The continuing evolution of handheld devices and notebook PCs promises even more mobility for enterprises in the coming years. Sales reps and service reps no longer need to feel tethered to their desktop computers, nor dependent on file cabinets filled with customer information back at headquarters.
Customer relationship management software is being used by reps on the go, and those working remotely, more and more. Mobility is the name of the game.
Yet when it comes to CRM, the digital revolution still isn't in full swing, quite yet. Using CRM systems on mobile devices is helpful, but has drawbacks as well. And with multiple communication channels like cell phones, instant messaging, and email, it can be pretty complex to get all the right information into a central CRM system.
So, the question is, where to start when trying to tie together customer communication, mobile technology, and CRM?
Pick and Choose
The experts say it's better to start by examining how reps inside an enterprise are already working, rather than coming up with a new, revamped strategy that forces new communication styles on customers and reps.
"People have had to adapt to different modes of communication, and not everyone uses new channels in the same way," says Herve Pluche, president and CEO of CRM software provider NeoCase.
Enterprises should create larger goals, but also develop a clear vision of which devices are most used, what reps like the best, how customers prefer to be contacted, and what type of communication seems to yield the best results.
In many cases, multiple channels might work best, Pluche says. For example, a customer record can be created in a PDA, but a rep would confirm orders via email, and then call to follow up on delivery.
In other cases, integrating an offline component could also be beneficial, since it might speed up productivity.
"A technician, for instance, may not always be online, but you want him to be able to work on a service request," says Pluche. "So, you can tell the application to automatically send any emails and update the master case file as soon as that technician is online again."
Tailoring CRM activity based on what various types of reps are already doing is an important first step, and leads to the second major part of a multi-channel strategy: tweaking expectations.
It would be tempting to expect productivity to zoom upward from the use of mobile technology, as email campaigns are launched from a coffee shop or extensive customer data is input from an airport lounge. But companies need to be realistic about what to expect with CRM ported to a mobile device, notes Al Falcione, director of product marketing at CRM vendor Salesforce.com.
"It's a totally different experience when you're mobile," he says. "There's a lot to keep in mind when you're deploying CRM on multiple channels, but one of the most important is the understanding that people behave differently when it comes to mobile technology."
Major marketing campaigns involving 1,000 customers won't be sent from users while they're on the bus, for example. More likely, reps will keep in contact with customers through email on a one-on-one basis.
Instead of expecting employees to do the same type of CRM tasks on-the-go that they would do at the office, on their desktop, Falcione recommends that companies embrace the limitations of mobile technology, and let reps use it in ways that make the most sense.
Often, that will involve simply looking up information rather than inputting any. Instead of seeing this as a limited way to use the application, companies can create better, more efficient search methods, so that reps can quickly find the data they need.
Keep It Simple
It is also important to ensure that records accessed by mobile users are not overly complex. It's rare that a sales rep would need to see 10 year-old ordering history when sitting in a customer meeting, so presenting that data as part of the customer's record would only slow the process.
Of course, some input can be done on the road, Falcione notes. What makes the most sense are brief customer notes, and especially expense report items. For example, reps who are traveling can enter restaurant and hotel charges into their mobile device to reduce the amount of time needed to complete expense reports back in the office.
These quickly jotted expenses can be interconnected with other parts of the system as well, says Falcione. The company can associate the expenses with a sales opportunity, and get a clearer look at how much new prospects in a certain region are costing to turn into customers, for example.
"However a company wants to track the data can be an advantage," says Falcione. "The key is in customizing the applications and understanding the restrictions with mobile input."
Inside, Outside and in Between
Another major component of implementing a successful communication strategy is in understanding how reps swap information among their groups, not just in how they reach out to customers.
Sometimes, there are communication gaps that go unseen at companies because they're focusing more on what's being sent out of the enterprise and less on what's happening within its walls.
"Field service agents perform a specific job, and sales reps perform another," says Craig Sullivan, senior director of international products at NetSuite. "Identifying what each group needs is crucial, but so are the connections between them."
For example, if field service reps hear from customers that they're not happy with a recent product order, do they communicate that information to sales reps, or customer service? Sometimes, they might just nod in sympathy, and mention it to a customer service agent in the lunchroom, and a sales rep will never get that vital information.
Encouraging employees to communicate on multiple channels to capture all useful data can be especially helpful for creating a more cohesive system. Email, in particular, is helpful for catching keywords and logging data chronologically, as well as tying information into other parts of the system.
"The advantage you want, in general, is to capitalize on the speed of data exchange," says NetSuite's Sullivan. "Make sure there's flexibility in the system, and communication is working well over multiple channels," he says, "and it can be very beneficial for any company."
Although it's no easy task, tying together your CRM channels can help your company provide better customer service and increase sales by putting the data your reps need at their fingertips, when they need it.
And ultimately, a cohesive CRM system will also provide management with better data for marketing as well as R&D, enterprise resource planning, and overall business intelligence.