Using CRM to Enable Customer-Centric Innovation
The Time for Innovation
Current economic conditions have created both challenges and opportunities for today’s businesses—the yin and the yang of market change. Most companies face a combination of fewer employees, reduced budgets, higher expenses, and scarcer resources—and a subsequent greater need for productivity—which demands that businesses get smarter. It’s clear that doing things the same way they always have won’t work. Innovation with CRM technology is the only answer.
Despite the challenging environment, many view economic downturns as an opportune time to seize market share, and innovation is an excellent means of achieving this. Although economic challenges are still putting the squeeze on many industries, tough times can act as a catalyst to growth. Smart companies recognize this and look for opportunities to innovate their way to market leadership. But how do they accomplish this, and where do they start?
A Customer-Centric Approach To innovation
Innovation and differentiation can take place on many different fronts within an organization, and there are thus many different approaches to fostering innovation. However, a general commitment to innovation on all fronts sounds appealing but may, in practice, be too vague to be effective. Companies seeking to innovate often struggle with determining where to focus or begin. In recent years, the idea of a customer-centric approach to innovation has gained many proponents. By developing a strong focus on consumers, companies can gain insight into the needs and preferences of their valued customers and find innovative ways to serve them better. A customer-centric approach can also help an organization pinpoint which types of innovation will prove most compelling to their potential and existing customers.
A Culture Focused on Customers
Just as an innovation-friendly corporate culture is a pre-requisite for innovation, a customer-focused culture is essential to customer-centric innovation. A customer-focused organization puts its customers’ needs and preferences first in business decision-making. This does not mean that a customer-centric company cannot also be a profit-driven business; it simply means that the organization recognizes and has internalized the idea that sustainable profit and growth are best achieved by satisfying customer needs better than the competition.
A customer-focused culture percolates throughout the entire organization, finding concentration in the functions that interface directly with customers: sales, marketing, and customer service. These customer-facing departments offer the most significant opportunity for customer-centric innovation, providing fertile ground for improvements in how an organization communicates, provides solutions, and offers service to its customers.
As the technology that supports these organizational functions, a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution can play an essential role in helping an organization create and implement customer-centric innovations.
Innovating With CRM
Customer Relationship Management software is one of the most valuable technologies to effect business change and spur innovation. In addition to helping organizations more effectively identify and meet the needs of their customers, CRMs directly impact business results by increasing efficiency, improving focus, and streamlining customer-facing operations. Today’s customer-centric organizations must be able to respond to customers’ needs quickly, and CRM acts as the enabler—helping companies create innovative customer-focused processes and efficiencies that will ultimately deliver a competitive edge.
Managing customer relationships using CRM tools helps firms grow organically by retaining valued customers and strategically deepening their relationships. In addition, CRM can create internal innovation, automate processes, embed consistency and efficiency throughout the enterprise, and increase overall productivity. Not all CRMs are created equal when it comes to supporting innovation. There are two major interrelated focal points for innovation with CRM: innovating the consumer experience and innovating the user experience.
Innovating the Customer Experience
One of the ripest opportunities for innovation lies in optimizing the client experience. The most successful CRM initiatives start with a solid commitment to a customer-centric vision, from which a sound strategy is developed for embodying this vision within a differentiated customer experience. With this vision and strategy in place, an organization must then fully determine how to embed this approach within their processes and systems.
Organizations that concentrate on the client experience offer exceptional value to customers and deliver a hard-to-imitate advantage over competitors. This is especially true in industries where commoditization has become a significant issue, such as financial services. If an industry is well established and customers view the products or services as too similar, differentiation becomes challenging. In the end, companies compete mainly on price and face the downward spiral of margin compression. Customers stand to lose the most, as they rarely receive any sense of added value from a relationship with the company.
Innovative companies realize that CRM can help add that “something more” that attracts new customers and keeps older customers satisfied and loyal. Perhaps a new delivery method, a more personalized service, or more tailored product features is needed to stand out. The right CRM enables companies to expand their horizons and take advantage of the latest technologies to enhance the consumer experience. A flexible CRM empowers organizations to rethink the client experience and how it is delivered and then put innovative new approaches into action.
