Customer Relationship Management software has evolved considerably over the past 25 years and continues to evolve today, especially in terms of easier remote access with smartphones, tablets and laptops, and of course, cloud-based computing.
We spoke with a few industry experts about what's new in CRM and how businesses of all sizes can boost sales and improve customer service with the right CRM implementation.
The Mobile, Social Factor
First, we asked Mike Snyder, principal of Sonoma Partners, a Microsoft Dynamics CRM partner, to offer his thoughts about what's new with CRM software. The benefits today, he said, go far beyond simple contact management.
"Today's CRM systems, such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM, offer a high degree of customization to track and manage all types of relationships that businesses enter into, from client contracts to vendor management," Snyder said.
In addition, companies can now use CRM tools to track social interactions with customers and address them in the arena of their choice, whether it's Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
Snyder also pointed to the advantage that today's CRM systems (and Microsoft Dynamics CRM, in particular) enable mobile access to data using so many different kinds of devices, including Android smartphones, the iPhone, iPad, or BlackBerry.
Facilitating Distributed Workforces
Barry Givens, director of product management for CRM at technology-consulting firm Avanade (owned primarily by Accenture), shared his views on the benefits of today's CRM systems.
He started by pointing to business processes that are much more complex than they've ever been. That, he said, makes CRM solutions absolutely essential to managing the collaboration necessary to sell, deliver service, and market to customers.
"Many first- and second-generation CRM systems were built to capture information about work after it had been done, and managers were the only people in the organization who gained any benefit from the data -- if it was captured at all," Givens said.
"Today, CRM solutions are collaboration systems that enable distributed sales teams to work together, manage complex supply-chain issues for support, and allow marketing teams to initiate digital marketing campaigns across [a variety of] channels. These solutions are not just recording that work is being done -- they are facilitating and, in some cases, doing the work."
Consolidating Customer Data
We spoke next with David Toliver, director of corporate marketing for Angel, a leading provider of on-demand customer-engagement solutions.
Toliver explained that consolidation of data is one of the toughest problems facing businesses today. And, it's one of the most important problems to solve in order for companies to be able to provide great customer service across multiple channels.
Toliver insists CRM systems can drastically improve the way businesses are collecting, storing, and analyzing customer data.
Historically, businesses collected data in silos, he said, and there was no good way of accessing that data from multiple points. Worse yet, there were no solid reporting capabilities that could translate into actionable items to help businesses improve their sales and service, in order to grow.
"Consolidating customer data, whether it be contact information, buying behavior, customer support history, or even something such as flagging a customer as a VIP, allows businesses to provide a higher level of customer service," Toliver said. That higher level of service, in turn, creates happier customers and increases customer retention.
"A cloud-based approach to CRM makes the implementation and management of the system faster and easier," Toliver explained. In addition, the cloud approach, which is so popular today, makes it easier to integrate CRM systems with related technologies such as IVR [interactive voice response] and other contact center solutions, like live chat and Web systems.
Ultimately, companies should be able to boost their sales and improve customer satisfaction, by implementing CRM systems that facilitate a holistic, multi-channel approach to customer service.