Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Systems

Customer relationship management (CRM)

Benefits of CRM
A CRM system may be chosen because it is thought to provide the following advantages:
  • Quality and efficiency
  • Decrease in overall costs
  • Decision support
  • Enterprise agility
  • Customer Attention
  • Increase profitability
Successful development, implementation, use and support of customer relationship management systems can provide a significant advantage to the user, but often there are obstacles that obstruct the user from using the system to its full potential. Instances of a CRM attempting to contain a large, complex group of data can become cumbersome and difficult to understand for an ill-trained user.
Additionally, an interface that is difficult to navigate or understand can hinder the CRM’s effectiveness, causing users to pick and choose which areas of the system to be used, while others may be pushed aside. This fragmented implementation can cause inherent challenges, as only certain parts are used and the system is not fully functional. The increased use of customer relationship management software has also led to an industry-wide shift in evaluating the role of the developer in designing and maintaining its software. Companies are urged to consider the overall impact of a viable CRM software suite and the potential for good or bad in its use.
Tools and workflows can be complex, especially for large businesses. Previously these tools were generally limited to simple CRM solutions which focused on monitoring and recording interactions and communications. Software solutions then expanded to embrace deal tracking, territories, opportunities, and the sales pipeline itself. Next came the advent of tools for other client-interface business functions, as described below. These tools have been, and still are, offered as on-premises software that companies purchase and run on their own IT infrastructure.
Poor usability
One of the largest challenges that customer relationship management systems face is poor usability. With a difficult interface for a user to navigate, implementation can be fragmented or not entirely complete.
The importance of usability in a system has developed over time. Customers are likely not as patient to work through malfunctions or gaps in user safety, and there is an expectation that the usability of systems should be somewhat intuitive: “it helps make the machine an extension of the way I think — not how it wants me to think.”
An intuitive design can prove most effective in developing the content and layout of a customer relationship management system. Two 2008 case studies show that the layout of a system provides a strong correlation to the ease of use for a system and that it proved more beneficial for the design to focus on presenting information in a way that reflected the most important goals and tasks of the user, rather than the structure of the organization. This “ease of service” is paramount for developing a system that is usable.
In many cases, the growth of capabilities and complexities of systems has hampered the usability of a customer relationship management system. An overly complex computer system can result in an equally complex and non-friendly user interface, thus not allowing the system to work as fully intended. This bloated software can appear sluggish and/or overwhelming to the user, keeping the system from full use and potential. A series of 1998 research indicates that each item added to an information display can significantly affect the overall experience of the user.
Often, poor usability can lead to implementations that are fragmented — isolated initiatives by individual departments to address their own needs. Systems that start disunited usually stay that way: and decision processes frequently lead to separate and incompatible systems, and dysfunctional processes.
A fragmented implementation can negate any financial benefit associated with a customer relationship management system, as companies choose not to use all the associated features factored when justifying the investment. Instead, it is important that support for the CRM system is companywide. The challenge of fragmented implementations may be mitigated with improvements in late-generation CRM systems.
Business reputation
Building and maintaining a strong business reputation has become increasingly challenging. The outcome of internal fragmentation that is observed and commented upon by customers is now visible to the rest of the world in the era of the social customer; in the past, only employees or partners were aware of it. Addressing the fragmentation requires a shift in philosophy and mindset in an organization so that everyone considers the impact to the customer of policy, decisions and actions. Human response at all levels of the organization can affect the customer experience for good or ill. Even one unhappy customer can deliver a body blow to a business.
Some developments and shifts have made companies more conscious of the life-cycle of a customer relationship management system. Companies now consider the possibility of brand loyalty and persistence of its users to purchase updates, upgrades and future editions of software.
Additionally, CRM systems face the challenge of producing viable financial profits, with a 2002 study suggesting that less than half of CRM projects are expected to provide a significant return on investment. Poor usability and low usage rates lead many companies to indicate that it was difficult to justify investment in the software without the potential for more tangible gains.
Security concerns
A large challenge faced by developers and users is found in striking a balance between ease of use in the CRM interface and suitable and acceptable security measures and features. Corporations investing in CRM software do so expecting a relative ease of use while also requiring that customer and other sensitive data remain secure. This balance can be difficult, as many believe that improvements in security come at the expense of system usability.
