It takes a lot of time, money and effort to get a customer. If you lose one, you also lose the current revenues and up-selling opportunities along with everything you invested to get the customer in the first place. That hurts. Now you have to go out and get a replacement, assuming one is available in this economy.
A well-implemented CRM system provides a flexible electronic customer experience management environment that will protect your business against the catastrophic prospect of losing customers. The elements of such a system are easy to describe, but require constant review. There are only four.
Customer retention begins and ends with the customer’s experience. You won your customer by leading him to decide that his experience with your business would be superior to what others offer. Now comes the hard work of demonstrating that he made the right decision so he will continue with your firm and even expand the relationship. Here, with the help of your CRM system, is what you have to do.
1. Capture Customer Information: The failure to collect the data which will assist you in understanding the customer’s ongoing needs and requirements is tantamount to giving up that customer. So early in the relationship you need to develop a plan for collecting this data in a way that will not irritate the customer but, instead, raise your organization in his estimation because you cared enough to immerse yourself in the all-important details of his business.
Typically capturing this information will involve a series of targeted meetings with the level of participants in your organization ranging from the sales person, through sales management, and up to senior management. This diversity is essential because customers are most willing to divulge such propriety information only to individuals at a similar level to themselves or to someone with whom they have developed a level of mutual respect and trust.
There are three categories of information you need to capture. Customer qualification data represents the largest portion. Collecting it involves identifying the key decision makers, including CIO, CFO, sales management, support management, etc. What systems do they have? What interfaces? What is their buying cycle? What is their budgeting cycle?
You also need to understand your customer’s products, his customers and sales processes. The third category encompasses the problems your customer is experiencing within his own processes. These are frequently a key to major up-sell opportunities and without a doubt they are the most difficult to get a clear understanding of and concurrence on.
2. Create Annual Plan: Your annual customer service plan will answer important questions such as: What products best meet his needs? What are the critical milestones in his budget cycle? What does he need from us at each milestone so our products will be included in the next budget? Who in his organization do I get in front of to pave the way for up-sells?
Your initial plan must include a sub-plan for capturing additional information so that you can make an even better plan next year. That’s because your customer will change and your plan must incorporate those changes into your approach to servicing his organization. Otherwise you will lose the customer.
3. Manage Plan Inside CRM: Most people think of a plan as a document. However, from a CRM perspective, a plan is really a set of processes that help you manage customer-facing team member activities in pursuit of satisfying needs identified in the data capture and planning processes.
For example, the plan may stipulate that someone will call on the customer at least once a quarter and that seven specific products will be presented to him during the course of the year, Once those elements have been incorporated into the tables that make up the CRM Plan, they become the elements that are used to trigger specific activities to satisfy the plan and its process requirements as defined either by management or from your reviews with the customer.
You should think of the “plan” as a living system that paces meaningful sales and customer service activities without getting in the way of those who carry them out.
4. Enhance Customer Experience: The CRM system creates a unified environment in which the activities of everyone who touches the customer in some way are visible to each other. Customer problems and opportunities, once identified, are accessible to everyone immediately. At the same time, the CRM system helps eliminate “channel conflicts,” situations in which separate groups within your organization are trying to present the customer with different and disconnected solutions to address a particular problem or opportunity.
The bottom line is that the customer comes to understand, and rightly so, that you are carefully listening to his requirements and problems and are acting in unison to provide him with integrated solutions that are in his best interest. That is an enhanced customer experience.
Getting your CRM system to help you service and maintain customers in this fashion will not happen overnight. It takes about 12 to 18 months to arrive at a robust fully functioning system. During those months there are two pitfalls you must avoid at all costs:
• Failure to capture qualification information with sufficient specificity to make it actionable
• Failure to create plans automatically by feeding qualification information directly into a CRM planning module
To avoid these pitfalls you need to make sure your CRM processes are robust and flexible enough to accommodate the requirements of living, breathing customers who are continually evolving.
Once such a CRM system is in place, it will insure that the work is carried out systematically and completely. Better still it will insure that the next version of your customer service plan will be generated automatically from information captured by a built-in customer qualification process. Your multifaceted customer will understand that his needs are being met by an equally sophisticated organization that is totally responsive to his changing needs.