Back in 2007, it was unusual for business leaders to think strategically about customer relationship management (CRM). Unfortunately, it is often still viewed as nothing more than “software.” But trust me when I tell you: CRM is not just a contact or lead generation management tool. It is an operational strategy and a door to finding new competitive advantages. I learned that after the 2008 world financial crisis while working in real estate. And as we experience a global pandemic and verge on an economic crisis, I hope I can inspire you to see CRM this way, too.
Before and After the 2008 Crisis
In the mid-2000s, all you needed to be successful was a good product and a generous marketing budget. But then came the hard times! Forced to cut costs, real estate developers started to see timelines slip, reduced quality, and frustrated customers.
In a situation like this, companies can step up communications or opt to stay silent. The one I was starting to work for took the second approach, resulting in a snowball of bad customer experiences and a damaged brand. When you reach that point, restoring relationships or creating new ones gets harder and more expensive.
Better Late Than Never—CRM Saves the Day!
Only after complaints really began to hit the fan, business leaders realized the importance of their own customers. As Google Trends demonstrates in the chart below, customer experience (CX) was not a buzz term at that time, so we went with CRM.
Google Trends – CRM (blue) vs CX (red) searches from 2004-2020
By implementing CRM strategically, we were able to reverse an extremely negative scenario. It took a lot of effort and investment, but in four years, the sun would shine again. The measures included:
- A team of strategists, marketers, and customer care specialists focused on CRM
- Periodic customer satisfaction surveys
- Internal incentive programs based on customer satisfaction
- Communication and crisis training for everyone who had direct contact with customers
- Value creation workshops based on customer feedback
- Customer journey mapping and redesign
- Design and execution of new positive experiences
- Last, but not least, CRM software
Had these initiatives been active before, the company could have avoided a customer relations crisis within an already challenging financial crisis.
That is why a customer relationship management plan that is applicable before, during, and after a crisis is so important. While these measures may seem specific to the real estate industry, there are some key factors that anyone implementing a CRM program should consider.
Key Factors For a Successful CRM Implementation
As a CRM team member in 2010 and as a current collaborator at FATFREE—which has maintained long-term relationships with its clients for quite some time—this is what I’ve learned is necessary for an effective CRM implementation:
- Promoting a culture of customer experience excellence across the whole organization, as all employees impact customers in some way, somehow. Without a conducive culture, changing day-to-day practices becomes harder.
- Leading by example and helping employees practice listening, being thoughtful, and communicating transparently in a friendly manner.
- Measuring satisfaction at different stages of the customer journey.
- Collecting feedback to understand what customers perceive as value.
- Using customer feedback internally to help spur collaborative and creative problem-solving through workshops.
- Responding to customer feedback in a timely fashion, even when you don’t have an immediate solution.
- Planning ahead for customer communication during and after a crisis, so you can avoid a crisis within a crisis.
- Choosing the system that best fits your company size and style, so it is easier to make full use of it. You could start with Trello or Google Sheets, use a cloud-based tool such as HubSpot CRM or Zoho CRM, or a more robust system such as MS Dynamics and Salesforce.
When faced with a crisis, the first step is to keep moving forward. Don’t be paralyzed! Just like friendships or love affairs, never forget that the stronger your relationship, the higher the chances of surviving turbulent times together.