When people ask, "What is CRM?" the literal answer is, "Customer
Relationship Management," but that doesn't really convey much in terms of what
all CRM does for a business. This CRM definition is too narrow to really
explain everything the system does if it is working to its fullest potential and
is user-friendly enough to expand and grow as a customer-client relationship
changes and grows.
CRM in the broader sense encompasses not only customer relationship
management itself but how customer relationship management is handled and the
most important elements of a CRM program that are essential to its being
successful. The range of CRM software options vary from those that provide
simple customer tracking and live chat capabilities to the more complex CRM
solutions that can integrate all of the customer relationship data an enterprise
has on each client past, present and future in a dynamic information data
What should I look for in a CRM software package?
If there's an ideal CRM software package that works for every company and
every situation, it hasn't been discovered yet, simply because every company has
slightly different needs for their customer relationship management needs as
well as software implementation.
In general, however, when you are looking for a strong CRM software package
there are a few things to keep in mind. If you are shopping for a CRM package,
try to forget about the initial price tag at first (as difficult as this may be)
and focus on the adaptability, usability and integrity of each system you
evaluate as it relates to your particular needs. A few things to consider:
- What are the most important facets of customer relations are we looking to
address, and does this CRM software support tracking and updating all aspects
of this? For example, if your company wants to customer service to have ready
access to changes in customer spending habits and an opportunity to offer new
product options based on these records, make sure this capability is built
into the software. Customization down the line will be time-consuming and
expensive -- if you have a primary goal, make sure it is standard in your CRM
- Will the CRM software package integrate smoothly with all platforms
currently in use at your company? If you will have to re-enter all databases
such as client names, addresses and phone numbers, this will significantly
increase the amount of money you'll spend in the long run. Make sure that you
can either integrate smoothly or import all information needed flawlessly.
- Is the product more than you need? An enterprise solution that offers
fifteen functions you don't need and never will isn't a bargain if you will
never expand into that market niche. Just because it's available doesn't mean
you have to have it. Selling custom-sewn hats? You won't need a CRM software
package for tracking million-dollar overseas accounts.
- Has this CRM software package been used for a company of your size before?
If it has been used for companies up to 10,000 and you have 150,000, the
system may simply not be able to sustain the volume of data and crash or
develop glitches. Look for something more powerful with a support system
capable of understanding the size of your company.
Can you build me a dream CRM software package?
Hmm?let's see. The best CRM software package would be optimally functional
across all platforms and have its own customer support backing it, and ?. Well,
let's take a look at our own list of what we'd really like in a CRM software
package if money was no object and we could "have it all," so to speak:
- A CRM software provider that has partnerships with other vendors for
support in the event you need it for integration of platforms.
- Extensive training from certified CRM software technicians who will walk
your people through the process of setting up, using and training others on
- Full data migration capabilities to and from all programs in current use
to the new CRM software.
- Offsite server storage backup for all information in the CRM system for
- A toolbox for company programmers for customizing templates for company
use -- this will save huge amounts of time by eliminating the need to write
custom codes from scratch.
- Either in-house consultants or a choice of contracted consultants they
recommend (try not to be at the mercy of one consultant when there is a
- A CRM software package designed by a company familiar with our specific
industry and its structural needs.
The best CRM software packages enable customer service representatives to
review the account information of each client or customer when they are talking
to him or her and immediately understand something about that person's needs,
wants and spending patterns.
For banks, CRM software can indicate their banking patterns -- are they
investing through the bank? Have they recently looked into a money market fund?
Do they have substantial funds that could be put to better use than languishing
in a simple CD?
A mail order company can note your shopping tendencies and make Christmas
shopping suggestions based on past purchases by seeing that you buy a lot of
kids' clothes and that you spend about $200 each holiday. Used correctly, a toy
company can steer you toward some bargains and suggest alternatives, enriching
your shopping experience and building customer loyalty.
Why does CRM software fail so often after it's put into place?
You've heard the stories about a company buying a CRM software package and
then realizing it hasn't really changed anything. The big-wigs are disappointed,
customer service is frustrated, and the clients are aggravated with the new
changes that don't seem to show any improvements in customer service or client
relations. How does it happen?
Because CRM software was purchased that wasn't appropriate, was purchased too
soon, or wasn't implemented properly. If you don't purchase CRM software that
specifically addresses what your customer concerns are, you may have software
that is very detailed in an area you don't need and somewhat lacking in exactly
what you do need.
