In today’s world of business and technology we are constantly barraged with
a never-ending series of acronyms; a relative recent addition is eCRM. Like many
of its predecessors, eCRM which stands for electronic customer relationship
management, is a term that is tied to a great deal of hype and confusing
messages, this article will attempt to provide a framework for understanding but
moreover also establish a framework for success.
CRM, customer relationship management, is a concept that evolved from sales
automation; sales automation evolved into customer asset management and then
into CRM. Since this terminology tends to be the invention of the industry, it
takes on many features and there is no universally accepted definition. Most
practitioners would agree that CRM implies an organizational focus on the
customer with an emphasis on building a long-term relationship with the
customer; therein lies the meaning of relationship management. After this point,
definitions start to differ as people try to integrate technology (their spin of
capabilities) into the equation. It is generally agreed however that the
applicable technologies are those that impact the processes that touch prospects
and customers. So this would include marketing, sales, customer service (call
center), and field service related activities. Thus, the industry provides an
array of technology-based capabilities that address the operational needs of
these functions; typically these tools are positioned as automation.
A commitment to true CRM implies the ability to analyze customer data and to
use a combination of financial and customer based metrics for decision-making.
These are database (data warehouse) and analytic type capabilities that are not
unique to CRM; back office applications such as ERP and MRP require the same
types of tools. Although some CRM vendors bundle these capabilities into their
packages, this aspect of CRM tends to get overshadowed by the other
capabilities; this is unfortunate because the decision support element of this
technology is an essential component for success.
Lastly, there is the small e in eCRM that seems to get attached to everything
in the CRM space. The e stands for electronic or web based technology and
architecture. It is truly sad that the industry has tended to confuse and
virtually trivialize the impact of these capabilities by slapping an e in front
of everything. In reality, this little e should be a gigantic E because this
technology, when properly used, can have a significant impact on industries and
the structure of businesses. Essentially, the e enables an organization to
extend its infrastructure to customers and partners in ways that offer new
opportunities to learn customer needs, add value, gain new economies, reach new
customers, and do all of this in real time. Given these capabilities, one begins
to comprehend the power of this technology to transform the competitive
History has demonstrated that leveraging these capabilities is certainly not
automatic and definitely disruptive from a change management standpoint. The
reality is that eCRM is all about strategy and therefore requires the direction
and engagement of senior management to be successful. Senior management must
have a broad understanding of the capabilities of these technologies and then
translate them into specific opportunities that leverage competitive advantage.
Unfortunately many organizations launch into these initiatives without a roadmap
or a clear set of objectives; the result is always the same disillusionment and
frustration. It is possible to move quickly without ignoring the strategic
course setting. Therein lies the key; no organization can afford to ignore these
technologies or the establishment of a solid business strategy.
As this description suggests, eCRM is far too important to
the future of the organization to approach these decisions as being solely a
technology or operational purchase. To be successful means to make sense of eCRM
from a strategic, operational, and technological perspective. Those who have
done this have reaped substantial benefits while those who have treated these
decisions as technology or cost based decisions have found themselves to be a
victim of lost opportunity.
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