For customers this means service providers who remember them, welcome their repeat business and know their preferences without being told. Sounds like an impossible task? Meet CRM.
How do you make customers look good, feel good and believe that they're the most important people in your life?
More sales, better service and clearer communication. Sounds good, but how do you achieve this? The first step is to measure, maintain and improve on your delivery performance.
The second is to implement user-friendly systems that allow your customers to easily make enquiries, request quotes and place orders. The third step is to accept that problems do occur and to put procedures in place for rapidly resolving them.
Together, these steps give you the capability you need to respond to customers' most important needs quickly, accurately and cost-effectively.
Let technology do what you can't
SME owners wear many hats - that of manager, marketer, salesman and administrator - and yet they seldom have the experience or time to handle all of these tasks successfully.
Fortunately, today's technology can help you to evolve into a savvy manager, with systems that computerise internal business processes and which simplify intra-office communications.
For most people, this means a customer relationship management (CRM) solution. It makes communicating with your employees, customers and vendors a cinch, while centralised contact management features help you to save time and increase productivity.
But once you have a CRM solution, what do you do with it?
1. Manage from the inside out: Take a good look at your sales, service and marketing processes and try to centralise customer management tasks (such as sending and managing email and faxes, storing business contacts and managing your appointment calendar). Use built-in fax features so that employees can send and receive faxes from their desktops without exiting the CRM system.
2. Streamline access to critical data: Create a single repository for every piece of customer information and ensure it is instantly accessible so that everyone has the knowledge they need to up-sell, cross-sell and deliver the highest levels of service.
3. Can your server help? Depending on the type of server you have - or would be prepared to purchase - it may already contain data management tools to complement your CRM solution.
4. Be careful: Some CRM solutions, along with a good server and built-in firewall, will help to protect the integrity of your business and customer data.
5. Look for quick return on investment: A good CRM system should allow for fast installation and trouble-free maintenance, allowing you to focus on your customers rather than your IT infrastructure.
6. If you have it, use it: Some CRM programmes come with built-in IT management tools. If you're comfortable doing the maintenance yourself, it could help to reduce IT overheads.
7. Personalise the experience: Some systems include intuitive, web-based design tools that allow you to modify and personalise forms and data fields without writing a single line of programming code.
8. Grow the system with your business: Make sure your CRM tools keep up with your company growth. A substantial number of new customers or bulk orders might put strain on your existing CRM tools.
Are you speaking the right language?
One of the most important things to remember is that getting to know your market takes time.
Nevertheless, a proper understanding of the cultures and value systems of the people with whom you do business, is always a worthwhile investment.
Avoid being complacent about new markets. While a group may appear to be accessible and familiar, there may be nuances that you are not aware of, which could influence how you and your products or services are received.
Language: This is one of the most obvious examples of cultural difference in South Africa. While English is widely spoken, efforts to communicate with people in their mother tongue are always appreciated.
When undertaking any form of business negotiation, double-check (in advance) what language will be used during the negotiation process, and whether or not you will need a translator.
You should also seek advice on your packaging, brochures, promotional material or manuals. Besides textual changes, images and symbols mean different things to different cultures, and a simple misunderstanding could turn into a major marketing faux pas.
Tradition: Not all cultural differences are obvious. For example, in western cultures, white is the colour of weddings, angels and peace. In eastern cultures, it often symbolises funerals and death. Similar contrasts could apply to numbers, symbols and seasonal timing.
Religion: Religion does not always intrude directly into the business environment, but it shapes attitudes and is worth researching. Also check the dates of religious holidays and determine how these might impact on your business dealings.
The formality of business relations in your target market should influence your behaviour. For example, business cards are always important, but should they be translated?
Do they need to be exchanged in a specific way? Also be aware if and when gifts are appropriate and/or expected.
The interpretation of time also varies greatly. In some cultures punctuality is crucial and being even five minutes late for an appointment could cost you the contract. In other cultures, long delays or closures at certain times of the day may be the norm.
Ultimately, if you don't understand your target market, no amount of technology will improve your customer relationships. Making people happy isn't just about having an incredible product or an aggressive sales strategy.
It's about getting inside people's heads, understanding their fears and desires, and appreciating what makes them happy - regardless of whether you agree with it or not.
There are a vast number of customer relationship management tools on the market that promise to help you forge closer, more personal ties with your customers. But how do you know if a particular tool is doing the right job for you?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Are the customer details that you enter into the system accurate?
- Is the database constantly updated?
- Can you easily retrieve and share contact information?
- Does the system enable you to easily create documents such as fax cover sheets, letters, labels and lists?
- Can the system communicate with your standard office software without complicated exporting procedures?
- Does it enable users to easily communicate with each other and the outside world?
- Can you use it to send instant messages to cellular phones, PDAs, smartphones, pagers and email?
- Can employees use it to track communication with customers and vendors?
- Does it include lead and campaign management features for finding new customers?
Be an admin superhero
A centralised database of customer, employee and vendor contact information simplifies administrative duties such as scheduling and messaging.
Business owners and administrative assistants alike can easily use a CRM software add-on to pull up a contact record and schedule an appointment.
By integrating it with your email software, you can create appointments or tasks in a central location that automatically reflect in your personal mail programmr or on the business's online calendar.
Be sales savvy
CRM software can also be a great monitoring tool - not only in terms of how often and when you interact with a customer, but also in terms of tracking revenue.
By integrating your CRM system with your existing office software, you could automate the entire sales process from a single central point.
Create marketing magic
Personalised marketing is the new business mantra. A good CRM system - ideally one that integrates with your office software - not only makes this possible, but it also makes it quicker and easier than ever before.
For example, you can transform repetitive tasks like writing a simple thank you letter, into a mini marketing campaign. Personalise the letter with the details of your 15 most recent buyers; print hard copies while simultaneously sending a short mail message; and then add them to your e-newsletter mailing list. What could have taken days now takes a couple of hours.