Research and study show the importance of designing and developing technology that balances a positive user interface with security features that meet industry and corporate standards. A 2002 study shows, however, that security and usability can coexist harmoniously. In many ways, a secure CRM system can become more usable.
Researchers have argued that, in most cases, security breaches are the result of user-error (such as unintentionally downloading and executing a computer virus). In these events, the computer system acted as it should in identifying a file and then, following the user’s orders to execute the file, exposed the computer and network to a harmful virus. Researchers argue that a more usable system creates less confusion and lessens the amount of potentially harmful errors, in turn creating a more secure and stable CRM system.
Technical writers can play a large role in developing customer relationship management systems that are secure and easy to use. A series of 2008 research shows that CRM systems, among others, need to be more open to flexibility of technical writers, allowing these professionals to become content builders. These professionals can then gather information and use it at their preference, developing a system that allows users to easily access desired information and is secure and trusted by its users.


Sales force automation
Sales force automation (SFA) involves using software to streamline all phases of the sales process, minimizing the time that sales representatives need to spend on each phase. This allows a business to use fewer sales representatives to manage their clients. At the core of SFA is a contact management system for tracking and recording every stage in the sales process for each prospective client, from initial contact to final disposition. Many SFA applications also include insights into opportunities, territories, sales forecasts and workflow automation, quote generation
CRM systems for marketing help the enterprise identify and target potential clients and generate leads for the sales team. A key marketing capability is tracking and measuring multichannel campaigns, including email, search, social media, telephone and direct mail. Metrics monitored include clicks, responses, leads, deals, and revenue.
Alternatively, Prospect Relationship Management (PRM) solutions offer to track customer behaviour and nurture them from first contact to sale, often cutting out the active sales process altogether.
In a web-focused marketing CRM solution, organizations create and track specific web activities that help develop the client relationship. These activities may include such activities as free downloads, online video content, and online web presentations.
Customer service and support
CRM software provides a business with the ability to create, assign and manage requests made by customers. An example would be Call Center software which helps to direct a customer to the agent who can best help them with their current problem. Recognizing that this type of service is an important factor in attracting and retaining customers, organizations are increasingly turning to technology to help them improve their clients’ experience while aiming to increase efficiency and minimize costs. CRM software can also be used to identify and reward loyal customers which in turn will help customer retention. Even so, a 2009 study revealed that only 39% of corporate executives believe their employees have the right tools and authority to solve client problems.
Creating and scheduling appointments with customers is a central activity of most customer oriented businesses. Sales, customer support, and service personnel regularly spend a portion of their time getting in touch with customers and prospects through a variety of means to agree on a time and place for meeting for a sales conversation or to deliver customer service. Appointment CRM is a relatively new CRM platform category in which an automated system is used to offer a suite of suitable appointment times to a customer via e-mail or through a web site. An automated process is used to schedule and confirm the appointment, and place it on the appropriate person's calendar. Appointment CRM systems can be an origination point for a sales lead and are generally integrated with sales and marketing CRM systems to capture and store the interaction.
Relevant analytics capabilities are often interwoven into applications for sales, marketing, and service. These features can be complemented and augmented with links to separate, purpose-built applications for analytics and business intelligence. Sales analytics let companies monitor and understand client actions and preferences, through sales forecasting and data quality.
Marketing applications generally come with predictive analytics to improve segmentation and targeting, and features for measuring the effectiveness of online, offline, and search marketing campaigns. Web analytics have evolved significantly from their starting point of merely tracking mouse clicks on Web sites. By evaluating “buy signals,” marketers can see which prospects are most likely to transact and also identify those who are bogged down in a sales process and need assistance. Marketing and finance personnel also use analytics to assess the value of multi-faceted programs as a whole.
These types of analytics are increasing in popularity as companies demand greater visibility into the performance of call centers and other service and support channels, in order to correct problems before they affect satisfaction levels. Support-focused applications typically include dashboards similar to those for sales, plus capabilities to measure and analyze response times, service quality, agent performance, and the frequency of various issues.
