Successful Customer-Relationship Management

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Getting close to your customer, we're told, is the key to success in the marketplace. That mantra of modern marketing has led to a boom in information-technology spending to help companies get in touch with their customers. Indeed, interest in customer-relationship-management (CRM) systems continues to heat up.

To improve service and retain customers, CRM synthesizes all of a company's customer “touchpoints” — including e-mail, call centers, retail stores and sales reps — to support subsequent customer interactions as well as to inform financial forecasts, product design and supply-chain management.

But given the mixed history of other recent big-ticket IT projects — from enterprise-resource planning (ERP) to supply-chain systems — just how successful has CRM been? And what are the keys to its success?

Research published recently by two industry groups reinforces the notion that CRM has to be more than just a marketing and customer-service initiative and that success depends on extending the effort deep into the organization.“CRM is a paradigm shift in terms of what you are focusing on,” says Wayne W. Eckerson. Eckerson and Hugh J. Watson of the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business were co-directors of “Harnessing Customer Information for Strategic Advantage,” a survey from The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI). Moving from a product-centric view to a customer-centric view, Eckerson continues, means transforming how a corporation organizes itself.

The Data Warehousing Institute got a view from the trenches by questioning 1,670 IT professionals and consultants. Some 59% of the respondents said their CRM implementations were “meeting expectations” or better. (However, only 29% of respondents had actually deployed their CRM solutions; the rest were still in the planning phases.)

The senior-level executives surveyed in the upbeat “Customer Relationship Management: An Entirely New Way of Looking at Business” from The Conference Board in New York are even more positive. Some 80% of the responding marketing, customer-service and sales execs at 96 companies characterize their organizations' CRM efforts as “very successful” or “somewhat successful.” Even more important, the main lesson learned in The Conference Board survey has little to do with budgeting or technical issues, but rather involves “greater involvement and support at all levels.” The best predictors of CRM success, according to the survey, a re corporate culture and process and technology improvement.

The key is for the CRM effort to move beyond sales, marketing, customer services and assisting customers to include operations and the “Office of the CEO” or strategic planning.

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