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As a business grows, so do the complexities of knowing and serving its customers. Building these relationships can be hindered by the difficulty of singling out an individual customer from hundreds or thousands of others. Add the fact that customers use multiple methods of contacting a business, such as the phone, fax, e-mail, internet as well as the front door, the majority of employees may never meet the company’s clientele.

Commonly, each department within a business harbors isolated pockets of information about a customer. An order department, for instance, only knows about the customer’s buying habits, while the fulfillment department knows only when the order is processed. Although a business may set high standards for service, one weak link in the delivery chain can potentially send a customer running to a competitor.

These hurdles are made more daunting by increasing competitive pressures. In today’s market, a competitor may be only a mouse click away. As a result, creating and maintaining a relationship challenges even the most customer-focused organization.

Here is where CRM can offer the solution. As a business strategy that aligns a company’s information around serving its customers, CRM is a commitment by a business to care for its customers from a long-term perspective, rather than on an incidental basis.

CRM helps a company deliver the type of personalized service that might be associated with a smaller, neighborhood shop where the person behind the counter knows us by name, possibly even why we’re there, and acts as our escort from the beginning to the end of the process.

A key requirement for customer relationship management, then, is to provide a comprehensive view of the customer’s relationship with the company to an employee working with them. Implemented correctly, CRM can increase revenue by identifying valuable customers, anticipating their needs, and enabling a business to fine-tune the way in which they are approached. CRM can streamline handling of requests and inquiries received through various media channels, thereby creating greater operational efficiency and quicker response times. It can help a company set and meet service objectives in every place that touches the customer. And, it can build the kind of loyalty that makes customers less price sensitive.

Growing and larger companies need the help of sophisticated tools to implement a CRM strategy. These tools provide the means to build a library of customer information in which each volume is unabridged and easily accessed by the person who needs it -- when they need it. Lucent Technologies’ CRM Central 2000, an open, modular software suite, is designed to help businesses orchestrate its customer service strategy throughout the enterprise. CRM Central brings information gathered from different departments to the point at which the customer is interacting with the company. It manages customer contacts coming from a wide range of communication channels and keeps track of the interactions -- from start to finish -- in a common repository, applying consistent standards of service regardless of their choice of media. And, to assure the promises made to a customer are kept throughout the business, CRM Central 2000’s intelligent workflow management engine triggers the tasks that need to be performed to fulfill the customer’s request. The software enables a business to assign appropriate handling to a request whether it serves corporate customers, direct consumers, or both.

Let’s look at how CRM Central 2000 can help an e-commerce company: A customer might visit a vendor’s web site to buy and configure a new computer. CRM Central 2000 accepts the web form submitted by the customer and automatically tracks the order as it moves through the fulfillment process, triggering the tasks that need to be done and recording them as they are completed. If the customer calls to check the status of the order, the customer service representative knows immediately where the order stands. If the customer sends an e-mail to change the order, he or she gets a prompt response that the order has been updated. Likewise, the right person in the company is notified to expedite the change.

Customer Relationship Management does not have to be a company-wide program but can grow in bite-size pieces beginning in the way that is most practical for business objectives. The endgame, however, is an unmistakable shift of operations to create a universal commitment to the customer relationship.

CRM is not just about the first impression or even great service – but about a lifetime of contacts and how they are managed. The way customer relationships are managed can set a business apart from the competition and keep it growing.