Trending Importance of Flexible CRM Platform

By Vinod Sivarama Krishnan, CIO, Usha International

The balance of power in the business environment has steadily been shifting into the hands of the customer. The traditional information inequality that existed in favour of the merchant or seller has completely evaporated, leaving a near permanent inequality in favour of the customer, who is now often better informed than company front line associates and able to determine value in a transaction much better than ever before. Show-rooming, usage of web crawlers and price comparators, leveraging of the collective intelligence of other shoppers through feedback forums and product reviews all contribute to shifting the inequality from the seller side to the buyer side. Add in the impact of competitive pressures, lower barriers to entry and less differentiation on the product front and it becomes very difficult for companies to maintain their competitive positions over time.

Therefore, companies directly facing the customer are feeling the need to know their customers at a level of detail that answers several critical questions. Who is buying, what are they buying, why are they buying and what can a company do to get them to buy more or buy better – these are the key questions we would like to answer. Unfortunately, few organizations have consistently invested in maintaining a relationship with their customers, preferring to concentrate instead on the conversion in the first place and expecting the products to speak for themselves, or for the customer to take up the responsibility of interacting with the brand. Paradoxically, those that do invest tend to assume aggressive postures to their customer relationships, often peppering the customers with irrelevant or unnecessary (and sometimes even inappropriate!) offers and demands on their time. Ideally, there needs to be a balanced, always available and beneath the surface management of this relationship i.e. being close enough to know and relate to the customer but giving him or her enough space within that relationship to provide a comfortable and supportive environment in which to capture as much as possible of the customer’s life cycle value.

The key to this relationship is to understand (and where possible, predict) the customer’s needs based on information being received and curated continuously. This was hard enough in the bricks and mortar world, but the challenges are now amplified in the online world, where data is plentiful and technology solutions abound, but the volume and velocity of this data presents significant challenges in understanding and response. Successful companies in this area have managed to use data responsibly and sensibly and err on the side of caution, providing guidance and directing customers to help themselves without creating apprehensions in their customers’ minds about the nature of the relationship. 

There is an extremely thin line between what would be considered “delighting the customer” and what would be considered “creepy” or “intrusive” by the same customers. Customers (even those in the developing world who were largely unconcerned with privacy issues or willing to part with personal information in lieu of discounts) have started understanding how much of their personal and confidential information has leached into the public domain and how it can be used in a manner that is detrimental to their interests, ranging from spamming to outright fraud and identity theft. Understanding the preferences of customers and providing quick, easy and assured ways to implement the ability to be forgotten on request or removing information about oneself online and from the databases of corporations personally are two steps that companies can take to ensure they do not intentionally cross the line.

Fortunately, help is at hand in the form of several marketing suites and products in the area of Customer Relationship Management. While offering fairly intuitive data collection and curation tools, these tools allow for an understanding of what works for whom and to provide a nuanced option guided by the customer and driven by mutual benefit considerations. What is applicable in the online area is usually equally applicable in the offline world, often even better because of the traditional (relatively!) low use of technology in the brick and mortar marketing space. However the tendency to overburden the suites available with functionality that may or may not be relevant or even appropriate to an organization and feature bloat are leading to indifferent adoption of the suites. Start-ups have recognized this area to be relatively underserved and there are several that are bringing ability to mine data from social and other online platforms to the areas of Marketing Automation and Digital Marketing, taking the guesswork out of the equation at affordable costs. Integration with legacy and modern ERP and planning suites is a given and use cases are generally restricted to a few features at a time, which is appropriate for a business that is moving slowly towards managing customer relationships.

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