Thursday, November 1, 2007

What is Customer Relationship Management (CRM)?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a phenomenon that is becoming a major discipline within business. CRM can be traced back to the airlines’ attempt to gather information about their customer flying habits in order to stop their high-fare airliners choosing low-fare carriers, however, the concept was invented even further back, when the shop owner knew all his customers by first name and they knew his name. In 1998 The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in conjunction with Andersen Consulting published the result of a CRM survey of different companies around the world. The survey revealed a new heightened focus on CRM as a discipline, where companies increased their customer focus and using a process approach to customer relationship management. This was a market shift from the traditional transaction-based and functionally managed approach where the relationship with customer was divided up and dealt with by different departments. The EIU report also showed that between 1994 and 1997 the spending on customer relationship management software and services grew from $200 million to $1.1 billion in the USA. The EIU report is one of many investigations that indicate a growing interest in CRM and some literature concerning CRM even postulate that companies will have to adapt it to survive.

Several researchers define CRM differently. Couldwell defines CRM as:

“Customer relationship management is a combination of business process and technology that seeks to understand a company’s customer from the perspective of who they are, what they do, and what they like”

and Hobby, defines CRM as:

“A management approach that enables organisations to identify, attract and increase retention of profitable customers by managing relationships with them".

However, I have found the following definition of CRM, to be the most adequately:

"CRM is a business strategy - an attitude to employees and customers - that is supported by certain processes and systems. The goal is to build long-term relationships by understanding individual needs and preferences - and in this way add value to the enterprise and the customer".

This definition places the strategy of adding value to the customer in the focus, whereas the first mentioned definition gives technology and processor first priority. As the chosen definition explains, the systems and processes are vital support elements in creating value for the customer. The second-mentioned definition is found to be somewhat thin and practical useless but it notice an important aspect of CRM, that the organisation has to learn how to listening to customers. In the definition, CRM is defined as a business strategy. This is an important aspect, as CRM is not to be seen as a concept or a project but as a business strategy, which affects all parts of the company.

CRM is about identifying, retaining, and maximising the value of a company’s customers. CRM is a sales- and service business strategy where the organisation wraps itself around the customer, so that whenever there is an interaction, the information exchanged is relevant for that customer. This means knowing all about that customer and what the profitability of that customer is going to be. CRM is an effort to create the whole picture of a given customer, bringing together consistent, comprehensive and credible information on all aspects of the existing relationship, such as profitability information, risk profiles and cross-sell potential.

To keep customers satisfied and make them return, CRM, as a strategy, is not a new phenomenon. Every company wants profitable and loyal customers. The new aspect is that companies start to measure this profitability and loyalty and use this information to segment customers and develop strategies for approaching these customers.

However, before implementing CRM, companies need to have some basic foundations settled. First of all, the basic quality of the products has to be in order, i.e. if the product does not live up to the expectations of the customer, he will not be satisfied, hence loyal for long. The typical strategies prior to CRM are quality control systems such as Total Quality Management (TQM). Secondly, companies also have to know more about their customers before implementing CRM. I.e. they have to evaluate, which customers are most valuable in terms of profitability, loyalty and future expectations. Thirdly, the companies have to have the necessary technology to enable the employees to access information about customers in order to offer customers the best service. Finally, CRM needs full support from the management of the company to stand a chance of success.

Rasmus Nielsen has specialised in CRM for several years and been consulting to various companies in Denmark and Australia on the topic. Rasmus also holds a M.Sc. International Business Economics

Other Articles by Rasmus Nielsen

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