Innovating the user Experience: Working from the Inside out
The foremost strategy in customer-focused innovation is implementing CRM into the consumer experience. However, an important complementary approach involves working from within an organization to innovate the CRM end-user experience. Although it is often overlooked in the process of CRM selection, user adoption can be one of the greatest stumbling blocks in realizing returns on a CRM investment. CRMs that are too cumbersome or laborious to use are frequently abandoned before they can show a return on investment. In contrast, innovative CRM systems allow companies to deliver the unique customer experience they desire, and the unique user experience required to deliver it.
Intuitive CRM interfaces are essential to usability, as they can offer familiarity and decrease the learning curve for new or reluctant users. Interface and navigation flexibility can also be extremely valuable, allowing a company to organize and present information in the way that makes the most sense for its structure and users. Flexible CRM interfaces give companies the freedom to take creative and innovative approaches to how information is accessed by, presented to, and used by end-users.
The best CRM even put the power to innovate into the hands of each end-user. Companies can let end users reinvent the application by enabling them to personalize their views, create shortcuts, and assemble their most frequently used tools and information sources—even third-party applications and data feeds— into their own personal CRM portals to suit their individual working styles and needs.
One innovative approach to CRM software that has worked for many companies is to view the CRM not as a single application but as the portal to all the different applications users interact with daily. The ease of integration becomes a particular advantage when this approach is used: CRM solutions that make it easy to pull in other applications enable companies to rapidly execute this “hub” vision without excessive delay or expense. In addition, the most innovative CRM solutions come with the applications employees use most—Microsoft Outlook, SharePoint, and the Office suite—already embedded right within the CRM, saving companies the integration work, and delivering a seamless experience to end-users.
As companies devise innovative new products and ways of serving customers, these advances must be reflected in and supported by the CRM. Highly flexible and customizable CRM workflow capabilities offer a tremendous advantage in this area. The right CRM will enable a company to model any new business process or need within the application, no matter how complex or innovative. These innovative processes, mirrored within the enterprise CRM to ensure consistency, enable organizations to deliver innovative customer experiences.
By innovating the CRM user experience, organizations can quickly realize new efficiencies and increase productivity. This can directly affect the bottom line; it also supports a better consumer experience. More effective, better-informed users who can access the information they need to serve customers with fewer clicks and step through streamlined processes to complete tasks more swiftly can exceed customer expectations with every interaction. And as the company takes steps to refine and innovate its business processes, an adaptable CRM gives the organization the power to act quickly and see faster results. Using the right CRM to innovate the user experience leads naturally to improved productivity and better service, yielding an all-around win: for customers, users, and the company overall.
Innovation beyond CRM
Many of the required attributes for CRM innovation have already been mentioned: the ability to be implemented, customized, integrated, and adapted quickly and cost-effectively, as well as deep flexibility that allows the system, its workflows, and its interface to be tailored precisely to specific needs and processes of the company, its departments, and its end-users. But the most innovative CRM solutions offer even more: they offer the possibility of innovating beyond just CRM.
Think about it: CRM is a vital system for any company and certainly the focal point for customer-centric innovation. But the opportunities to innovate don’t end with the traditional CRM functions of sales, marketing, and customer service. Therefore, even the most innovative CRM will reach its limits in its ability to support a company’s innovation—unless it can extend beyond the boundaries of a traditional CRM.
This is where some of the most exciting innovations in CRM are occurring today. A truly flexible and innovative CRM platform offers the tools to support rapid and ongoing application development, enabling a company to continue to build upon its CRM solution and create workflows and tools to support virtually any innovative process they can imagine. The solutions they create benefit from the same invaluable attributes as the CRM solution itself: speed and ease of implementation, integration, customization, adaptation, and more. This can truly make the CRM an innovation engine across the entire enterprise.
Of the many different approaches a company can take to innovation, a customer-centric approach offers particular promise, as it helps ensure that the innovative ideas an organization pursues will be meaningful and valuable to those a company must satisfy above all to succeed: its customers. As the technology systems most fundamentally involved in customer-facing functions, customer relationship management solutions can make or break a company’s efforts to introduce innovation. The right CRM for a company that strives to be a true innovator must embody the critical attributes of innovation-friendly technology: the ability to be implemented, customized, integrated, and adapted quickly and easily, and the fundamental flexibility to support unique and new approaches to the customer and user experience. The best CRM platforms will even extend these capabilities beyond the sphere of CRM to become the enterprise-wide engine for innovation.
With a focus on customers, a commitment to innovation, and the right supporting CRM, any business can become an innovator and highly differentiated market leader, limited only by its imagination.
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