Departments within enterprises — especially large enterprises — tend to function with little collaboration. More recently, the development and adoption of these tools and services have fostered greater fluidity and cooperation among sales, service, and marketing. This finds expression in the concept of collaborative systems that use technology to build bridges between departments. For example, feedback from a technical support center can enlighten marketers about specific services and product features clients are asking for. Reps, in their turn, want to be able to pursue these opportunities without the burden of re-entering records and contact data into a separate SFA system.
Small business
For small business, basic client service can be accomplished by a contact manager system: an integrated solution that lets organizations and individuals efficiently track and record interactions, including emails, documents, jobs, faxes, scheduling, and more. These tools usually focus on accounts rather than on individual contacts. They also generally include opportunity insight for tracking sales pipelines plus added functionality for marketing and service. As with larger enterprises, small businesses are finding value in online solutions, especially for mobile and telecommuting workers.
Social media
Social media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google Plus are amplifying the voice of people in the marketplace and are having profound and far-reaching effects on the ways in which people buy. Customers can now research companies online and then ask for recommendations through social media channels, making their buying media to share opinions and experiences on companies, products and services. As social media is not as widely moderated or censored as mainstream media, individuals can say anything they want about a company or brand, positive or negative.
Increasingly, companies are looking to gain access to these conversations and take part in the dialogue. More than a few systems are now integrating to social networking sites. Social media promoters cite a number of business advantages, such as using online communities as a source of high-quality leads and a vehicle for crowd sourcing solutions to client-support problems. Companies can also leverage client stated habits and preferences to "Hypertargeting" their sales and marketing communications.
Some analysts take the view that business-to-business marketers should proceed cautiously when weaving social media into their business processes. These observers recommend careful market research to determine if and where the phenomenon can provide measurable benefits for client interactions, sales and support. It is stated that people feel their interactions are peer-to-peer between them and their contacts, and resent company involvement, sometimes responding with negatives about that company.
Non-profit and membership-based
Systems for non-profit and membership-based organizations help track constituents and their involvement in the organization. Capabilities typically include tracking the following: fund-raising, demographics, membership levels, membership directories, volunteering and communications with individuals.
Horizontal Vs. Vertical
Horizontal CRM manufacturers offer the same non-specialized base product across all industries. They tend to be cheaper, least common denominator solutions. For example, a bakery would get the same product as a bank. Vertical CRM manufacturers offer specialized, specific industry or pain-point CRM solutions. In general, horizontal CRM solutions are less costly up front, and more costly in the future, due to the fact that companies must tailor them for their particular industry and business model. On the other hand, Vertical CRM solutions tend to be more costly up front and less costly down the road because they already incorporate best practices that are specific to an industry and business model.
Major CRM vendors offer horizontal CRM solutions. In order to tailor a horizontal CRM solution, companies may use industry templates to overlay some generic best practices by industry on top of the horizontal CRM solution. Horizontal CRM vendors may also rely on value added reseller networks of systems integrators to build vertical solutions and sell them as 3rd party add-ons or to come in and customize the solution to fit into a particular scenario.
Vertical CRM vendors focus on a particular industry. As a general rule of thumb in CRM, it is ten times as costly to build a vertical solution from a horizontal software program than it is to find a particular vertical solution that is already tailored to your business model and industry.
For larger-scale enterprises, a complete and detailed plan is required to obtain the funding, resources, and company-wide support that can make the initiative of choosing and implementing a system successfully. Benefits must be defined, risks assessed, and cost quantified in three general areas:
  • Processes: Though these systems have many technological components, business processes lie at its core. It can be seen as a more client-centric way of doing business, enabled by technology that consolidates and intelligently distributes pertinent information about clients, sales, marketing effectiveness, responsiveness, and market trends. Therefore, a company must analyze its business workflows and processes before choosing a technology platform; some will likely need re-engineering to better serve the overall goal of winning and satisfying clients. Moreover, planners need to determine the types of client information that are most relevant, and how best to employ them.
  • People: For an initiative to be effective, an organization must convince its staff that the new technology and workflows will benefit employees as well as clients. Senior executives need to be strong and visible advocates who can clearly state and support the case for change. Collaboration, teamwork, and two-way communication should be encouraged across hierarchical boundaries, especially with respect to process improvement.
