CRM software runs my life

Category: CRM

Top 3 Tools for Tuning Web Applications

I believe that the greatest strength of web based applications (as opposed to desktop applications) is that ability to develop a feedback loop. I like examples, so let me run through the top feedback methods that I currently use:

  • uservoice_forum_exampleUservoice – This tool allows single sign-on integration to allow you to have a private feedback forum that you can harvest for feedback. The best part about it is that, unlike your current WishList queue, it is self-prioritised by the people who actually know what they are talking about, your customers. You can also provide feedback back to your customers on how the ideas are progressing (approved, started, completed etc.). Nice way to close the user feedback loop.

 

  • Google Analytics – Putting analytics through a web application lets you know what users are using most often, how long they stare at a particular feature (or enter information) and what makes them bounce out. But it can also help you narrow that information down to specific users, simply by passing through some information to the new Advanced Segmentation tools using thesetVar() functionto pass through a user’s login name for example. You can even track events, flash components and of course conversions (successful transactions in your application?).

 

  • site24x7 examplePerformance Monitoring – It is a great idea to do user testing and time how long it takes to follow a path through your application, for example logging into your web-based CRM application, searching with some set terms, returning a result and then displaying the details of this result. You can time it in a user session, providing you with valuable (but once off) time information about user scanning and data entry time. How does this time differ at 9am Monday versus 3am Thursday? A web application performance monitoring tool like site24x7 allows you to run this path automatically every 5 minutes, 24×7. This not only allows you to check your servers are serving your application at a consistent time, but even just serving it at all. It will email you immediately when your application stops responding, send you a weekly performance summary report, show you performance from multiple locations around the world and even help you independently track your SLA compliance (and even publish all this via an API or public page).

Don’t wait for your customers to call you and complain, these tools make feedback easy, even to the point where users are providing it instantly without even realising. The next step is using these tools to proactively improve your web application, which of course is easier said than done. Just remember you have to measure before you can manage. 🙂

What is Social CRM?

Social CRM is a buzz word that is spiralling out of control at the moment. What does it mean? I googled around and didn’t really find a consistent message. Instead I am going to explain my interpretation, let me know if you think it makes sense.

Social networks have two strong points, they are full of customers that are linked by relationships. These are the first two letters of CRM! The multi-billion dollar question is how can you manage them without destroying them or being seen as an evil spy.

Social CRM Feedback Loop

Social CRM Feedback Loop

The first step towards Social CRM is using social networks as a feedback loop for your customer relations programs. Who better to learn from than your customers themselves? It’s the perfect way to refine your customer relations processes and add another source of feedback and innovation into your company.

The next stage is to develop relationships with your customers. From a business perspective I would assume that this is due to repeat business delivering higher margins, mostly because it doesn’t require expensive mass marketing or other customer acquisition. Businesses justify it to consumers by saying it gives the customer an opportunity to dictate and receive a personalised product.

I like idealistic goals, I think when you are talking about customers it is good to at least aim towards being noble. The question is, how many businesses intentions are simply to maintain the margins of their mass market product?

As with everything in life there will be a balancing point, somewhere in the feedback gathering process I think the social networks will reject further interference. That balancing point is what Facebook and others are thinking day and night about, and the point they have crossed at times with projects such as Facebook Beacon. If a social network hits that point perfectly there is definitely big money at stake, but until then companies need to monitor the social networks in their backyard and just listen. There are plenty of companies that struggle to do that internally, let alone through fast moving external networks.

CRM solutions for a recession

InsideCRM posted a good article on the top 5 reasons why a CRM system increases in importance during a recession (the US is in one, it is only a matter of time before Australia and others admit they are in one too).

Stressed about sales?

Stressed about sales?


For me, the key is working smarter not harder. When unemployment starts creeping up people start getting stressed about their jobs and start burning the midnight oil. Here is how a CRM helps you achieve more without burning yourself out:

  1. You can slice and dice your customer data to target the customer segments that aren’t suffering so much or have fallen through the cracks in the past.
  2. Customer retention is easier as you can track and schedule catch up emails, meetings or calls.
  3. Customer wide cross-sell strategies can be more easily implemented and coordinated.

Many companies have implemented a CRM system because it is easy to demonstrate reduced data entry, documenting customer complaints or managing product inventory. During a recession, companies should be looking at the analytical and other tools that have gathered dust within your CRM during the good years.

So what are some facts that can motivate you? Improving customer retention by 5% can boost profitability by 25% to 95%. Sales force automation and a consistent sales process has been shown to increase sales per representative by 30% over a three year period. Still not enough reasons?

Well what are the top 3 reasons why now is a great time to go through a CRM implementation?

  1. CRM retailers are hurting like everyone else, prices are better than ever.
  2. Excess capacity within the business can be used to scope, build and train on a new system.
  3. Business model change is slowing as new entrants fail to gain VC or other funding. This gives you some breathing space to document your current business model and tighten the screws.

Features vs Usability

Just one more feature...

Just one more feature...

Does adding features automatically mean reduced usability?

Some bloggers strongly disagree with this sentiment, for example arguing features only reduce usability when they are implemented poorly. I would definitely agree with some of his examples, including adding PNG support to browsers which did not affect end user usability.

