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11 CRM best practices

Today, most companies have some form of software to help them keep track of and manage customers. And while it is important to have a system to capture customer data, especially in today’s multichannel retail world, having a database of customer names, contact information and purchase history is not enough. If you truly value your customers, you need to not just focus on customer management but on building long-term relationships.

[ Related: 6 CRM predictions for 2016 ]

Following are 11 CRM best practices that can help organizations – specifically their marketing, sales and customer service departments – do just that.

1. Make sure your customer data is reliable and up to date.A CRM system is only as good as the data that’s in it. So constantly make sure any data entered into your CRM system is accurate – and regularly review and scrub customer data, to eliminate redundancies and ensure the information (e.g., the customer’s name, address, preferred method of contact and purchase history) is up to date.

“Inputting accurate and useful data into a CRM database enables your sales and marketing teams to acquire a more robust understanding of your customer,” says Bruce Swann, senior product marketing manager for Adobe Campaign. “For example, [if] someone already subscribes to your newsletter, there is no need to continue inviting them to do so. If a person regularly attends your webinars, it’s a faux pas for your sales team to call inviting them to attend. This kind of insight can help all future engagements with the client.”

2. See that everyone who interacts with customers knows the history. “Know the customer's purchase history,” says Mark Draper, an independent project management consultant experienced in CRM. “It is important to have a detailed summary of the customer's purchase history including dates, quantities and terms. Customers will often want to repeat a previous order and nothing looks as bad as not knowing what and when.”

Similarly, it’s important for companies to “know the past issues/problems with the customer and how [they were] resolved,” he says. “Most customers want to continue working with you and want to be able to convince themselves that past issues/problems have been resolved and will not happen again.”

3. Know how and where your customers are interacting with you. “Today consumers can reach out to a company via email, social media, chat, bots, or the tried and true phone call. If [a] company really values [its] customers, [it] will be there,” wherever “there” is, says Mayur Anadkat, vice president, product marketing, Five9, a provider of contact center software. “Furthermore, by understanding their customers’ preferences, history and context at all points in their journey, companies can really engage with their customers at a personal level. It shouldn’t matter where a customer is reaching out from. By implementing the proper infrastructure a customer will experience the same great service every single time.”

“Engage with your customers where they already are,” says Eric Bensley, director, Product Marketing, Salesforce. “In today’s hyper-connected world, every company is expected to provide a seamless, omnichannel service experience. And customers want to engage with brands where they spend their time – whether that's Facebook Messenger, Twitter, video chat or in-app,” he says. “Companies that engage in these channels not only create loyal, happy customers, [they] can leverage these service interactions to get even smarter about their customers.”

4. Understand where customers are in the purchase process/cycle. “People buy when they’re ready to buy, not when you’re ready to sell,” says Clate Mask, cofounder and CEO, Infusionsoft, a provider of sales & marketing software. “By using a CRM tool to organize and analyze lead data, you can determine who is a hot lead, and who is in need of nurturing so you can guide them towards making a purchase.”

“With a CRM you are able to track where someone is in the sale funnel but also view previous consumer data for your clients,” says Michael Heiligenstein, marketing manager, Fit Small Business. “If you have a product that has a fixed or even semi-predictable life cycle, you [can] estimate when the consumer will be purchasing again. Then you can use your CRM to schedule a follow up exactly when they'll start considering another purchase.”

5. Provide the personalization customers crave. “Sending relevant, personalized emails based on timely and accurate customer data can increase click-through rates by up to 50 percent,” says Jason Rushforth, vice president & general manager, Customer Experience Business Unit, Infor, an enterprise software company specializing in CRM. And “with geolocation, sellers can send personalized messages and offers to customers as they approach a store location.”

Similarly, “delivering personalized website content and recommendations based on data from all of a customer’s interaction channels, both online and offline, improves engagement rates,” he says.

6. Eliminate pain points. “Get serious about fixing the things that frustrate your customers,” says Robert Wollan, senior managing director, Accenture Strategy. “Over half of the top 10 most frustrating customer issues are the same as they were over a decade ago.  Customers actually make it easy for brands to identify frustrating experiences if they are paying attention and will do something about it.

“Complaining on social media about poor experience is the norm for 44 percent of U.S. consumers who admit taking to social channels in order to vent,” he says. “Negative experiences can directly impact profitability and quickly send loyal customers to a competitor. Companies that build great customer relationships address poor experiences and fix them so they don’t happen again, to ensure customers get the experiences they want and deserve.”

7. Don’t underestimate the value of human interaction. “Human interaction is a vital component of customer satisfaction, even [or especially] in the digital age,” says Wollan. “Eighty-three percent of U.S. consumers say they prefer dealing with human beings over digital channels to solve customer services issues and get advice. Yet many organizations are cutting back on exactly those type of experiences in favor of digital,” he notes.

“Many [companies] wrongly assume that their digital-only customers are their most profitable, and customer service is a cost,” he continues. “Consequently, they over-invest in digital and lose their most profitable customers – multichannel customers – who want experiences that cover both digital and traditional channels.”

8. Ensure that customer service representatives are well-trained. “The first line of contact for a customer's service experience in a multichannel environment is a company's customer service representatives,” says Lara Ponomareff, customer contact practice leader, CEB, a best practice insight and technology company. “So it's critical that reps are trained and trusted to be problem solvers, not just call takers.

[ Related: Great customer experience is an elusive goal ]

“Train service reps to actively listen to customers and ask questions,” she says. “That allows them to gain critical context for a customer's query or problem and create more tailored solutions for the customer. By listening, the rep gains the insight needed to make customers feel that their problems are being resolved. Rep training can be a real value-add and strong customer retention strategy.”

9. Have your sales, marketing and customer service departments share customer data. “While it can take time to create a shared repository of data between sales and marketing [and customer service], you’ll gain the ability to understand your customer’s actions and preferences better than ever before [if you do],” says Swann.

10. Be mobile. “Implement customer support software that can be accessed across multiple devices, such as smartphones and tablets, to enable mobile support anywhere there is an internet connection,” says Robert C. Johnson, CEO, TeamSupport, a provider of B2B customer support and help desk software. “This mobility enables teams to respond quickly.”

11. Follow up with customers. “Follow-up is key to building a lasting customer relationship, and it doesn’t have to be a hassle,” says Mask. “Automating customer follow-up can deepen a customer relationship by allowing you to send timely and relevant information to the right people while you stay focused on running your business.”

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