Get the most out of your CRM system

Using a CRM app is a great way to improve your sales, customer retention, customer satisfaction and the happiness level, but it does require a lot of discipline to follow business processes consistently. In other words, in your interaction with your customers you want to be:

  • Thorough – ensure you follow up always, until the customer either buys or clearly tells you he is not buying. Follow interest until it moves into a clear Yes or No
  • Be consistent in your thorough-ness – ensure you apply the same methods and level of follow up to all your customers. Every day of every year and applies to every one of your employees/co-workers

Start by defining your business processes, in other words, the way you work to ensure you’re thorough and consistent. Here’s a list of 5 easy tips to get you started. Refine these tips as needed by your busines:

  1. Update the CRM system with every interaction with your customer – phone call notes, meeting notes, emails, proposals, documents, etc.
  2. Add tasks (for you or assign to other co-workers) to break down what needs to be done for each customer or lead to either convert to paying customer or sell more. In particular add follow up reminders, to ensure you don’t forget to follow up in 1 week/month/or more depending on your sales cycle
  3. Ensure you do call, email, or message on social media when you get the follow up reminders.
  4. Record again all those communications in the CRM system. This will help you build a valuable business & customer intelligence database
  5. Ensure EVERYONE in your team/company follows the same steps diligently. Sell the benefits of using the CRM system to your team.

Remember, a CRM app is only as good as the data you put in it and the business processes that it supports. That is, the way you work.

Small business CRM lessons to be learned from real customers

A while ago, I came across a message on one of the CRM forums I read; a message from a small business owner who needed a CRM system. Here’s a rough description of the problem, as described by the small business owner:

Hi, I have a beauty parlor and I have a lot of customers (around 1000). I use an Excel spreadsheet at the moment, but my biggest problem is that I know nothing about marketing and it was suggested to get a computer to do it for me.
I want to ring or email people to get them booked for another appointment. Is there a system that tells me what to do for my business?
All the CRM ones I have seen want me to tell them what to do and I’m not sure what to actually do. It’s all too complicated.
Any help would be appreciated!

Some of you might be smirking now and some of you might even feel a bit patronizing after reading the above, but the reality is … these are the problems small business users face and the reasons they cannot easily connect with CRM are hidden within this message above.
There are so many lessons to be learn from this one single message. Now, let’s see.

Lesson 1: Why small businesses need CRM

This is such a basic thing, yet, many technical people, who see themselves mostly as problem solvers (which implies the problem is felt, understood, defined) and even some sales people, forget the simple reasons small businesses get to the conclusion they need CRM. This message spells out some of those reasons:

Small businesses reach out a critical mass of customers where maintaining customers in Excel is no longer manageable
Small businesses need a more controlled way of interacting with customers for sales (booking appointments) and for marketing, customer retention etc. (ring or email customers)

This is a very important lesson because small businesses do not just go out and buy CRM systems because they can or because you and I think it’s a good idea for them to do so. They buy it because they have a problem managing their customers and because they realize they have a problem.

Lesson 2: Small businesses is a market that needs to be educated

It is clear from this message that this one business owner is not very IT savvy.
The first clue is that she is looking for answers on a free forum and the second clue is in the way she defines her problem and asks the question (“it was suggested to get a computer to do it for me”). It is clear the business need is there, the problem is understood, but the solution is not clear.
She wants to learn how to solve her problem.
It is also clear that she wants to solve her problem cheaply or low cost, otherwise she would go to a specialized IT company for answers.
This is true for a lot of the small businesses out there.
CRM solutions focusing on small businesses need to educate the customers, not just sell to them.
At Clevertim, we’re fulfilling this duty by writing a meaningful blog, full of free and useful advice for small businesses.

Lesson 3: Word of mouth and social media is how small business owners educate themselves

This is the same idea as in Lesson 2, but it needs to be spelled out explicitly.
Small businesses will get word of mouth advice first, from friends, colleagues, other business owners. It is obvious this has happened in this case: “it was suggested to get a computer to do it for me”.
Word of mouth will be the first bit of advice they will get and the advice they will trust the most, because it comes from people they know and trust already.
But if word of mouth cannot provide a full solution, the next stop is social media, and this small business owner is already making use of it by posting questions, asking for help on a social media forum. It is clear she wants to learn, she wants to reach out to people who can help her learn and help her solve her problem.
The fact that she mentions the use of some CRM systems in her message suggests this might not be her first message on social media. She has already tried a few CRM systems and she’s hitting a few limitations …

Lesson 4: CRMs are generic solutions

One of the limitation she hit is the fact that most CRM solution out there are not targetted at her particular business or at beauty parlors in general. They require the user to “tell them what to do”. In other words, they require quite a bit of customization before they can be used to solve real world problems.
This customization is too expensive for small businesses.
Another point is that the user’s expectations were out of sync with what CRM systems can do. She expected the CRM software to be able to tell her how to run her business, maybe provide some business models, or templates of marketing models.

