Offering web enabled services to customers – whether business or consumer – is no longer a nice option, it is essential. Businesses now have diverse opportunities for transforming the quality, timeliness and engagement of the customer experience – just look around at the Wi-Fi enabled Kindle support or the provision of location based services to mobile customers.
Get the online strategy right, and organisations can not only embed customers within the business, improving retention and increasing average customer value, but also significantly reduce costs in the process. However, while the web provides a number of ways for organisations to change the way they interact with customers, these services can only be delivered successfully if they are based upon accurate, detailed, up to date customer information.
Unfortunately, few organisations are yet to realise this vision. Many have made the mistake of taking a website development route, which has simply created another information silo. Others have enabled customers to raise support calls via an online trouble ticketing system – but that constrains the web portal to a specific sub set of information and in turn, restricts the employees, teams and/or departments that have access to the data. At the same time, companies are looking to implement an online CRM system that will provide sales staff with online access to information and, at best, allow customers to undertake self-service updates of basic contact information. The problem is that none of these developments work together; resulting in a fragmented and flawed online business model.
These web enabled deployments have been tactical solutions in response to specific operational requirements and taken in isolation they make sense. Adding a web front end to a trouble ticketing system undoubtedly makes it easier for customers to lodge complaints or support requests out of hours; while offering access to an online document portal enables customers to adopt a self-service method to check contracts or order statements rather than call or email – saving time for both parties.
However, the business implications of failing to join up these processes can be significant. With siloed information sources, it is far too easy for a customer services team to waste resources by providing support to a customer that has not renewed its contract; or for the online sales process to automatically accept an order from a customer with a poor credit history.
These tactical solutions may deliver short term wins but they are not sustainable in the longer term. Organisations need a far more effective way of embedding every aspect of the customer interaction and relationship within the business – and that means taking a strategic approach.
CRM enabled strategy
At the heart of this transformation must be a single source of information that encompasses every aspect of the customer interaction – from initial lead generation through to contract, order history and customer support. And the best place to hold that information is within the CRM. Integrating this central resource of customer information, that includes everything from financial transactions to customer preferences and order history, into the website enables an organisation to leverage existing investment whilst creating an end to end solution that delivers a seamless experience for customers.
Of course this model allows the business to provide customers with self-service access to information that would previously have required a telephone call or email - from copies of invoices to outstanding orders. It allows a customer to track a product inquiry or on-going support issue 24x7. It also enables customers to update information, place orders and make payments online at a time that suits them. Essentially, enabling self-service online activity reduces the burden on the organisation, significantly cutting costs and driving down the administrative overhead.
However a CRM enabled web strategy offers even more. By capturing every customer interaction in one place, both off and online, the business can gain new depths of understanding that can be used to transform the customer experience – from tailoring information to reflect customer requirements to exploiting better customer insight to drive effective cross- and up-selling activity. For example, if a customer is constantly logging support calls about a certain product, the organisation can automatically present content that leads the customer towards relevant training courses or highlights the benefits of a product upgrade. The online content can similarly be tailored in response to a prospect or customer who has responded to a specific mailshot, for example by presenting a relevant case study or product offer.
Critically, because every interaction is captured within the CRM, the business is continually improving its customer understanding and can use that insight to enhance the experience, increase average customer value and meet retention objectives.
Web enabling the business is now a fundamental component of any corporate strategy. But this does not mean building this functionality directly into the web site on its own; the result will be a complex, unmanageable mess of separate integrations with three or four separate back end systems. Instead, the CRM system should be the hub of the entire customer relationship strategy, providing a single platform to support all business transactions both on and offline.
With the right approach to CRM enabling the web strategy, organisations can deliver customer self-service and improve the quality, timeliness and relevance of information and services. The result is stronger customer relationships, reduced costs and a chance to exploit customer information to improve up- and cross-selling. With customers increasingly demanding an integrated online business model, can any organisation afford to miss out on this opportunity to consolidate, integrate and improve the overall customer experience?