  • Technology: In evaluating technology, key factors include alignment with the company’s business process strategy and goals, including the ability to deliver the right data to the right employees and sufficient ease of adoption and use. Platform selection is best undertaken by a carefully chosen group of executives who understand the business processes to be automated as well as the software issues. Depending upon the size of the company and the breadth of data, choosing an application can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year or more.


Implementation issues
Increases in revenue, higher rates of client satisfaction, and significant savings in operating costs are some of the benefits to an enterprise. Proponents emphasize that technology should be implemented only in the context of careful strategic and operational planning. Implementations almost invariably fall short when one or more facets of this prescription are ignored:
  • Poor planning: Initiatives can easily fail when efforts are limited to choosing and deploying software, without an accompanying rationale, context, and support for the workforce. In other instances, enterprises simply automate flawed client-facing processes rather than redesign them according to best practices.
  • Poor integration: For many companies, integrations are piecemeal initiatives that address a glaring need: improving a particular client-facing process or two or automating a favored sales or client support channel. Such “point solutions” offer little or no integration or alignment with a company’s overall strategy. They offer a less than complete client view and often lead to unsatisfactory user experiences.
  • Toward a solution: overcoming siloed thinking. Experts advise organizations to recognize the immense value of integrating their client-facing operations. In this view, internally-focused, department-centric views should be discarded in favor of reorienting processes toward information-sharing across marketing, sales, and service. For example, sales representatives need to know about current issues and relevant marketing promotions before attempting to cross-sell to a specific client. Marketing staff should be able to leverage client information from sales and service to better target campaigns and offers. And support agents require quick and complete access to a client’s sales and service history.
Adoption issues
Historically, the landscape is littered with instances of low adoption rates. Many of the challenges listed above offer a glimpse into some of the obstacles that corporations implementing a CRM suite face; in many cases time, resources and staffing do not allow for the troubleshooting necessary to tackle an issue and the system is shelved or sidestepped instead.
Why is it so difficult sometimes to get employees up to date on rapidly developing new technology? Essentially, your employees need to understand how the system works, as well as understand the clients and their needs. No doubt this process is time consuming, but it is well worth the time and effort, as you will be better able to understand and meet the needs of your clients. CRM training needs to cover two types of information: relational knowledge and technological knowledge.
In 2003, a Gartner report estimated that more than $1 billion had been spent on software that was not being used. More recent research indicates that the problem, while perhaps less severe, is a long way from being solved. According to CSO Insights, less than 40 percent of 1,275 participating companies had end-user adoption rates above 90 percent. Additionally, many corporations only use CRM systems on a partial or fragmented basis, thus missing opportunities for effective marketing and efficiency.
In a 2007 survey from the U.K., four-fifths of senior executives reported that their biggest challenge is getting their staff to use the systems they had installed. Further, 43 percent of respondents said they use less than half the functionality of their existing system; 72 percent indicated they would trade functionality for ease of use; 51 percent cited data synchronization as a major issue; and 67 percent said that finding time to evaluate systems was a major problem. With expenditures expected to exceed $11 billion in 2010, enterprises need to address and overcome persistent adoption challenges.
The amount of time needed for the development and implementation of a customer relationship management system can prove costly to the implementation as well. Research indicates that implementation timelines that are greater than 90 days in length run an increased risk in the CRM system failing to yield successful results.
Increasing usage and adoption rates
Specialists offer these recommendations for boosting adoptions rates and coaxing users to blend these tools into their daily workflow:
Additionally, researchers found the following themes were common in systems that users evaluated favorably. These positive evaluations led to the increased use and more thorough implementation of the CRM system. Further recommendations include
  • “Breadcrumb Trail”: This offers the user a path, usually at the top of a web or CRM page, to return to the starting point of navigation. This can prove useful for users who might find themselves lost or unsure how they got to the current screen in the CRM.
  • Readily available search engine boxes: Research shows that users are quick to seek immediate results through the use of a search engine box. A CRM that uses a search box will keep assistance and immediate results quickly within the reach of a user.
  • Help Option Menu: An outlet for quick assistance or frequently asked questions can provide users with a lifeline that makes the customer relationship management software easier to use. Researchers suggest making this resource a large component of the CRM during the development stage.
