eCRM: A Virtual Reality Check For Your Business
Published on July 29, 2008
Virtual marketplaces bear little resemblance to brick-and-mortar enterprises. This is precisely why electronic Customer Relationship Management (eCRM) is so crucial to online success.
In Keeping Your Balance with Customers, Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton describe how technology has transformed the traditional marketing sequence from “customer pull” to “product push”, creating a new breed of transaction. In this modern version, the consumer is not the passive target of a sales pitch designed to provoke a desired response. Today’s internet shopping experience represents a flipping of conventional roles. Customers act rather than react, voluntarily initiating the transactions and placing themselves in the “customer pull” phase. Although your products or services are at the fingertips of potential customers actively searching for them, so are those of every other online company. To survive in this fiercely competitive arena, you must understand, embrace, and exploit this virtual reality.
Putting Technology to Work for You: The Beauty of eCRM
Building one-on-one relationships with people you’ve never met is quite a challenging task, but don’t lose heart. The developments that streamline online shopping also provide a rich source of information just waiting to be mined to your advantage. With every keystroke or click, consumers provide information about themselves. Internet sites, web browsers, and databases help in determining the most worthwhile business practices by giving you important details, such as product needs, spending patterns, and shopping habits.
Luckily, this high-tech approach is neither high-maintenance nor high-priced. A hosted eCRM service eliminates much of the start-up, maintenance, and upgrade fees of its on-premise counterparts. Rather, it offers a cheaper, faster, and easier means of tracking consumers.
In 2006, U.S. retail websites enjoyed $102.1 billion in sales from those consumers, reflecting a 24% increase over 2005’s figures (ComScore Networks, cited in “Online Spending Tops 100 Billion” by Ben Ames in InfoWorld, January 4, 2007). Web-based technologies offer a wealth of sales opportunities—without eCRM, you’re just selling yourself short.
Drivers to eCRM
Adoption of any technology is strongly motivated by the rewards it entails. The contribution of eCRM can only be realized by understanding the driving factors behind it:
- In today’s competitive world, maintaining direct and interactive communication with customers is paramount. For instance, a travel management organization stands to benefit if it offers cost savings and value-added products and services simultaneously, catering to both individual travelers and corporate business clients with equal ease.
- Better customer service provides opportunities for increasing revenue from existing sources as well as new. By creating innovative ways to make new relationships, and persuading old ones to buy online, a company can greatly improve its revenue base. A possible after-effect of this action is the chance to bypass any intermediary points of contact.
- Companies are always on the lookout for ways to cut internal information processing costs. Companies can pass on low value tasks like creating and updating of databases to their customers through use of an efficient e-business technology system.
Technology has not diminished the importance of maintaining a personal relationship with every customer. In fact, cyberspace offers shoppers so much freedom of choice that a meaningful buyer-seller bond is what sets successful businesses apart from their rivals. “Meaningfulness” differs among customers, but by recording, analyzing, and retrieving important data, eCRM offers “communication and information on the right topic, in the right amount, and at the right time that fits the customer’s specific needs” (Amazines.com, April 23, 2008).
Customer Acquisition and Retention
Gaining and retaining customers is imperative for all businesses. Unlike traditional methods, with eCRM the ways to gain and retain customers take another shape. These include online promotion campaigns, maintaining online customer database and customer profiling, sending interactive customer feedbacks, and tracking visitor behavior on websites. A company can flourish and succeed if it has a better understanding of its consumers, their needs, and the value they generate. This is achieved through employing multiple sources to collect, combine, maintain, and process data—the essence of any eCRM application.
Organizations may also include several e-business methods for identifying and interacting with customers. These might include the creation of communities of interest, offers of special conditions, personalization of customer communication, use of customer feedback, and personalized customer support.
Speaking of customer support, the growing consensus among professionals is that your customers’ information needs are better met by eCRM. When it comes to offering in-depth and up-to-date information, websites have bypassed physical distribution channels. A website contains comprehensive details, such as pictures, videos, informative access plans, and other information—e-catalogues are cost-effective and more user-friendly than a paper brochure which lacks all of this. Hence, for the majority of companies, the web serves as a primary source of information and marketing tool for their services. With so many advantages, eCRM is bound to remove paper catalogues from the domain of traditional paper based customer relationship management.
Cross Selling and Up-Selling
With eCRM companies can now offer more products and services by cross-selling and up-selling. By analyzing customer preferences, companies can create customized service bundles. This can be exemplified by considering travel websites—apart from selling travel services, they can also sell various side products like travel books, insurance, hotel rooms, hire cars, and much more. This certainly cannot happen through traditional CRM, where the main task is simply to sell tickets.
Better pricing and post-sales service support are other benefits arising from implementation of eCRM. The internet’s dynamic nature has the potential to capture customer concerns and frustrations in real-time, ultimately helping companies to respond effectively.
