Toward a More Perfect CRM

“Perfection is the enemy of completion” is a bastardization of a translation of the first line of a poem by Voltaire. That makes the saying itself sort of an example of what Voltaire was talking about — but it doesn’t make it any less true.

In the processes we use to run our businesses and deal with customers, there’s a lot of “good enough” thinking — which is a good thing as you put a business together, work with your initial customers, or expand your operations both in the front and the back office. At a certain point, though, striving for perfection isn’t such a bad thing.

In fact, when it comes to any process that touches the customer directly, continuing to refine and improve is really the name of the game. Perfection is beyond everyone’s grasp — but digging into your processes to discover those that were good enough to see what can be improved is an easy way to start the ball rolling.

Personalization, Please

Consider how your products are delivered, for example. If you’re shipping them on time and you’re getting the contents of the shipments right, you’re already delivering what the customer expects. Going beyond that isn’t hard.

The inclusion of a note — personalized, using your CRM system — goes a long way toward making that delivery less a transaction and more a personal interaction. Taking it further, including a surprise bonus for loyal customers — something you don’t even advertise on your website — could further enhance the customer’s experience of doing business with you.

If you sell through a subscription model — or if you’re a utility — you still have contact with customers 12 times a year through your billing. If you’re still in business, you have the part of billing that’s important to you handled. However, a bill can be much more.

Including some helpful content (“how to use our service in ways you may not have realized”) and personal messages (“this is your fifth anniversary as a customer!”) make bills a bit more pleasant. Imagine a bill that customers looked forward to getting instead of awaiting with mild dread. It’s not that hard to get to that point with a little thought and effort.

This all is an aspect of marketing — but how many companies bother to market effectively to existing customers? Many regurgitate the same messages that they send to prospects, but that tactic only suggests that those businesses haven’t bothered to learn a thing about their customers.

Just as you have already segmented prospective customers, segment your existing customers, and run “drip campaigns” to them as well. No one likes to be forgotten, so an occasional message — especially one that’s personalized — has an impact out of proportion to the effort needed to send it.

If your dentist and your insurance agent can send you a postcard around the time of your birthday each year using an office assistant, postcards and a roll of stamps, there’s no reason you can’t use the marketing technology you already have to keep in contact with customers.

Get Social, Stay Social

If you’re using a CRM application, you probably think you’re already doing a great job of collecting customer data. If you’re just collecting the data that your CRM came set up to collect, you’re only doing a good job.

What separates companies that use CRM well from those that use it exceptionally well is that the exceptional companies don’t stop looking for a data edge. That might mean there’s a metric about your customers that gives you a competitive advantage, which you could collect and incorporate with a simple configuration change to your CRM application.

It might also mean that once you have customers, you have an opportunity to collect additional data about them in order to segment them better and thus market to them in a more personalized way.

Nothing can change faster than how your customers use social media, which means that you can always fine-tune your own social media presence. Getting into social media is good, but getting into social media channels where your customers and potential customers congregate is better.

Like all the areas mentioned here, social media is not a fire-and-forget part of your customer strategy. If you had that attitude, and happened to get into social media early, you might today wonder why MySpace wasn’t driving more business for you. You have to revisit your social channels and reallocate your resources regularly.

These are only a few suggestions — the opportunities are endless. There are probably areas in your business that are good enough, but searching them out and weighing whether improvements can be made, how easily they can be made, and how quickly they can be made is an easy way to make your processes almost perfect without a painful overhaul.

Chris Bucholtz

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is director of content marketing at Relayware. Bucholtz is also a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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