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Customer Relationship Management: Everything Old is New Again

Sep 8, 2008
In an age when the platitude "The customer is always right" has morphed into the more alarming maxim "An unhappy customer can blog about it", Customer Relationship Management would seem to be getting a new spin. The reasoning goes like this: the internet has forever changed our world and we must change the way we do business as a result. We must treat the marketplace as a conversation, we must speak in an authentic voice, engage the customer as a partner. We must listen to the customer and give him what he genuinely wants, and not just what we have to sell. The alarm has been sounded - our customers can talk to each other, we can't hide behind our corporate firewalls.

These are all valid points. It can't be denied that the Internet has changed our world forever. The interesting thing is, the idea of the marketplace as a one-way conversation, where you can hide from your customer after you sell them a bad product, is a very modern one. It can be argued that on some level, the Internet is taking us back to an earlier time, where news travelled fast, where everybody knew everybody else's business, and the marketplace was in fact where you went for conversation, as well as a colorful rug, and perhaps some exotic spices. The Internet has made the world a smaller place, and small is the new big.

What has changed is the way the conversation takes place, and the speed with which the news, good or bad, travels. Today's customers, for better or worse, have a lot of options available to them. You can't ship it today? Click - I'll find someone who can. You don't have it in blue? Click - I'll find someone who does. Likewise, if today's customer is curious about what other people think about what you have to sell, another few clicks will usually lead him to a review or a forum where other consumers can speak freely and volubly about every aspect of your product and service. The challenge is to build customer loyalty and brand awareness in a marketplace full of itchy mouse fingers.

But let's suppose none of this is news to you. You've read The Cluetrain Manifesto. You know about the social customer. Frankly, you don't believe in some vast conspiracy on the part of American business to swindle and defraud the consumer. Quality and value win the day, always have, always will, whether the consumer gets to the marketplace by camel or Firefox. The fact of the matter is, you engage in conversations, real conversations, with your customers every day. You know that you are not invisible, and no business can survive for long that doesn't listen to its customers. You know that Customer Relationship Management is not just about getting new customers, it's about keeping the old ones. What you are looking for is new and better ways to tend the delicate flower of customer loyalty while aggressively cultivating new ground. Consumers want more transparency; you want to give it to them without compromising confidentiality. If news travels fast, then information sharing needs to be instantaneous. This not only gives everyone in your organization a complete, up-to-date view of all customer interactions, it empowers your employees to deal knowledgeably with your customers, leading to a high quality customer experience.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software has kept pace with the demands of the new (old) marketplace, and is absolutely indispensable no matter how large or small your organization is. There are Web-based applications that can be accessed on-demand through the internet; there are also applications that can be implemented on-site. These might be standalone applications, or you might want them to integrate with existing back-office applications. Either way, CRM software has many benefits, from thorough contact management to sophisticated forecasting and reporting. Come to work every day and see a list of activities that you can prioritize. Analyze and organize your sales opportunities. Manage each prospect through a sales cycle. Quickly resolve customer questions, issues and requests with advanced tracking and resolution tools. CRM software can expand your reach and improve your communication with your company's lifeblood - the customer.

At ACI we are experts on the Sage ACT! and CRM Saleslogix product line. If you need help selecting a CRM solution, email me at solutions@ACIconsulting.com or visit us at www.ACIconsulting.com. I'll put our team to work on it!
About the Author
Douglas Luchansky is the President of ACI Consulting, a reseller for ERP related software and services such as Sage CRM Saleslogix.
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