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LESSON - The Key to Mastering Customer Relationships

By Krishna Chettayar, Assistant Vice President, D&B Sales & Marketing Solutions

One promise of new sales and marketing technology is the ability to interact with customers on a more personal level. By improving the ability to identify, remember, and relate more fully to customers, a company can make significant gains in customer retention and growth. For example, retaining just 5 percent more customers can increase revenues by as much as 85 percent.

Yet managing customer views is not an easy task. Companies are challenged to do it consistently and well. The key is a customer taxonomy and system for enabling companies to access relevant customer views, so that the end user, or even the customer, can make business decisions with confidence.

The Challenges of Becoming a Customer-Focused Organization

Consider the marketing department in a company, which has specific needs to manage disparate views of a customer. Marketing teams work with IT to integrate and analyze customer information to, at a minimum, identify the customers that provide the most revenue and profit. More sophisticated marketers try to identify any predictive variables that may determine future purchases or signs of attrition, and use the profile to guide customer penetration and acquisition efforts. The first step in this effort is the customer integration process, which presents major challenges for marketers. Customer information is collected and maintained in discrete information systems across the enterprise, and is often stored in inconsistent formats. For instance, accounting may view the customer from one perspective, the service group sees the customer from another angle, and the sales team has its own perception. In this situation the customer takes on three different faces, but the true identity is in fact expressed by all of these views as part of a complex “corporate family” that has different members responsible for different activities. The marketer has the difficult job of piecing together all of these views into a picture of demand that can form the basis of actionable information.

The answer is better data through processes that are already available. The result is the right information, at the right time, in the right form, and about the right customer—the key to successful CRM.

Given that other departments in the same organization likely need to manage their customer views as well, it is evident that the situation can quickly become even more complex. Companies often buy CRM systems thinking they will provide an overarching solution, but in fact such systems are little more than repositories of information and are only as good as the quality of information they hold and dispense (“garbage in, garbage out”).

Some CRM systems are getting better at developing an architecture to support multiple customer views, but they are often application-specific. The reality is that companies will have multiple applications and databases that must all work together. What’s needed is a common customer directory residing outside of any particular system, yet capable of supporting all systems. The directory should serve up integrated customer views and related information—including analysis—whenever and wherever they are needed.

The answer is not more technology. The answer is better data through processes that are already available. The result is the right information, at the right time, in the right form, and about the right customer—the key to successful CRM.

With a complete customer view, sales can uncover “hidden” revenue opportunities, marketing can deliver higher-impact campaigns at lower cost, and IT can get more value out of existing enterprise systems. Customers get better, more responsive service, increasing their satisfaction and likelihood of buying an increased level of products or services.

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