Belfast Telegraph

Get the most out of your customer data

By Davy Sims

Social networking — Twitter, Facebook and so on — is one way for a business to get to know customers. It is cheap, simple and direct and its a good way to have a conversation.

In a recent Web Watch article, Have a meaningful online conversation with clients Customer Relations Management expert Russell Moore pointed out: “People are talking about your business; customers, employees, shareholders and competitors. What are they saying and how can you join the conversation?”

Despite their merits, social networking platforms are not designed to build a profile of your customers or help you anticipate their needs.

A business can combine the Web and Customer Relations Management (CRM) software to collect information about their customers; who they are, what they do, what they want.

Additionally that information needs to be analysed and understood. The owner of a corner shop will talk to their customers to get to know them and their needs.

A major supermarket chain will have a loyalty card system. Can a small business use the web and CRM software to understand and better serve their customers?

Among the world’s leading suppliers of CRM software is Oracle. Alistair McDonald is their Regional Manager for Northern Ireland. “Customer Relationship Management solutions are all about providing tools which allow a business to improve the way it manages its customer or prospective future customer.

“Any business not focused on their customers is liable to fail, CRM allows people to capture all their interactions with the customer, having the tools to analyse and therefore build the understanding of customers' behaviour.”

CRM software works by collecting data such as names, contacts and customer activities. Data needs to be accurate to build a good profile. “Even starting from a spreadsheet,” said Mr. McDonald.

“This can be loaded into a CRM system very simply and it can be operational in a matter of days.”

There are potential pitfalls. There is an old phrase in the computer industry ‘GIGO — Garbage In Garbage Out’. Poor quality customer data into the CRM system will result in poor utilisation once it is up and running.

“To begin, work out where the priorities are,” says Mr McDonald. “Do you need to increase sales, improve service or increase the impact of marketing campaigns? Make sure everyone in the business understands why CRM is important and what is expected to be achieved from its implementation. This includes the people at the top as well as lower down in the organisation. Thinking your business can do without CRM is a mistake as it can really differentiate how a business is perceived.”

And the real advantages of using CRM and the internet together are beyond the simple Twitter feed and Facebook |fan page.

Real advantages are said to include improving your business by understanding your customer better than your competition and being more responsive, improved conversion of inquiries to orders, quicker sales cycles and more successful marketing campaigns and quicker business growth.

Davy Sims helps businesses understand new media. He blogs at davysims.com

Belfast Telegraph

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