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CRM a top priority in 2008

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Targeting, attracting, and retaining new customers will remain a top priority for chief information officers (CIOs) in 2008. 

his is according to a worldwide survey of 1 500 CIOs by Gartner Executive Programmes (EXP), which reveals that CIOs will need to help sales, marketing and customer service to enhance the customer experience to meet this goal.
Many CRM programmes are established with the intention of improving the customer experience but they are often uncoordinated and affect the overall desired “experience” of the brand. Gartner outlines seven types of initiatives that can help organisations focus on specific efforts that, in aggregate, will boost customer loyalty and satisfaction.
“No one project will, by itself, improve the overall experience, but the combination of these seven types of projects, if implemented well, will contribute to the development and perpetual improvement of the organisation's customer experiences,” says Ed Thompson, research vice-president at Gartner.
Gartner advises companies to focus their efforts on projects that are doable and critical, while keeping the broader business objective as a future project. The seven fundamental initiatives to help companies improve customer experience are:
* Act on feedback, deploy changes and communicate actions to employees and customers: Companies that fail to act on these actions in response to customers’ feedback are throwing away the chance to increase the number of satisfied and loyal customers. “This information is wasted because, in many companies, there’s a disconnect between the desire to listen to customers and the resulting strategies,” says Thompson. Companies should view every contact with customers as an opportunity to deliver brand values and standardise on one business feedback management tool across the organisation and for all communication channels.
* Design processes from the outside in: Most process redesign is done with the objective of improving operational efficiencies rather than to improve the customer experience: an inside-out approach. Often these changes are made under the auspices of a quality improvement programme. Yet, some organisations are applying the same quality improvement methodologies to the goal of improving the customer experience. First they identify which processes matter most to customers then set about identifying what to improve: an outside-in approach. At every customer interaction with a company, there is at least one "moment of truth" – an interaction that can disproportionately positively or negatively affect the customer experience. “Organisations must fix one problem at a time and shouldn’t try to fix all broken processes simultaneously. The best organisations just focus on the worst two or three,” he adds.
* Act as one organisation to ensure consistency: The customer may interact with many parties as part of his or her business with a company. The challenge for the company is to ensure that information gleaned at one interaction is not forgotten in the next channel. “Since the company cannot control all these interactions, we recommend they start with the parts of the customer experience they can control. They will achieve more by addressing their own process issues first before making demands of suppliers and partners,” says Thompson.
* Be open: Organisations that want to improve the customer experience often become more open. Being more open may just mean opening up more channels or opening hours but it can mean much more. For example, some organisations establish an environment where customers can support, promote, defend or refer their products and services through an online community. This community can be one of the most powerful and influential tools for marketing and as a result, an open organisation should follow three tenets: be transparent and clear, be open-minded and be inclusive.
* Personalise products and experiences: Some personalisation options are simple, such as a website that enables customers to monogram products, while others are more complex, such as tailoring and personal pricing. However, customisation creates complexity and costs for the company. Companies need to beware of just evaluating the costs of personalisation against the sales benefits and factor in the longer-term value of improving the customer experience when building the business case.
* Alter attitudes and employee behaviour: Employees' actions are often the most powerful improvements in a customer's experience. Companies can alter employee behaviour in three primary ways: recruit the right types of employees, ensure standards such as policies, procedures and governance structures and create training programmes and incentives that can modify employee behaviour patterns. Executive mystery-shopper programmes and hands-on manager involvement during peak-demand periods help educate company leaders about what the average customer and employee are experiencing.
* Design the complete customer experience: Many organisations have no plan or design for the customer experience. The experience is unplanned and accidental in its execution, with the result that the experience “just happens”. Companies with a focus on selling experiences, such as in the entertainment, education and travel industries, focus on designing experiences. The brand is an expression of a product or company’s reputation built up over many years. Today, brands increasingly are used as part of marketing communications to create a high-level expectation or promise of a particular quality or customer experience.