Communicating with customers is the cornerstone of a great number of business initiatives, not least of all customer relationship management (CRM).
Many organisations have implemented excellent CRM systems that co-ordinate information from various departments to produce often-detailed profiles of specific customers or groups of customers.
However, there’s a crucial next step – using that information to communicate back to customers – that is often missing.
That’s according to Andrew Greenyer, vice-president: international marketing at Group 1 Software Europe, who says that all customer data within an organisation needs to be brought together and the right information used in the right place, at the right time.
“It’s actually quite a complex idea,” he says. “Everything needs to link together into a solution that acquires information, manages it, analyses it, creates relevant documents and delivers them to the right customers.”
Group 1 Software is the software arm of Pitney Bowes, a company better known in the postage arena for machines that take care of addressing and franking.
Greenyer explains that this background makes it easier for Group 1 to bridge the gap between software and the hardware needed to facilitate solutions.
“Using CRM means a company’s month-end statement run should be made more intelligent; for example, not every customer would get the same insert – or any insert at all, depending on who they are.”
Using the same principles lets companies address all their communication needs, whether physical or digital, from the same perspective.
“It’s about end-to-end customer communication management,” says Greenyer.
An integrated system is vital once a company starts getting into various different communication types, he explains, in order to maintain a consistent message and ensure brand equity.
“The proportion of customers who prefer physical or electronic communications varies tremendously from county to country,” Greenyer adds.
“The take-up of electronic communication can be anything from 5% to 10% is less-developed countries to 80% in others.
“However, in all markets there is a trend towards more people looking to electronic communication. It’s cheaper and easier to deal with than paper.
“Plus, as the generations move on, we are seeing a quicker take-up. Within the next 10 to 15 years, as the younger generation comes through into the workforce, we’ll see a huge effect on electronic communication.”
However a company communicates with its customers, it needs to ensure that the correct communication is going to the right customers, Greenyer stresses.
“There is still a problem with vanilla CRM,” he says. “The concept is great: take a database and populate it with information about your customers in order to understand them better and help you build better relationships with them. It’s a brilliant concept.
“However, it has become a technology solution, and not about the processes. So companies are putting in the databases, and collecting all their information – but have forgotten about the next processes that needs to take place: about then sending the right communication to the customer.
“Customer communication management is really CRM-plus. Analysing the information and then designing the right message is where the value comes into the equation.”
It’s this disconnect, says Greenyer, that is probably responsible for the fact that so many CRM implementations appear to have failed.
“It’s a fact that eight our of 10 CRM systems have never produced a return on investment. But, if you look at what companies have been doing, you’ll see that there’s been a disconnect.”
By embracing the complete cycle of customer communications management, he adds, companies can breathe new life into their CRM systems and begin to harvest very real returns on investment.
Greenyer explains that most companies which regularly communicate with their customers, either through the physical postage system or via E-mail, are considering an integrated software solution – whether it links to a physical or logical end-point.
He adds that most companies have either one end or the other up and running, but only a few have gone the extra distance and implemented an end-to-end solution.