Purchasing too soon means you bought the software before you had evaluated
what you really wanted. Many companies by CRM software with a goal "to improve
customer relations," which is not a clear business goal! You should have a very
specific, well-defined objective that your CRM software solution can address,
and you company should have developed a formal objective before you went
shopping for a solution. Retaining customers? Improving the size of current
customer portfolios? Penetrating a new market niche? Reduce customer complaints?
Improve customer repair response? Determine what it is you want to focus on as a
goal, and then choose your CRM software solution based on how it will address
Finally, implementation of a new CRM program requires proper management
support and effective training. That means that management must be behind it one
hundred percent, and not have "head in the sand" approach where they determine
that "that's for customer service, I never did understand that stuff," and avoid
learning how the CRM software works. It is an attitude that will pervade the
Second, training is essential and must encompass the company to ensure that
all levels of personnel will embrace the new system and understand the genuine
need for it and the real goal of what you are trying to achieve with your new
CRM software solution.
Some CRM software options for small and medium sized businesses
For small and medium businesses, the most common customer relations
management software request is for anything that enhances online communications
and improves the time between a customer complaint or question and resolution of
the issue for them.
For many companies, there are software solutions that can be purchased or
downloaded to be used through their Internet website for basic services such as
online customer support through live chat and customer assistance with online
purchasing that is both efficient and relatively inexpensive. If your need is
primarily to improve sales volume, improve response to customer questions and
complaints and to make your company website more personalized, look into these
solutions that are at the lower end of the price spectrum while providing solid
- LivePerson offers two different versions, Basic and Enterprise that
provide live chat, email and a variety of interactive forms customized to meet
companies' needs for customer relations. This company has developed live chat
solutions and online forms for everything from universities to financial
services firms. This company provides a wide range of services, including
online marketing, case studies, and software designed to improve online
shopping cart capabilities.
- LiveHelper offers many of the same features, and adds real time
traffic monitoring and other data assessment features as well. For the price,
LiveHelper is a very good CRM software value.
- GroopZ includes customer routing software so that you can transfer
entire chat strings from one customer service rep to another if you need be,
along with an efficient filing system for chat transcripts and customer
records. For improving customer relations, the software support suggests pre-
and post-service questions for all customers who contact you.
Also included are templates you can set up with specific, pre-scripted answers
to frequently asked questions in online chat to save customer service
representatives time and make the process clearer and more efficient. This
company does a bit more customizing on the front end to fit your needs, and
pricing is adjusted accordingly.
- SupportWizard gives you three CRM options that give you some
flexibility -- you can buy, lease or let them host your customer
service/relations solutions. Interactive FAQs, live chat, standard answers to
frequent questions, and Boolean search capabilities to review past
interactions all make this package extremely effective. SupportWizard also has
more customizable features than some, including an "escalation alert" that can
be tailored to specific situations when a supervisor would be notified if a
customer service situation exceeds certain parameters.
This is one of the more expensive packages available, but rather than a
monthly fee you are paying for lease or outright purchase options, so factor
this into the cost. You will also get spectacular customer support and
constant upgrades and patches when necessary. The integration of email, live
chat and telephone information into one database is also a plus with
- BoldChat offers free CRM software for online customer service chat
that you can use for a limited time, and offers a $9.95/month and a
$39.95/month customized version of their CRM software. Both offer live
customer service chat, but one adds customized windows and more options on
buttons and the number of available customer service reps you can add.
- CSLive offers the most comprehensive CRM software solution
available for small and medium businesses, with live chat, email, and the
usual customer service features you expect from a small business CRM solution,
but with plenty of extras. CSLive also offers an extensive tracking and filing
system, an Internet server site where you can upload and store files of
customer help articles that customers can be referred to that can by emailed
directly to clients by your reps. Throw in the message center and online
meetings, and this is practically an enterprise sized solution at a small
business price of $29.95 a month.
CRM software, whether on a monthly user basis or purchased outright and
downloaded onto your own server, will make serving and understanding your
clients and customers a more productive experience, and you will all be happier
This article on the "How CRM Software Works" reprinted with
Copyright ? 2004-2005 Evaluseek Publishing.
About the Author
Lucy P. Roberts is a successful freelance writer providing practical information and advice for businesses about everything related to CRM software solutions and live chat software. Her numerous articles include tips for saving both time and money; product reviews and reports; and other valuable insights for persons searching the Internet for information about the history of CRM and related topics.