There are few business owners who would dispute the argument that exceptional customer service is one of the core things that must be achieved in order for the business to be successful. It is an opinion that is supported by the results of the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer 2012. The latest in their series of annual reports found that 75% of American consumers have spent more with a business as a direct result of positive customer service experiences.
Small businesses, in particular, were thought to have succeeded in perfecting their customer service offering, with 80% of respondents agreeing that small, independent, or locally-owned businesses provide a more personal customer service experience, and 76% feeling that that small businesses understand their customers better. As a direct result of excellent customer service, 41% of respondents reported that they were willing to spend more with a small business compared to a larger company offering equally high standards of service.
These are undoubtedly encouraging statistics for the small business owner, as on the surface at least it appears that many consumers would prefer to support small businesses, particularly those based in their own community. The key question is how those small businesses are achieving such high standards of customer service. The answer to that question is likely to be as a result of successful customer relationship management (CRM). This may be defined as any process employed by a business to manage their customers in a beneficial manner. The process may involve the creation of company databases, the use of free CRM software, or the use of a premium solution. This opinion is supported by the results of a 2011 study commissioned by OSF Global Services. The research indicated that CRM adoption rates were strong among SMBs, with 74% of respondents reporting that they had already implemented a CRM platform. When the benefits of an effective CRM solution are considered, it is easy to understand why adoption rates are so high.
The Benefits of CRM for Small Businesses
A quality CRM solution can offer the small business owner a number of tangible benefits.
- Streamlined Processes
Effective CRM automates many run-of-the-mill tasks via seamless integration with other business functions such as project management, human resources, and marketing. As a direct results, salespeople can concentrate less on paperwork and benefit from more time to devote to the sales process.
- Shared Knowledge
A CRM solution enables knowledge about existing and potential customers to be shared throughout the business. Furthermore, if a business deploys a web-based CRM solution, that information can be accessed from any remote location. It means that employees have access to the most current 360° view of customers at any moment of time.
- Cost Savings
Although some CRM packages require a significant capital investment, there are a number of equally excellent freeonline CRM solutions available to small business owners. The cost savings associated with streamlining time consuming processes and the potential to increase sales as a result must also be taken into account.
- Data Security
Estimates vary as to the consequence of data loss for the small business, but a survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that 70% of small businesses who suffer a major data loss cease trading within just twelve months. Implementing a CRM, particularly a web-based solution or one where regular back ups are conducted, can offer protection against the catastrophic loss of vital business data.
- Improved Lead Generation
A quality CRM solution can provide significant assistance toward effective lead generation. The cross function view achieved by CRM software can easily identify cross and upselling opportunities. Pointing businesses toward existing warm leads can offer a more fruitful environment for increased sales to occur, with the added bonus that lead lists are maintained, thus ensuring that customers are not pursued by several sales people.
It is clear that the best CRM solutions offer the chance for small businesses to manage their customers, nurture relationships, increase customer satisfaction, and improve sales effectiveness. It makes sense therefore that the implementation of such a solution be high on the list of priorities for any small business owner.
Linda Forshaw is a Business Information Systems graduate from Lancaster University in the UK. When she’s not writing for Degree Jungle.com, she is a full time writer and blogger specializing in education, social media, and entrepreneurship. Contact her on Twitter @seelindaplay