Lesson 5: CRMs require business processes

Yes, this user realized that a CRM on its own will not solve her problems. A CRM system is just a tool to support and automate some of your business processes – in other words, the way you work. You have to “tell it what to do” through your business processes (the way you do things) and then CRM can act like an intelligence bank on your customers, your interactions with your customers, and so on.
Although the term “business process” might sound a bit scary or too abstract, it is really “the way you do things” and that’s best illustrated with an example. Let’s describe a few rules that this small business owner could implement (or most likely she already implements them but doesn’t call them business processes):

Rule 1: After every appointment, enter a note in the CRM system, for that customer. Enter a small description of how the session went, comments, suggestions, complaints from the customer, your impressions on the customer and on the session, any bit of extra information you can extract on the customer e.g.: does she have siblings, children, a spouse, when is her birthday, etc. You can later on use this information to target the customer better, maybe get extra customers (e.g. her spouse) or send them a Happy Birthday note.

Rule 2: After every appointment, add a task to follow up with the customer in 1 week/1 month/a few months, depending on the length of your sales cycle. The CRM system will them automatically notify you when it’s time to pick up the phone or fire an email to follow up and ask your customers if they want another appointment.

Rule 3: When you get reminders from the CRM system, pick up the phone and talk to your customers

Rule 4: After the phone call, enter a note on how the call went, any extra information you extracted

Rule 5: After the phone call, enter another appointment in the CRM system or another task to follow up in 1 week/1 month time if the customer hasn’t booked yet. Do not give up, always follow up.

Above we have 5 simple rules for running a small beauty parlor with the help of a CRM system. It doesn’t need a lot of work, it’ll get the small business owner much more organized and selling more (because she always follows up now) and it’ll not cost a fortune – web based CRM systems are very affordable these days.

Conclusion: Just listen to your customers and potential customers and you will be amazed how much you can learn. Learning about your customers means you can help your customers better, which in turns means they are more likely to buy and stay with you.

Pleasantly surprise your customers

A while ago I was really impressed by a small thing a vendor did for me. I was buying a book on Amazon from a small vendor. Most small vendors there include some flyers or some marketing brochures of some sort. It’s an opportunity to try to sell more, upsell, cross-sell, etc.
This vendor included a small hand-written note thanking me for purchasing the book from her and hoping I will buy more. Such a small gesture, but one that impressed me because it stood out from the crowd, it was much more personal and it had that human touch to it. It made me think that a real person spent some of their valuable time writing that note for me.
Nothing fancy, but something that made me remember that experience. Would I buy from her again? Absolutely. A gesture like that makes people want to know about the person who wrote the message, about the business, etc.
Don’t be afraid to be personal, most of your customers will be impressed, even if they don’t say anything back.

You can generally impress your customers by doing something pleasantly unexpected, something kind, going the extra mile. Include something extra with their order, saying it’s on the house, include a discount for their next purchase, send a Happy Birthday note on their birthdays, and so on.
Your customers will love you for it and they will reward you with that powerful “word of mouth”, the holy grail of marketing, which will send more customers your way.

Why not start pleasantly surprising your customers? Start with the next order that has just arrived…

Do not unpleasantly surprise your customers

A few days ago, I was trying to buy a hosting package from a company based in the UK, let’s called them “The NO customer UX company” – let’s shorten that to NOUX. This company only serves customers from UK and Ireland, however, since our company is registered at the Companies House in the UK, has a UK based address, UK based bank account and owned by UK based residents, I thought the registration will go very smoothly. And it did, I filled in all the “UK based” details, filled in the credit card details, all went through like a charm.
The nightmare started when I received later an automated email saying “Sorry, but we only serve customer from the UK & Ireland”. At the same time, I received other emails telling me that the payment was completed successfully and my account is being processed.
I was not impressed and almost shouting: “Which part of UK based have you not understood?”.
It turns out it was because I placed the order when travelling abroad and the IP address was automatically caught as not being an UK based IP address. That was the end of it, the company didn’t want to hear any more of it and after thinking a bit about it, we decided it’s not the company we want to go with after all.

