Clicking with your customers

29 Jun 2006

The rise of the internet has profoundly affected the way companies deal with their customers. No longer is it enough to offer good telephone support or respond promptly to written requests but a company must be prepared to interact with customers in whatever way they prefer.

Customer relationship management (CRM) systems are a family of technologies that have emerged in recent years to enable companies to do just that and, according Tom O’Neill, head of CRM solutions, BT in Ireland, many businesses are starting to put such systems in place.

“Our customers have a number of different ways of communicating with their end customers, such as telephone, web, email and fax. Their challenge is to unify those touch-points so they have one single view of the customer and regardless of how the customer chooses to interact with them, they are guaranteed the same level of service.”

He adds: “It’s about personalising that customer contact but it’s also about the bottom line because if you ring a call centre and they can’t answer your query either they have to take down your details and ring you back or else they start transferring around the organisation. So how a business manages customer contacts cost effectively is all based on the premise of first-contact resolution. You can’t do this if the contact centre agent doesn’t have the right information to hand.”

CRM also allows companies to engage in ‘inbound customer marketing’ (ICM) — the practice of offering a customer a product or service when the customer has initiated the contact.

“It is a maturing concept in call centres and on the web,” explains Siobhan Normoyle, managing consultant, Capgemini in Ireland. “Simple approaches to ICM apply business rules and use basic customer information — such as segment and profile — to determine which offer to extend to the customer. Sophisticated approaches, such as real-time marketing, use real-time learning algorithms, often in conjunction with the scores derived from predictive modeling of customer behaviour, to calculate the best offer to make to the individual customer at that point in time.”

Regular users of websites such as Amazon experience ICM all the time. Do a search for or buy a certain book and the website will automatically create a list of similar books it thinks you may be interested in buying, often offering a hefty discount to encourage you to take the plunge.

The benefits of CRM are not limited to transactions conducted with customers based at home or in the office. It can also be used to drive revenues with people on the move via their mobile phone or PDA. Eamonn Hession, CEO of Puca Technologies, a Dublin-based mobile software firm, says: “There are lots of different possibilities for using mobile technology to develop an ongoing relationship with the customer. For example, the mobile internet can be used to personalise the customer experience in the same way you can with a standard web page. The consumer can visit your mobile internet page and opt to get future alerts about, say, changes to the site or special offers. The following week they could get an SMS containing a link through to a mobile internet page that’s customised for them.”

Hession feels the area is set to grow further as mainstream brands start to see the potential of mobile marketing. “If you look at the UK, for example, HMV has launched a service which puts text codes beside the adverts for each artist. If someone wants to buy that album, they text in the code to the number in the ad. They get a mobile internet page sent to their mobile phone in which they enter their credit card details and buy the album there and then. HMV is then able to customise the service such that the next time someone responds to an ad, they can be offered a service that’s unique to them.”

Mobile technologies have improved to the point where, he says, “everything you can do on the internet you can do on your phone” but not only that, the mobile also allows you send and receive text and MMS messages and respond instantly to marketing offers.

According to Phil Codd, country manager for SAP Ireland, the growth of mobile services would not be possible without CRM systems sitting behind them crunching the data and making decisions. “I think we’re probably going to see a lot more interest in mobility. If you are offering services over mobile technology you’ve got to have CRM systems that can service and support the transactions you’re going to get.”

While the technology to do this already exists, Codd feels it is still quite complex and “needs to be made a little bit easier”.
CRM is not just about enabling business-to-consumer (B2C) activity, it can also be used in a business-to-business (B2B) context. Software giant Sage is a good example. The company recently introduced an online lead-management system to enhance its relationship with its community of 220 resellers/business partners in Ireland. The web is now the default way — in fact the only way — in which Sage does business with them now. When a new lead comes in, Sage uploads it onto the secure partner section of its website and notifies a particular reseller that the lead is there. The reseller then logs on to the website, where it is only allowed to see its own leads. The reseller has seven days to action the lead or else it’s removed from the system.

Glynis Elrington, sales director of Sage Ireland, makes no apologies for the carrot-and-stick approach: “It’s a self-service option but if they don’t do something there’s a penalty: they get an email to say that the lead has been allocated to someone area in their area.”

The system was built on Saleslogix, the enterprise CRM software marketed by Sage, which used its own in-house web developers and programmers to customise the system. According to Elrington, the service could not have been developed without a powerful CRM system sitting behind it. “If you don’t have a back-end system to centralise your customer data, you can’t do this. You can have islands of information but it’s very inefficient.”

While some resellers have not taken to this new way of doing business, the majority of the partner community have welcomed it. In time, Elrington believes, resellers will see it as a “must have”.

By Brian Skelly