What is a CRM system?

Customer Relationship Management

Customer Relationship Management tools have been used in industry for many years.  The private sector has found that this type of software can drive productivity and sales by arming employees with the information they need to operate efficiently and effectively.

A CRM system combines the functions of an address book with a historical record of the organisation's relationship with any given client.  With detailed and accurate records, CRM can offer an invaluable view of an organisation's target market, its constitution, its needs and how well those needs are being met.  A well used CRM system will allow a new employee to sit at a desk and after ten minutes be able to speak intelligently to a client over the telephone.  CRM systems can generate correspondence, manage events and sales, track interactions with clients and perform mail merges, automating and organising a host of tasks associated with communicating with your clients.

CRM provides a single, holistic view of the client. 

The single most ubiquitous tool used in the community and voluntary sector appears to be Microsoft Outlook.  Outlook is a popular email client, with an integrated calendar, task manger and reminder system and address book.  At first glance, Outlook appears to have everything you might require to perform every day tasks.  However, difficulties emerge when one's contacts grow one's inbox becomes clogged with mail.  Finding the documents and nuggets of information for a particular person becomes an increasingly difficult task, and this is where CRM shines.


Outlook Vs CRM

Outlook is a collection of disparate information, helpfully organised by information type, e.g. mail, tasks, appointments, etc.  The only thing connecting all of this information together is you, the user of the software.  The only reason that it is all in Outlook is because you put it there, or people sent it to you.  In a CRM system, information is organised by person, not information type.  This means that when one views the record for a given person, all of the information relevant to that person is accessible in one place: not just an address book, but an address book which allows one to see all previous correspondence, all previous event attendance or purchases, any mailing lists to which they may have signed up, all documents associated with this person and whatever other details an organisation might decide they wish to track.

Whereas Outlook is user-centric, a CRM system is contact-centric.  All information in a record in a CRM system is relevant to the contact being viewed.  The user is taken out of the equation.

Single Shared Data Source

CRM tools tend to be network applications, meaning that several people can use them at once, sharing the same reliable, accessible and central data source.  The benefits of such a system are manifold.

Organisations often have their information scattered over a multitude of disparate sources: mobile phones, outlook in the office, outlook on the laptop, gmail, an Access database, a diary, a little black book.  Such an arrangement leads to

  1. duplication
  2. inconsistencies between records
  3. a maintenence nightmare. 

If John Smith moves jobs and emails the office to that effect, the prospect of updating not just one instance of Outlook, but also diaries, phones, webmail and Excel spreadsheets is a daunting one. 

Case Study

Imagine an office, where one person manages a mailing list and another person sends out a newsletter.  Person one uses Excel to keep track of their mailing list, updating it from the abovementioned disparate sources.  He creates a copy of it for a mailshot.  He then edits the list and emails it to person two.  Person two then takes the list and types in the names into Outlook to send their newsletter.  Every recipient named on the list (assuming their details are correct) is named in the TO field and can see everyone else removing any sense of personal service.

Now, imagine the same office using a CRM system.  All contacts' details are in the database, and those who have signed up for a particular mailing list are marked as such.  Person two now creates an email in the CRM system, including the recipient's name for that personal touch, and saves it.  He then tells the CRM system to send the newly created email to the mailing list of choice.  Every recipient gets a single unique email addressed to only them and personalised for them.  There is no duplication, no inconsistencies, and far greater efficiency.  

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