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The Big Business of Customer Relations

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The concept of customer relations being an integrated process built around flow charts and spanning industries is turning into a fast-growing multi-billion-dollar software business.

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Through the use of social media, companies have the ability to interact with the customer base as never before. There is a ton of information floating around out there, and it can be tapped into. Now, even major decision making can be based on real-time feedback from users.

Design, marketing of product, pre- and post-purchase service-all can become true collaborative efforts, the goal being to create a win-win scenario for both the vendor and the customer. Some startups are even creating social networks before they bring their product to market, in order to find out what it is that the market really wants.

Value co-creation-both in the beginning and as an ongoing part of the toolkit-can be extremely advantageous for the company because it is, in essence, outsourcing much of the heavy lifting of product development, and getting it done for free.

With regard to its Dynamics CRM software, Microsoft put out a white paper in which it suggested uses that its product might be applied to. Among others noted by Microsoft:

  • Manage online class registration automatically. In addition to automating the registration process, one could track student activity like attendance, grades, certifications, and course evaluations, as well as track and report on marketing activities, including social media, to measure the success of campaigns.
  • Medical-product manufacturers and distributors can automatically notify product owners of a warning or recall; answer product questions with confidence using a CRM-based knowledgebase; and suggest additional products that could enrich a customer's life.
  • Help municipalities respond to citizen requests more effectively.
  • Ditch the paper order form. Work alongside customers to configure an order and send the quote immediately from a tablet device.
  • Track customer goods in transit with map integration, in response to customers' expectations for knowing where their product is in the supply chain once they have ordered it.
  • Compile a comprehensive view of lapsed customers and generate automated lists of customers who might be re-attracted based on purchase history.
  • In a phone conversation with a clients or prospects, employ guided dialogues to prompt follow-up questions based on answers and build decision tree interviews.
  • Fine-tune customer contests to meet fan interests.
  • Keep track of where backup paperwork specific to each interaction is located.

But in the end, how do you get sales staff, who may be very set in their ways, to actually use this stuff?

That's the question posed by Dr. Michael Wu, principal analytics scientist and blogger for Lithium.com. Wu writes that "one of the many challenges facing Social CRM will be adoption. In fact, traditional enterprise software (e.g., sales force automation) often experiences a very steep learning curve and is not well adopted within the enterprise. Even if it is adopted, people often hate to use it. Employees only use it because their job requires it."

His simple solution: "gamify" CRM software. That is, people are more apt to learn new skills, and to warm to new technologies, if they're presented as a game.

"Social gaming dynamics," he says, "can foster team work, collaboration, and even a healthy level of competition within your organization. The result is ultimately a huge boost in productivity...

"So if you ever get involved in [CRM] software design, make sure it's entertaining! Never underestimate the power of fun."

Sounds like an idea whose time has come.


Editor's Note: This article was written by Doug Hornig of Casey Research.

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