Another that he gave was Google search, which is a perfect example of an interface that is simple to the nth degree. Clearly Microsoft didn’t learn anything when they tried to compete with it by adding 3 sliders to “tune” your search results. Instead Google addresses this need for additional tuning into it’s back end, which by many counts analyses and balances 10’s if not 100’s of contributing factors. There is a load or cost in adding features, however it can be paid either by your users in your software, or internally through process and/or business analysis. This is a balance however, and factors like scalability, audience and resources all have to be assessed before a solution can be scoped.

So how can you tell if you got this balance right? Usability can be tested independently with a sample pool of your audience, and this doubles as a great way to involve your customer and evangelise them. It does get expensive however, mainly due to the time and specialist software packages required (such as TechSmith Morae). A quicker and cheaper method is to just ask someone who knows, a usability expert.

There is a great article on usabilitynews.com comparing the two types of usability feedback. If it is your first attempt at usability testing (or it requires a full time resource to manage) than an expert is a great way to learn the process and common techniques. The bottom line however, is that there is no substitute for the horse’s mouth. Customer comments and videos provide concrete suggestions that will help to mitigate any external or internal stakeholder objections both pre and post deployment.

Email Marketing Problems Explained

Email Delivery FlowchartEmail marketing is not just spam, it is an important way of updating and maintaining a relationship with your customers. For many however it is a black art (literally) plagued by blacklists and emails disappearing into black holes. The various explanations for failed email delivery however are often highly technical and involve trial and error to resolve rather than guaranteed solutions.

The first resource that I created is a 1 page document to explain the problem areas in the email delivery process. It is simply entitled Email Delivery Explained (click to download the PDF). It is by no means comprehensive, but it is instead targetted at first time email marketers and budding e-sales people trying to understand the world of email marketing. If you found it interesting and want to know more, or want a great email marketing provider, then check out the MailChimp Resources page.

The second resource is a very cool program called Litmus. This software validates your email marketing collateral against the various email clients (desktop clients such as Outlook and Lotus, as well as web based clients like Hotmail and Gmail). It will provide a visual image of exactly what went wrong and where, so you can keep tweaking until it looks right. Not only will it improve your email marketing presentation, it will also check the content against spam filters like Norton, SpamAssassin and many others. You really can’t be much more thorough than that!

Multi-tasking and Productivity

Today I read a very interesting article that was powerful enough to knock me out of my blogging slumber. It is essentially a summary of a paper that was recently published at the International Conference on Information Systems. It can be found at the following URL (and was slashdotted here):

http://computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&taxonomyId=14&articleId=281734&intsrc=hm_topic

man with two phones

So why was this article particularly interesting to myself? Well for starters it was based on a study of executive recruiters, who are my current employers. It was also particularly interesting as the theories presented back up the beliefs at the foundation of my new CRM system (my thesis). The article provides empirical evidence that multi-taskers are more productive due to their increased ability to handle parallel tasks. This is one of the key features of the CRM package, however it is also the thing that is taking the longest time to train staff to use.

I am even noticing a difference between Generation X and Y staff in this area. As this related article states; Generation X may have introduced multitasking to the work place, but Generation Y has perfected it. I am certainly finding that to be the case. This is also extremely important for the retention of staff. As multi-tasking becomes more embraced by the Generations, they begin to expect it to be supported and become frustrated quickly if it is not available. Some of my other favourite articles on Gen Y employees reinforce this message. Empower your staff with flexible, multi-tasking IT tools and they will be highly productive and highly profitable.

The Rise of CRM

Long’s post about talking to customers sparked my interest due to my current thesis work surrounding CRM packages. It raises a very interesting question, and that is do these companies genuinely not care or are they not capable of caring?

Company communication facesA company can only ‘appear’ to be capable of caring if it has invested in systems that ensure each customer interaction is responded to in the best possible way (for both the customer and the company). This requires a lot of business strategy planning and scripting, often using inputs such as customer surveys, psychologists, marketing managers and front line staff. Getting to know your customer clearly takes a lot of time and effort.

All this planning work is in vain however without a successful implementation. Big companies for many years have invested heavily (millions of $) in packages from SAP and Oracle.

It is only now that small and medium enterprises (SME’s) are investing in this area. This shift has mainly occurred due to 2 things, an increase in customer service quality expectations and a decrease in the implementation cost of CRM software.

To give you an idea of what CRM software is capable of I would suggest watching this demo video. It is tucked away on the Microsoft Dynamics website, but it gives an excellent overview of how a CRM system works.

Microsoft and a number of other providers are making a large scale push into the smaller end of the market. By smaller I definitely mean employee numbers, not value. In Australia the SME market actually represents 92% of businesses and 80% of total business value. As far as developing areas of IT go this is a huge one, and it brings with it a whole load of business analyst, software customisation/integration and many other job opportunities
with it.

The exciting part for me however is not that I will have a career path, but that IT is being recognised as a business driver and competitive advantage rather than a necessarily evil to support a business. The TLA‘s of CRM, SFAERP and logistics areas are leading the way in this area. One day will the CIO always
have a seat at the board table? Will IT staff be recognised and valued as revenue generators and as holders of crucial business knowledge? Sooner or later, time will tell.

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