization departments/functions like Marketing, Sales, Finance etc. If organizations can build and staff a CRM department that scales up and horizontally and has a depth of staffing like front-line sales team, then the millions of customer codes reduces to a few hundreds or thousands per CRM team. The researcher proposes CRM team down to dealer/retailer level like any organizations sales/service team, so that there is complete ownership and rigor in implementing and sustaining CRM activities. CRM activities should then be legitimized to find place in company’s Profit & Loss and Balance Sheet.
Duplicate customer masters
As we define the customer master, it is important that we identify the fields that are mandatory and needs to be captured at point of creation for all customers. Without this mandatory set of information available, the team should not create customer master in CRM systems. By doing so, one can ensure there is a method of identifying duplicate customers at point of creation.
This is an important starting point for organizations embarking on a CRM Program. Get this right and at least you will save a few millions trying to clean up duplicate customers, several years after.
Avoiding duplicate customer masters in your CRM system is a two-pronged approach. (a) As we discussed we need to identify fields that are mandatorily to be known before creating ANY customer in the organization. (b) Even as we do that there are instances when we may still create duplicate customers. This paper will not touch upon such instances, but an experienced reader will agree. So have an operational process wherein periodically you would run a check of such instances and clean them up.
Let me replay the recommendation mentioned in previous section: The researcher would like to recommend a path breaking organization structure where the CRM organization is as unique as traditional organization departments/functions like Marketing, Sales, Finance etc. The researcher proposes CRM team down to dealer/retailer level like any organizations sales/service team, so that there is complete ownership and rigor in implementing and sustaining CRM activities. CRM activities should then be legitimized to find place in company’s Profit & Loss and Balance Sheet.
A Call Centre should be integral part of any CRM Program. The Call Centre could be a Technical Help Desk providing 1st level technical support to customers, in case your organization is in the business of high-tech, customer engaging products etc.; or the Call Centre could be largely performing routine sales & service activities.
The researcher strongly recommends setting up of Call Centre, based on the experience had with sampled CRM Programs. Aligning with the objective of this paper, the researcher will only cover the reason(s) that justify setting up of a Call Centre.
As presented above there are several challenges in building up a robust customer database. There are challenges in terms of volume of data required to be captured and maintained. These challenges are rarely circumvented by organizations; and lead to decay in CRM customer database. The primary issue being that of ownership- it is clear who owns the customer- but who owns customer data? Sales will blame Marketing for requesting information like income details of customer or Socio-Economic data. Marketing will blame Sales team for not tagging or identifying customers converted to sale on account of their Marketing activities. In this final blame game, organizations would wish they had a Call Centre to have taken care of customer data.
Too much focus on calls and not whom you are calling
Daily Call Reports (DCR) is a must from dealer/retailer/own sales executives! Sales Funnel is critical! Review Monthly Targets are key! Fine-tune forecasts quarterly! No arguments there across organizations. But if we closely examine a few data points within the DCR up to forecasts, we will see customer information embedded within. However sales & marketing focuses almost entirely on these numbers; and maintain a ‘healthy bric-batting’ within their teams and with their dealers/retailers. And this they think will take them home with their target achievements. And many organizations call this their CRM Program.
Coming back to the customer information that is captured in the DCR and rolled up finally as numbers in the various sales planning sheets! How carefully would an Area Manager review the few columns in the DCR which mentions customer name, address and contact number? Or would he rather count the number of rows (calls made) and ‘HOT’ status (Lead qualification)? The answers are obvious.
We know the price each row in that DCR, but not the value of customer information in each row. Organizations more than often try to PUSH sales and not try to ALSO leverage the customer information that is coming in- and build a rich customer master database. Utilize this database for marketing activities; build brand awareness with direct-to-customer activities; build loyalty programs and so on.
Finally PUSH sales founded on numbers will have to move to RETAIN sales, and then how well you connect with and how mature your relationship is with your customers will play the decisive factor of you being in business or competition taking over.
Content for your customers
Many of us would be familiar with situations where call centre executives of organizations would call you and attempt to conclude sale on phone; propagating that there is no face-to-face process for conducting sale of their products. How many organizations invest in Content for their customers and appreciate customers would need to have access to information; including that from competition to make buy decisions.
With the growth in internet a majority of organizations have been able to build websites & create Apps to support their customers. Considerable progress has been made in the area of content for customers. However gaps do exist especially on traditional channels like phone or face-to-face meetings. Call Centre agents are still not adequately equipped with interactive scripts to guide them thru their customer interactions. They do not have to a knowledge repository (or FAQs) to help them resolve customer complaints.
Technology is available to help organizations plug these gaps. However unless there is a strong focus and team for content management, the gaps will always be there- and also find it’s way to your websites and Apps.
Wrap up call time
A majority of the sampled organizations had implemented a Wrap Up Call time for their call centre agents. This is a prevalent industry practice to ensure agents don’t spend ‘disproportionate’ time with customers on phone. This also impacts their metric of cost per call. It is a good practice as long as you are selling thru outbound calls. Beyond that it is a bad practice best avoided.
Wrap up call should not be implemented especially for service related or complaint related calls. Customers with complaints need to be heard, as much as time required.
How often do you get calls from agents for the same product or service, even when you have clearly expressed your disinterest? One of the key reasons why customers receive multiple calls are because of duplicate customer masters being created in your CRM system. And second key reason being the way call status is updated to ensure there are no repeat calls. A third key factor being non-updation of DND (Do Not Disturb) in customer master! DND is a facility provided to customers to say they don’t want some or all of their contact numbers to be called for sales & marketing calls by call centre agents.
Technology is available to address these gaps. And it needs to be implemented especially if your organization intends to execute outbound calls to your customers or prospects. Several CRM Programs sampled have reported dip in customers on account of not implementing such practices.
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