Smart and informed approaches to starting a small business, buying a business, selling a business and small business management. Real world examples, tips, successes and dangers.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
What is CRM and does my small business need it?
Hard as it is to imagine, there was a time not terribly long ago when a sales or service person for a small business would go out into the field without a PDA or Smart Phone—or any phone at all. The reason for the current ubiquity of the communication devices in small business is obvious: it makes customer service or the new term, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), easier and more effective. The success of any small business is built around this engine and the latest innovation in the field of CRM is also the most powerful yet seen, primarily because it is among the simplest-to-implement of all emerging information technologies. We speak, of course, of Cloud-Based Solutions.
Until recently any information gathered by, say, a serviceman sent into the field would have to be relayed through a series of data channels, each administered by an individual working within his or her own cataloging system, until it eventually found its way to the appropriate sales rep who is ultimately responsible for the client's satisfaction and continuing patronage of the business. Meanwhile, the client is already calling the rep and asking about progress on the issue. And the rep has no idea there was an issue to begin with.
Now, due to advances in Cloud-Computing—a networking principle based simultaneously in the local and the virtual world—the sales rep has been alerted instantly when the client contacted customer service, and also has received real-time updates from the serviceman in the field—all via apps on mobile devices and simple web interfaces.
Among the most compelling advantages of the Cloud-Based CRM Solutions offered by companies such as HighRise.com is the ease-of-implementation and low cost for even the smallest of small businesses. In the case of, for instance, a pool maintenance company where a staff of only a few individuals act as both the customer-service and sales teams while collectively handling their client base, a Cloud-Based CRM System would effectively sync every client's contact information to the entire staff—all through a simple web-based interface on both the office's computer and each employee's mobile device—while providing appropriate notifications for any due follow-up calls, at the same time indicating any pertinent information on recent service needs. Additionally, redundancies in calls to clients will be eliminated and all interactions with the client will be streamlined and tailored to the particulars of that relationship. There will no longer be any waiting for the phones to ring; rather, the staff is now guided along a more proactive path, armed with all the personalized information to make the calls extremely productive. Meanwhile, the maintenance team of the company will be able to go on-site with the entire history of the job at immediate hand, reducing the likelihood of unnecessary diagnostics on, say, a problematic motor, or time wasted returning to the office to find a replacement valve that had already been identified as due for an upgrade.
Unlike previous technological breakthroughs that were meant to—and often did—revolutionize customer service, like the barely-navigable automated phone systems that are widely-known to increase a client's dissatisfaction with a company, Cloud-Based Solutions have the ability to re-humanize client interaction while, at the same time, making the small business more nimble and responsive. And, importantly, scalability is scarcely a concern—just as the small business grows in response to its improvements in CRM, the Cloud organically grows along with it. Since there are no investments in local servers or hardware to be replaced, since there are no IT employees to be hired, since there is no local software to be updated or reconfigured, it could be easily said that the Cloud is the simplest, most natural technological innovation small business CRM has ever seen.