CRM Strategy

Four Key CRM Strategies That Can Leap You Ahead of the Competition

by Gary Garris

The organizational design of your CRM solution is the single most important aspect of ensuring a quality customer experience..

An all encompassing CRM strategy requires a focus on the infrastructure you have today versus what you can implement tomorrow. Sure, having qualified people, solid processes and good technology are key components however, the organizational design of your CRM solution is the single most important aspect of ensuring a quality customer experience that is mutually beneficial for the company as well as the customer.

Outsourcing, a global presence and frequent mergers and acquisitions makes it extremely difficult to have a consistent service experience across markets, segments and channels for many companies. While not easy to achieve, some of the most important considerations you must make in taking your CRM environment to the next level include the following:

Consolidate or Decentralize Service


If you are not operating in a consolidated environment from a service or call center perspective you are at a disadvantage today. The old school of thought was that regionalized locations created a sense of "customer closeness" and promoted development of a more localized or "culturally sensitive" approach to marketing, branding and servicing your business. The consequences of such a decentralized strategy plays itself out in disjointed and inconsistent policies wrapped around disparate tools and data disconnects that fragments the CRM experience for associates and customers. In many cases, the customer loses out on feeling a sense of cohesiveness from the point of sell, to fulfillment, to service delivery; the very reason many companies cited as a benefit of moving towards decentralization in the first place.

In the insurance industry the two biggest drivers of the customer experience falls under call center operations and claim processing. Not only are these functions not mutually exclusive, they ultimately should be consolidated into a service center environment if you want to positively impact your overall customer experience. Early on in my career I was fortunate enough to be part of an experiment in which these two groups were brought together in the same building on the same floor of a major insurance carrier. Imagine a one stop shop service experience that featured dedicated teams of claims and service associates handling blocks of customers at a time. Those teams forged relationships with their customer base that cut across departments, industries and territories through the socialization of product and plan knowledge that you simply cannot achieve in a decentralized environment. In essence, service became part of the natural fabric of the organization. You could not have a rogue call center operator act contrary to the claim examiner who processed the claim or vice versa since the benefits of alignment and consequences of misalignment are experienced almost real time in a consolidated setting.

Consolidation drives your CRM strategy even if no one is behind the wheel because of the level of accountability and connectedness baked into your processes. In that insurance company, claims and service associates debriefed regularly on disconnects and break downs in service. Those teams policed themselves in driving towards root cause analysis and solution building in addressing customer concerns. Feedback was delivered to product design teams and sales professionals and ultimately to the benefit managers of employers who helped close the loop on plan and benefit education. By all means consolidate where you can.

Rationalize Your CRM Toolsets


Where you can't consolidate people, you should consolidate tools and data. Many companies go down this route in lieu of full fledge consolidation of infrastructure. Tools won't solve all your customer experience challenges but it can lay the framework for collecting insights and analytics that help you better understand your customers. Trying to connect customer information across multiple systems representing a myriad of product offerings and services is a formidable undertaking that requires a strong commitment by organizational leadership to realize long term benefits. The business case will not be centered on technology rationalization since many of the inputs come from admin systems that will not go away anytime soon. The real value in moving down this road is having not only a full "view" of the customer but rather a complete picture of how your organizational performance impacts customer perception. It doesn't matter if you have a full view of the customer if you can't see what you are doing to inhibit relationship and opportunity growth.

Moreover, even if you can see it but can't do anything about it, you are certainly doomed to fail in enhancing the customer experience so alignment amongst leadership becomes another key enabler for success.

Bottom line; avoid the tendency to view the CRM tools you have today absent the other components that provide you with a holistic understanding of customer interaction. All inputs that customers touch must be examined including social media, customer service inbound calls, surveys, customer complaints and written correspondence.

The Customer Is Always Right


The customer is always right. Short of breaking the law, that old adage has to be baked into the psyche of your service team. When companies initiate product development efforts the last place they look to for inspiration is in the service center. What a mistake. The service center has insights into what is working with current products, what is broken and what products you need to develop to meet emerging needs. In spite of this rich resource of data and information, most companies forget to turn to the service teams for their perspective. Don't lose sight of the fact that customers ultimately pay the bills. Instead of blaming an economic downturn on the loss of sales in your organization, how about using data from your service center to better understand how you can streamline products and redesign service based on a customer's propensity to spend. Offer your customers the flexibility to tailor product selection based on the economic realities they are facing today. Adopting that strategy just may slow your opportunity loss and position for future growth because you didn't totally "break" the customer relationship based on inflexibility in product pricing or design.

Stop Fighting Over the Customer


My last but not least important recommendation in the CRM space is to do any and everything you can to avoid infighting over who owns the customer relationship. It just leaves such a poor taste in my mouth when I see internal squabbling over who owns what in large organizations. While those squabbles are taking place, someone else is stealing your customers with lower prices, better products and probably improved services. Quickly drive towards alignment steps that place the customer in the center and your delivery mechanisms underneath the customer to help drive cohesiveness and customer centric delivery. Avoid the" if we will build it and they will come" mentality that sinks so many inwardly focused efforts. Zero in on what your customers truly want by talking to them on a regular basis. Sure, you probably have great anecdotal and maybe some direct data that paints the right picture without talking to your customers but don't forget some blunders from the past that caused customer outrage; changing Coke's formula in the 1990s and the more recent change to Tropicana Orange Juice Packaging that brought about customer revolt. Don't differentiate yourself by screwing up.

About the Author

Gary Garris has spent twenty plus years working in the insurance and financial services arena and leading voice of the customer and sales initiatives. He has a well rounded operational background in underwriting, sales, auditing, claims and application development. Gary has a Bachelor's degree from Rutgers University and received his Master's degree from Thomas Edison College. You can contact Gary at glgarris@aol.com.