Your best foot forward

The underpinnings of enterprise e-business efficiency are processes such as CRM, business intelligence, and ERP -- each so intricately entwined that untangling them can be as frustrating as a knot in the laces of your canvas high-tops.

          The underpinnings of enterprise e-business efficiency are processes such as CRM, business intelligence, and ERP -- each so intricately entwined that untangling them can be as frustrating as a knot in the laces of your canvas high-tops. Often it seems easier to simply cut the shoestrings and start fresh than to risk being late to the game.

          So it is easy to blame technical intricacy for CRM projects stumbling along the road to fruition. Nevertheless, in most cases failure actually can be traced to people rather than to technology.

          Before leaving the starting block, be aware of potential missteps ahead that could doom your CRM initiative. Frequently, the culprit is merely a lack of adequate employee training on newly implemented tools.

          CRM tools can offer powerful insight into customer-facing applications, but if your call center can't translate those benefits into action -- specifically in the form of an improved or expedited customer experience -- the results can be worse than the absence of any relationship management tools at all.

          For example, attempts at alleviating negative interaction often lead to the opening of self-service channels, such as giving customers the "autonomy" to resolve issues online. Although self-service options are good for both customers and the company, "do-it-yourself" should never usurp the personal touch. Taking the time to instill good customer-service practices in employees through proper training will pay off in spades as a competitive differentiator.

          Another threat to the success of CRM initiatives is the failure to adopt a cohesive long-term strategy prior to implementation. A fast win in deployment will lead to fast fragmentation if your CRM plan doesn't succeed in crossing departmental boundaries in support of the enterprise as a whole.

          CRM's ultimate success comes by way of tapping the business intelligence locked within the data. Improperly configured, data siloed within single departments or business units limits the usefulness of CRM tools and their ultimate value.

          CRM tools demand a unified view across all channels of customer interaction to ensure data integrity and provide an accurate means of predictive forecasting that can be acted upon, in step, across the enterprise and among business partners.

          Implementing the IT requirements for CRM will be relatively easy. But even as CRM relies on technology, it must be approached as a business strategy to be effective.

          In the race to attract and retain customers, properly implemented CRM can help increase efficiency and provide your employees with the tools they need to build better relationships and ensure customer satisfaction.

          On the road to CRM, the right fit is everything.

          James R Borck is managing analyst in the InfoWorld Test Centre.

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