A larger theme is found in that the responsiveness, intuitive design and overall usability of a system can influence the users’ opinions and preferences of systems.
Researchers noted a strong correlation between the design and layout of a user interface and the perceived level of trust from the user. The researchers found that users felt more comfortable on a system evaluated as usable and applied that comfort and trust into increased use and adoption.
Help menus
One of the largest issues surrounding the implementation and adoption of a CRM comes in the perceived lack of technical and user support in using the system. Individual users — and large corporations — find themselves equally stymied by a system that is not easily understood. Technical support in the form of a qualified and comprehensive help menu can provide significant improvement in implementation when providing focused, context-specific information.
Data show that CRM users are oftentimes unwilling to consult a help menu if it is not easily accessible and immediate in providing assistance. A 1998 case study found that users would consult the help menu for an average of two or three screens, abandoning the assistance if desired results weren’t found by that time.
Researchers believe that help menus can provide assistance to users through introducing additional screenshots and other visual and interactive aids. A 2004 case study concluded that the proper use of screenshots can significantly support a user’s “developing a mental model of the program” and help in “identifying and locating window elements and objects.” This research concluded that screen shots allowed users to “learn more, make fewer mistakes, and learn in a shorter time frame,” which can certainly assist in increasing the time frame for full implementation of a CRM system with limited technical or human support.
Experts have identified five characteristics to make a help menu effective:
  • “context-specific” — the help menu contains only the information relevant to the topic that is being discussed or sought
  • “useful“ — in conjunction with being context-specific, the help menu must be comprehensive in including all of the information that the user seeks
  • “obvious to invoke“ — the user must have no trouble in locating the help menu or how to gain access to its contents
  • “non-intrusive“ — the help menu must not interfere with the user’s primary path of work and must maintain a distance that allows for its use only when requested
  • “easily available“ — the information of the help menu must be accessible with little or few steps required
Thoughtful and thorough development can avoid many of the challenges and obstacles faced in using and implementing a customer relationship management system. With shifts in competition and the increasing reliance by corporations to use a CRM system, development of software has become more important than ever. Technical communicators can play a significant role in developing software that is usable and easy to navigate.
One of the largest issues in developing a usable customer relationship management system comes in the form of clear and concise presentation. Developers are urged to consider the importance of creating software that is easy to understand and without unnecessary confusion, thus allowing a user to navigate the system with ease and confidence.
Strong writing skills can prove extremely beneficial for software development and creation. A 1998 case study showed that software engineering majors who successfully completed a technical writing course created capstone experience projects that were more mindful of end user design than the projects completed by their peers. The case study yielded significant results:
  • Students who completed the technical writing course submitted capstone projects that contained more vivid and explicit detail in writing than their peers who did not complete the course. Researchers note that the students appeared to weigh multiple implications on the potential user, and explained their decisions more thoroughly than their peers.
  • Those participating in the writing course sought out test users more frequently to add a perspective outside their own as developer. Students appeared sensitive of the user’s ability to understand the developed software.
  • The faculty member overseeing the capstone submissions felt that students who did not enroll in the technical writing class were at a significant disadvantage when compared to their peers who did register for the course.
In the case study, researchers argue for the inclusion of technical writers in the development process of software systems. These professionals can offer insight into usability in communication for software projects. Technical writing can help build a unified resource for successful documentation, training and execution of customer relationship management systems.
Test users
In many circumstances, test users play a significant role in developing software. These users offer software developers an outside perspective of the project, oftentimes helping developers gain insight into potential areas of trouble that might have been overlooked or passed over because of familiarity with the system. Test users can also provide feedback from a targeted audience: a software development team creating a customer relationship management software system for higher education can have a user with a similar profile explore the technology, offering opportunities to cater the further development of the system. Test users help developers discover which areas of the software perform well, and which areas require further attention.
Research notes that test users can prove to be most effective in providing developers a structured overview of the software creation. These users can provide a fresh perspective that can reflect on the state of the CRM development without the typically narrow or invested focus of a software developer.
A 2007 study suggests some important steps are needed in creating a quality and effective test environment for software development. In this case study, researchers observed a Danish software company in the midst of new creating new software with usability in mind. The study found these four observations most appropriate:
  • The developers must make a conscious effort and commitment to the test user. Researchers note that the company had dedicated specific research space and staff focused exclusively on usability.
