Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has been around for a long time, and it has gone through a number of evolutions as a result of changes in the economy and the business mindset. Today, CRM has gone through yet enough of those evolutions and, as a result, has perhaps become one of the most important aspects of business success.
First, decision-makers need to understand what CRM entails. Essentially, CRM software refers to any software that is designed to help companies more effectively work with their customers. In the early stages, CRM wasn't much more than glorified databases that maintained information on customer preferences and buying histories. For example, an individual could contact a pizza delivery place and ask for the usual and actually have delivered his ordinary order. While customers did appreciate these little extras, the return on investment for most organizations was minimal and barely worth the extra effort. Later, the CRM emphasize switched to making it easier for the customer to do business with the seller. The logic was that the easier it is to place an order, the more likely the customer will be to do it. Furthermore, companies were able to start predicting - based on past buying patterns - what new products or additional services customers would also be interested in purchasing. While the payoffs for this approach were better, sudden events in the market can make it nearly impossible for businesses to predict anything about customer behavior.
Now, CRM has changed again and this time instead of focusing on what the seller needs to do to make the customer buy what they offer, the attitude is on finding out what the customer wants and needs in the first place, then supplying those things. CRM software has been designed to provide companies with ways to answer some crucial customer-related questions, such as what customers consider value-added, what criteria do they use as a basis for decisions, and how much are they willing to spend. These questions and similar ones have become the main focus for those who deal with CRM.
The benefits of this new approach are that once again companies are beginning to be able to forecast customer behavior. By staying on top of what customers want to purchase and by delivering those goods, businesses are also demonstrating the flexibility necessary to survive in this next economic cycle. Those companies that are not willing to give up on old attitudes toward CRM and about customer behavior will fall by the wayside and will have difficulty recovering while those that can make use of CRM data will flourish.
Today, customers are finding it easier to communicate with sellers. They can leave feedback through websites, call over 1-800 lines, send emails around the globe, even fax over letters to let companies know their needs. Several years ago, much of those decisions were based on guesswork and were sometimes wrong. CRM software can help businesses take advantage of all of that input and determine how to use it in their operations. In some cases, the input could mean a new product, a change in policy, or an adjustment in price. Either way, customers who recognize that businesses are receptive and are willing to meet their demands will be more loyal and less likely to venture elsewhere for their purchases.
All of this input from customers has another, almost more important, advantage for businesses: it can help them determine which population segments are most likely to become high-profit, long-term customers. With this information, businesses will be able to more directly target appropriate audiences and make financial predictions. Additionally, it allows companies to find out why other segments of the population aren't making those purchases and it can help them identify changes that may turn non-buyers into loyal customers.
While CRM may still not be in its final form, the software tools and business tactics have definitely come a long way since their initial development.