These days, the importance of providing outstanding customer service is hardly a secret. Regardless of whether you operate online or in a ‘real-world’ setting, it’s the customer experience that will ultimately determine if and to what extent you succeed.
Nevertheless, consistently providing an outstanding and memorable experience for each and every customer has never been easy.
What Is a CRM System?
In the business world, customer relationship management (CRM) systems help businesses better understand their customers’ expectations and how to satisfy them. CRM systems bring together customer information from a variety of sources, which may include website analytics, emails, telephone conversations and so on.
CRM systems and strategies are important for one very simple reason. If you don’t have an accurate and complete picture of who your customers are and what they expect, you can’t hope to appeal to them. In turn, you’re pretty much guaranteed to lose business to your competitors. Unless your current customer satisfaction rate is consistently high, chances are you could benefit from an effective CRM system.
Of course, the technological aspects of a CRM system can be complex in the extreme. Nevertheless, it’s inadvisable to focus exclusively (or even primarily) on the technical side of CRM. Instead, CRM should be approached as a means by which information from various sources can be brought together to improve the experience for each and every customer your business attracts.
Get it right with an effective CRM system and gain access to countless benefits including:
- The ability to provide the exact products and services your customers want
- Consistent provision of outstanding customer service
- A significant boost to overall sales and cross-selling opportunities
- Building a deeper understanding of your target audience
- Improved conversion rates and reduced bounce rates
- Better customer loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing
Back with the technology argument, you can’t expect all of the above benefits to materialise magically after installing a CRM software package. The software simply exists to make it easier for business owners to do the necessary hard work. The quality of the software you choose counts for a lot, but nowhere near as much as your willingness to invest the required time and effort.
Five Steps to Successful CRM System Implementation
While there will always be myriad complexities to deal with along the way, there are essentially just five steps involved in the implementation of a successful CRM system:
- First of all, you’ll need to think carefully about the customer service strategy you intend to create and implement, before deciding on the software and related technology required.
- Carry out plenty of research to determine exactly which CRM technologies and software packages suit the nature and size of your business. Ask as many questions as necessary, seek recommendations from similar businesses and insist on free trials or demonstrations from the respective providers.
- Rather than diving in at the deep end, start things off slowly and give yourself time to get used to your CRM system. Run a pilot program on a limited scale, establish basic introductory milestones and take the time to familiarise yourself with how the system works.
- Determine exactly which metrics and KPIs are of greatest importance to you ahead of time. Traffic volumes, sales, profit margins, conversion rates, bounce rates etc. You’ll find yourself dealing with enormous volumes of data you cannot possibly analyse in full. You therefore need to focus your efforts on whatever matters most.
- Tap into the experience and expertise of the software’s service provider. Allow them to gradually introduce you to the various features and functionalities of the system, providing essential training for you and anyone else who may use it. Once again, be sure to ask as many questions as necessary for as long as necessary.
Popular CRM Software Solutions
The market for CRM software solutions is both enormous and growing all the time. Along with a variety of service packages from larger and established brands, there are also plenty of independent service providers offering all manner of CRM solutions.
If looking to work with one of the best in the business however, the following have earned the highest and most consistent customer recommendations as of early 2018:
- HubSpot CRM
- Zoho CRM
- Less Annoying CRM
- Freshsales CRM
- Bpm’online CRM
- Salesforce Sales Cloud Lightning Professional
- Insightly CRM
- Pipedrive CRM
- Base CRM
- Apptivo CRM
As stated previously, it’s always a good idea to see which are offering free trials (or at least demonstrations) of what’s on offer, before expecting you to sign up to any kind of paid plan.
The Earlier, the Better
Contrary to popular belief, it’s never too early to think about setting up an effective CRM system for your business. If anything, the earlier you start, the better. Setting up a CRM system as a smaller or newer business translates to a stripped-back and streamlined introduction to the software. As your business grows, you begin to make use of the more advanced and complex features the system provides. By contrast, the larger and more complex the business already is, the trickier the transition can be from its current operational model to a CRM system.
The Transition Period
Unsurprisingly, one of the most common concerns among business owners considering CRM system implementation is the potential for downtime. For obvious reasons, any kind of major transition like this could bring a certain amount of disruption into the equation. The length of time it will take to get a good CRM system in place depends on whether you go with a hosted or on-site package, along with the size, nature and complexity of your business.
If you decide to choose a hosted CRM solution from an application service provider, you’ll be looking at a relatively quick transition. Assuming that your business isn’t particularly enormous or complex in nature, it’s realistic to expect a transition period of approximately 30 to 90 days. Nevertheless, this could be reduced or extended exponentially, in accordance with any number of contributory factors.
By contrast, if you decide to go for an on-site package to be used for complex data processing across your entire company, the transition period may be significantly longer. When taking into account implementation and provision of the required training, it can take months or even years for a complex on-site CRM to fully hit its stride. That said, this again is entirely dependent on the size, nature and complexity of your business, along with the specifics of the CRM system you decide to go with.
CRM System Pricing
In terms of pricing, CRM system costs vary from the sublime to the ridiculous. Quite literally, in fact – some systems are available free of charge, others can cost millions to set up and operate. Still, for a solid hosted sales automation application you’ll probably be looking at something in the region of £30 to £100 per month. Again, it all comes down to the features you’ll need and the extent of support provided.
In any case, some of the very best CRM software providers allow their services to be used (to a certain extent at least) for free. Perfect for smaller and newer businesses with limited requirements. If interested in testing the waters free of charge, the following service providers currently offer free CRM solutions to one extent or another:
- HubSpot CRM
- Zoho CRM
- Really Simple Systems
- Sugar CRM
- Zurmo CRM
- Google Contacts
Of course, you cannot expect round-the-clock technical support or provision of world-class training if you decide to go ahead with a free CRM solution. Nevertheless, if simply looking to improve the efficiency and quality of your customer service offering for a smaller or newer business, you may as well see how things work before shelling out for a paid package.
Beware Potential Pitfalls
Last but not least, it’s important to remember that not every CRM project proves successful. Lack of communication, substandard software, lacklustre training, misuse of key features – all the kinds of things that can cause CRM projects to fail. As mentioned right at the beginning, to rely on technology to deal with all the hard work on your behalf represents a big mistake.
Even with the very best CRM system on the market, it’s still entirely up to you to wow every customer. It’s just that you’ll find things far easier to track and manage with a good CRM system in place.