  • Usability efforts must carry equal concern in the eyes of developers as other technology-related concerns in the creation stage. The study found that test users became discouraged when items flagged as needing attention were marked as lower priority by the software developers.
  • Realistic expectations from both test users and software developers help maintain a productive environment. Researchers note that developers began to limit seeking input from test users after the test users suggested remedies the developers felt were improbable, leading the developers to believe consulting the test users would only prove to be more work.
  • Developers must make themselves available to test users and colleagues alike throughout the creation process of a software system.
The researchers note that some of the best instances of usability adjustments can be made through casual conversation, and that oftentimes usability is bypassed by developers because these individuals never think to consult test users. Allowing users to test developing products can have its limits in effectiveness, as the culture of the industry and desired outcomes can affect the effect on CRM creation, as a 2008 case study suggests that the responsiveness of test users can vary dramatically depending on the industry and field of the user. Research suggests that test users can rate the importance or severity of potential software issues in a significantly different fashion than software developers. Similarly so, researchers note the potential for costly delay if developers spend too much time attempting to coerce hesitant test users from participating.
Additionally, involving too many test users can prove cumbersome and delay the development of a CRM system. Additional research notes that test users may be able to identify an area that proves challenging in a software system, but might have difficulty explaining the outcome. A related 2007 case study noted that test users were able to describe roughly a third of the usability problems. Further, the language used by test users in many circumstances proves to be quite general and lacking the specific nature needed by developers to enact real change.
Privacy and data security system
One of the primary functions of these tools is to collect information about clients, thus a company must consider the desire for privacy and data security, as well as the legislative and cultural norms. Some clients prefer assurances that their data will not be shared with third parties without their prior consent and that safeguards are in place to prevent illegal access by third parties.
Related trends
Many CRM vendors offer Web-based tools (cloud computing) and software as a service (SaaS), which are accessed via a secure Internet connection and displayed in a Web browser. These applications are sold as subscriptions, with customers not needing to invest in purchasing and maintaining IT hardware, and subscription fees are a fraction of the cost of purchasing software outright.
The trend towards cloud-based CRM has forced traditional providers to move into the “cloud” through acquisitions of smaller providers: Oracle purchased RightNow in October 2011 and SAP acquired SuccessFactors in December 2011. pioneered the concept of delivering enterprise applications through a web browser and paved the way for future cloud companies to deliver software over the web. continues to be the leader amongst providers in cloud CRM systems.
The era of the "social customer" refers to the use of social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yelp, customer reviews in Amazon, etc.) by customers in ways that allow other potential customers to glimpse real world experience of current customers with the seller's products and services. This shift increases the power of customers to make purchase decisions that are informed by other parties sometimes outside of the control of the seller or seller's network. In response, CRM philosophy and strategy has shifted to encompass social networks and user communities, podcasting, and personalization in addition to internally generated marketing, advertising and webpage design. With the spread of self-initiated customer reviews, the user experience of a product or service requires increased attention to design and simplicity, as customer expectations have risen. CRM as a philosophy and strategy is growing to encompass these broader components of the customer relationship, so that businesses may anticipate and innovate to better serve customers, referred to as "Social CRM".
Another related development is vendor relationship management, or VRM, which is the customer-side counterpart of CRM: tools and services that equip customers to be both independent of vendors and better able to engage with them. VRM development has grown out of efforts by ProjectVRM at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society and Identity Commons' Internet Identity Workshops, as well as by a growing number of startups and established companies. VRM was the subject of a cover story in the May 2010 issue of CRM Magazine.
In a 2001 research note, META Group (now Gartner) analyst Doug Laney first proposed, defined and coined the term Extended Relationship Management (XRM). He defined XRM as the principle and practice of applying CRM disciplines and technologies to other core enterprise constituents, primarily partners, employees and suppliers... as well as other secondary allies including government, press, and industry consortia.
The proliferation of channels, devices, social media and the ability to mine "Big Data" has CRM futurists talking about the shift from 20th Century "Push" CRM to 21st Century Customer Transparency (CT). In January, 2011, The Customer-Transparent Enterprise published by Dennison DeGregor defined this next generation model for CRM.
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