Magazine Article | October 1, 2000

Adding An 'e' To CRM

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

As everything becomes electronic, companies need to address the latest selling channel as part of their enterprise-wide business strategy. eCRM isn't necessarily a separate way to reach customers – it's an additional way.

Integrated Solutions, October 2000

E-commerce, e-business, e-mail, e-retail, e-marketplace. Ready for the next one? The latest in the series comes to us from the makers of customer relationship management – eCRM. Companies influenced by this "e-fever" need to think about how both their employees and customers will interact with an eCRM system before choosing one. It may have the e-prefix, but it should fit into the way a company already conducts business. "We assume the ‘e' in eCRM is just one of multiple channels," said Gita Gupta, VP of product marketing for CRM at PeopleSoft (Pleasanton, CA). "E-business has to be an integral part of business, not the other way around."

Web As A Channel
Whether it is electronic or traditional, the key word in CRM is still customer. The functionality of a CRM system should not change if a customer interacts with a company via its Web site or in person. As soon as the Internet entered the scene, it provided another way to collect information from millions of potential customers. "By using the Internet, consumers have separated themselves from any kind of personal interaction," said Dan Metzger, senior VP of sales and marketing at Worldtrak (Minneapolis). "From a supplier's perspective, by getting rid of the middle-man you increase efficiency and lower cost. From a customer's perspective, you save time."

The Web has provided another channel of distribution. The need for CRM solutions is as necessary in cyberspace as it is offline, and Metzger said it can be done without displacing other sales channels. The reason being, it does not alienate the standard way a company conducts business – it augments it. "eCRM is a whole new strategy that analyzes the transactions that take place in an e-commerce setting. It creates a more personalized experience for the person who comes in over the Net to buy something," Metzger said.

If companies are looking to e-commerce to acquire more customers, then eCRM helps them focus on maintaining and growing those relationships. With each mouse click, valuable data can be collected about an individual's buying habits. Some functions offered on Web sites include live-chat customer service, click-to-dial service, and shipment tracking functions. There is eCRM software that can personalize a customer's Web experience. The company captures data, analyzes it, and determines buying trends. With this information, a company can later suggest certain products based on each customer's prior buying habits.

Adding An ‘e' To The Mix
E-tailers are trying, but in a recent "eTail eService Functionality Study" conducted by Gartner Group Inc., even the most popular sites were rated as average. The study suggests that most retailers attempting to conduct business over the Internet have not integrated their Web transactions with the rest of their enterprises. There is no communication between channels. For example, call centers are blind to a customer's Web transactions. In the survey, no e-retailer was rated above average when it came to Web-based or online customer service.

Gupta suggests that most companies will not conduct business exclusively through the Internet. The way people really do business through enterprises is across multiple channels. When a bank has a Web site it cannot expect that its customers will only interact through the Internet. They will use an ATM, go to a teller, or call on the telephone, as well. It depends on what is available to the customer and most convenient at a particular moment. It's also possible that interactions with the Web site and a telephone representative could occur within the same day. "I am sure you wouldn't want to go to a Web site and start over like you have never had a history with that organization," Gupta said. "Consumers feel a lot of frustration because solutions have been focused in silos, or in terms of just one function or one contact channel."

The industry is moving toward solutions that service all touch points, such as the Internet, call centers, or in person. Gupta thinks the industry will need to create more multichannel, multifunction solutions. The system functions could range from routing requests for service based on agent skill level, to viewing all customer information on one screen.

How To Do It Right
If a company wants to reach out to Internet users, then "a CRM solution should be built to extend to the Web as a channel," Gupta said. Just as dealing with customers via the Internet is different, so is deploying an eCRM solution. Companies extending a CRM application to the Web cannot turn to the traditional models for capacity planning. "The number of users hitting Web sites is proportional to the number of customers out there – not the number of agents answering the phones," Gupta said. "Companies need to look to a vendor whose eCRM solution can scale with the success of its business. It needs to grow with the company."

Those looking to implement an eCRM solution also need to know if the software can perform 24/7. Customers judge service quality by response times and it is no different on the Internet. "If it takes two minutes to download a page, customers aren't going to go back to that site," Gupta said.

From an employee standpoint, adding an "e" to a CRM system means Web-enabling it to work over the Internet. This method of deployment reduces user training since the Internet is an environment most people know. Other benefits are software upgrades or changes become as easy as updating the Web server. Software is not loaded onto the client server. eCRM also enables users to access the system wherever an Internet connection is available. Employees not in the corporate office can plug into the main CRM system and add their contacts into the overall data collection of the company. But Metzger warns to not disconnect users who do not always have access to Internet connections. "The only time when that will not be a problem is when wireless is as pervasive as the regular phone," Metzger said.

The developments in CRM software and its interaction with the Internet will continue to change as companies learn how to make the most of the latest sales channel. Companies need to keep an eye on business, whether it has a prefix or not.

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