What’s wrong in this picture? Well, a few things.

1. Clearly the company has not invested too much in their User Experience. In particular, if they can detect the not UK based IP, surely they can do that before the customer registers  & pays.
Why would you want to upset your customers from the start?
Even if everything is sorted out in the end, the customer’s mental image of your brand surely suffers. Why? Because it can be done better.
Solution: Review this part of the registration and make sure the problem is highlighted to the user as early as possible, before the payment is processed. The user expects the order to be completed once the payment is taken and problem to be highlighted before that.

2. The confusing emails being sent at the same time, one telling the customer the payment is completed and the account is being processed and the other telling the customer “Sorry, we can’t serve you”. But we’ll take your money.
This clearly points to a back-end that is not as integrated as it should be and the customer can see that from the confusing messages being generated there.
It points to different processes handling different things separately and not “talking to each other”. It does highlight no clear thinking for the User Experience aspect of it all.
The brand suffers again. Why? Because the brand is all the communication, every single line of text, email, customer support, anything visible to the user.
Solution 1: Review the different back-end processes and how they operate on the same data and clearly map the various paths your orders follow within your back-end to avoid the possibility of conflicts.
Solution 2: Review all points in your back-end processes that send out communications to the customer and review the text and relevance of each of them.

3. Make sure your customer support understand these limitations, apologize to the customer and send back feedback to the relevant teams/people to fix the broken processes. While I cannot verify this feedback loop exists, it is something every company should do.
Solution: Review your processes for feeding back customer feedback to the people who can do something about improving the User Experience for your product or service.

Every potential customer experience is an experience to learn, whether it is an experience you had in your own company, providing customer support, or on the customer side, receiving support. Learn from all these experience and your customers will love you for it!

Information overload

One of the main problems with the digital world today (read: most websites out there) and with CRM systems in particular is that the amount of information that needs to be presented to the user is ever increasing and it can easily overwhelm not just the new users but even the veterans. As customers, we’re bombarded with ever increasing amounts of information, be it solicited or unsolicited. The web becomes more and more complex, cluttered with junk or just more and more options that are very similar to each other, to the point that it’s very difficult to make sense of.
There are a few consequences, mostly defence mechanism that we employ as customers

  • Attention span is reduced significantly, to the point that the information needs to be grasped under 3 seconds, or we give up
  • We are sceptical about new information (we take it with a pinch of salt) and we need repeated confirmations of the message before we can accept it
  • We value more tools that organize data and help us make sense of the vast data out there (e.g. google)
  • We value simplicity more
  • Complexity and the information overload does make us, customers, more irate, frustrated and less patient, which makes us value simplicity even more

Overall, simplicity is much more valuable nowadays than ever before and the main reason is the information overload we’re experiencing and the frustration that comes with it. Simplicity does not mean just less information, it means information that is intuitive, easy to understand, quick to grasp, something that can make us feel extremely productive without a very steep learning curve.

So, considering all the above, here are a few things we’ve done at Clevertim to make our contact manager for small businesses more intuitive, easier to use, a tool to help our customers be very productive without the unwanted frustration:

  • We’ve kept the information displayed to the user at minimum, but no less than that – the user can understand at a glance what is going on.
  • Visually, we’re using controls like tabs, accordions, collapsible widgets and widgets that hide/show information based on the current state of the user interface. Again, we just want to display the relevant information, not clutter the UI with unwanted information
  • Adding new information requires only the minimum amount of information. For example, “New contact” requires either the first or last name and an indication whether the contact is public or shared. Everything else can be added later, as needed. No more long dialogs or multi-page wizard forms for adding new contacts or sales opportunities. Store only what you really need
  • Only store common fields, everything else can be a custom field – if and whenever you need it, not by default
  • Keep the UI spaced and airy, with clear buttons labelled with clear names that are very intuitive
  • Everything is on one page, like a desktop application – no more long round trips to the server to refresh a page on each click. This makes the application really quick and will save you hours each year and make you more productive

We’re constantly looking at better ways to simplify our website because we always keep the “information overload” in mind. We are customers of our own CRM system – we use it in house, so we experience first hand the frustrations (or we hope lack of) and we constantly feed that back into our design. If you have any suggestion on how we can improve further, please don’t hesitate to contact us.