Customer relationship management tools (or CRM tools) can make a world of difference when it comes to making sure your clients and customers get the best possible service. There are a wide variety of tools you may be using, from glorified address books to complex systems that track every little interaction you have with a customer. The trick, though, is getting the most use out of those tools that you are using without overwhelming yourself with extra work.
Track What You Know About Your Customers
The first step some businesses need to take is actually making use of a CRM system after setting it up. Tracking information does usually represent a bigger time commitment, especially if your interactions with customers take place over the phone or face-to-face (there are plenty of automated options that can collect data if you're communicating online, though). You may simply have to add information in by hand after a meeting -- a daunting prospect even if you're only thinking about a few clients. On top of that, you need to go back and use the information you've compiled. It's important to build the habit of both recording data and accessing it in your CRM tools for both you and your employees.
It's important to fully investigate the capabilities of your CRM tools as well. The options out there are becoming more robust every day, building in new features that -- depending on your industry and your target audiences -- can help you stay more closely in contact with both potential and existing clients. Some tools, for instance, will now automatically go out and find the social media profiles of anyone you add to your contacts. When you pull up information on an individual, you can see what they've recently posted to Twitter or Facebook. Of course, that's only helpful if you're working with clients who are active on social networking sites. But there are plenty of CRM tools customized to different industries, and it's useful to have one with features that really match up with how you do business.
Make Use of Your Information
On the most immediate level, if you're in the habit of checking up on a customer's profile every time you interact with him, you can make sure that you're providing the best service for his needs. You may be able to see at a glance what he's bought in the past, what he's using his purchases for and even if he's needed a lot of customer service. That sort of information makes it much easier to upsell a customer on training packages or a premium version of a past purchase.
But that sort of information is only the first step you can take. If, for instance, you know that customers who buy a certain product from you are typically interested in a follow-up product six months later, a good piece of CRM software can remind you to contact customers six months after their purchase or even spit out an e-mail based on their purchasing history at just the right time. The deciding factor may simply be the scale of the number of customers you need to contact.
Some CRM software packages offer the ability to analyze certain information about your customers as well, making it much easier to target the prospective clients who are most likely to buy from you or to evolve new services or products that make it easier for customers to come back and buy from you multiple times. Once you have a clear picture of your clients, you'll be able to do a lot with your information.
Simplify Your Data Collection
The biggest barrier to using your CRM tools to the fullest extent of their abilities is collecting enough information to make them truly effective. The level of difficulty depends quite a bit on your business model. If you work one-on-one with your clients, and collecting a lot of information is just a natural part of being able to help them choose the right product or service (usually because it's a higher-ticket item), getting the details you need to be able to better serve your customers can be relatively easy. But if, however, you're dealing with your customers in a retail setting and they're simply making what is, in their minds, a quick purchase, convincing them to even provide you with an e-mail address so that you can follow up can be a very tough sell. Many buyers don't want to offer any information about themselves. You have to overcome those concerns, as well as understand them.
That means that to make sure that you're getting full value for your CRM tools, you need to make sure that you're collecting the information you need -- preferably, in a way that doesn't involve you tracking down each detail and entering it yourself. A customer survey, for instance, can help you get some of the information you need, especially if you can make it worth your customers' while to fill out their own information. Having a good reason that your customers would want you to follow up with them can also be useful -- if you offer some sort of support, you can ask your clients for a little information, if only to make sure you know who owns what product.
Build the Habit
One of the best things you can do for your business is to build the habit of using your CRM tools and analyzing the information you have about your customers on a regular basis. You can find ideas for new products, improve client retention, and generally do a better job of helping your customers solve their problems, just from the information you have in your CRM software. You have the tools to better understand your customers and their needs at your disposal, so why not make full use of them?
Thursday Bram is a senior writer at Wise Bread, a leading personal finance community dedicated to helping people get the most out of their money. Get daily money tips by following Wise Bread on Facebook or Twitter.