Ready to Buy an eCRM application?
Talking about eCRM’s positives is one thing, buying it is quite another. Your overall business objectives must be kept in mind when choosing an eCRM application. The application’s compatibility with the people and processes that support those objectives is of utmost importance.
With these crucial goals in mind, choosing an eCRM application is not a simple task, but there are several yardsticks with which to measure the productiveness of an application:
Information Tracking and Integration
Within a company, tracking information on individual customers and making it accessible through various levels is crucial to building customer loyalty. A good application should be able to handle integration of information about customers, sales leads, vendors, and inventory.
Automating customer interaction can help companies to handle customer requests and complaints effectively and efficiently. Any CRM software should be able to systemize these processes to ensure consistently high service levels, quick response times, full accountability, and prompt problem resolution.
Sales Lead Management
Time, money, and energy are valuable resources of any company. Proper organization and follow-up on sales leads is one such way of using these appropriately. A CRM tool should enable the sales team to communicate and process orders in real-time, from anywhere. Apart from streamlining the sales management process, high-grade CRM software should be able to shorten the time it takes to close a sale, thus resulting in more satisfied customers.
Businesses worldwide constantly search for opportunities to maximize their return on investment. An eCRM tool should help to improve the scope and effectiveness of a company’s marketing campaign. A CRM package should allow categorization of customer interactions, generate responses accordingly, and collect relevant data for building customized marketing campaigns.
Data Mining and Analytics
A successful CRM campaign provides analysis of customer data to help with the optimal allocation of personnel and other resources to encourage a customer-centric corporate culture. Applying eCRM, a company can better analyze new opportunities for revenue growth and cost cutting, determine where its best customers come from, how to keep them, and how to find more of them.
Integrated eCRM Tools
1. SupportCenter Plus
A support and service application, SupportCenter Plus focuses on customer interaction management. This eCRM tool streamlines the communication between your support organization and your customers, offering automated email and trouble ticket creation. SupportCenter Plus’ other attributes include account and contact management, service level agreement management for compliance and violations, customer self-service, contracts management and time-entry billing, and an integrated knowledge base. It offers cross-platform compatibility.
2. EasyConsole eCRM Integration
A browser-based eCRM tool, EasyConsole is accessible from anywhere in the world. This application is capable of sending personalized HTML emails, SMS messages, or faxes, to lists or groups of customers, using its Newsletter Engine. Along with a flexible and open architecture, EasyConsole is a granular-client specific application, offering searches and client-specific information at the user’s fingertips. One can generate reports and graphs in company-defined formats, and set client specific “alarms’ for possible up-sell and cross-sell.
3. Blue Martini Web Portal
Blue Martini Web Portal is an eCRM solution suitable for educational institutions. The software has various personalization features and an open architecture, and also includes certain API offerings that allow for easy interfacing with other applications. One of the nice features of Blue Martini is that it is set up to accommodate constantly changing information, so that new content and features do not have to be bundled together into one major release but can be released as soon as they are tested and deemed ready for publication. It also provides an interface for decentralized content provision.
4. Zoho CRM
Zoho CRM provides an enterprise-grade, role-based, security service. With this eCRM tool, companies can control the access rights of users while working with CRM data and modules such as leads, accounts, contacts, potentials, etc. Profiles, roles, data sharing rules, field-level security, and groups are all included in the role-based security offered by Zoho. An Outlook Plugin utility enables synchronization of contacts, calendars, and tasks between Microsoft Outlook and the application, providing organizations with a complete relationship lifecycle management solution for managing organization-wide sales, marketing, customer support, and inventory management.
5. ProspectSoft eCRM
ProspectSoft eCRM provides the ability for simultaneous two-way exchange of information. It enables rapid and secure access of customer information locally as well as remote access via the internet. The tool synchronizes the two systems using secure encrypted emails. With an intact Infobase, it also offers an online helpdesk to suggest solutions to customer problems, FAQ lists, copy statements, invoices, and quotations.
6. RTI’s WebFirst
WebFirst, a web-based customer support application, empowers customers and partners alike with the ability to examine a knowledgebase of common problems. A fine tool for software companies, it is one of RTI’s integrated eCRM solutions. Using a standard web browser, clients can get the help they need during and after business hours. It permits users to report new incidents, or download fixes, files, and documents.
Tej Kohli is the CEO of Grafix Softech, a leading interactive marketing company in Costa Rica. Tej Kohli was born in New Delhi, India, ultimately graduating from the Indian Institute of Technology with a degree in Electrical Engineering. His portfolio includes IT and Software development, Interactive Marketing, E-commerce, E-Solutions, E-Payments, Entertainment, and a host of exciting new ventures.