Customer self-service (the problem)

A lot of discussion is being done about CRM. It’s been going on for quite some time now. These days, with the blooming of social networks and the millions of users that they attract, a new discussion has been opened, about Social CRM.

Don’t get me wrong, but I believe that some of the aspects of SCRM are somehow “exotic” for the average SMB. Let’s not forget that some of them don’t even know what CRM is or they have placed it low on their priorities! I know this because I have conducted my own research on the matter. Don’t get me wrong: I could go on and on about the benefits of CRM and SCRM, even for the SMB (let alone the big enterprises), as a large number of other bloggers have already done, but this is not my purpose today.

If we accept the basic definition that “CRM is a tool and a methodology to help the Business create and further grow relationships with its Customers”, I would like to propose another way of doing this (building and growing). I want to tell you right from the start that this will not replace the CRM “virtues”; it will work side by side with it. Let’s go:

In a typical CRM or SCRM situation, you’ve got users working with the system to register prospects, customers, leads, “to-do” actions, problem tickets etc. These are examples of functions that YOU are doing. Imagine a “toolkit” that is offered to YOUR customers to let them work with you or for you. I am sure that you can find a number of customer-related functions that you are doing everyday, which are part of your business, yes, but you would very much like to “throw away”. I am also sure that such functions exist not only for your customers, but for other kinds of co-operators, too, such as suppliers etc. I can imagine some examples:

  • A supplier calls your Accounting Dept. and asks for his current balance. An employee of yours is working on the Accounting system, looks at the balance. Then, he probably prints a statement, puts it an envelope etc, etc.

  • A customer calls your Sales Dept. to make a query regarding one of your products. (No, you are a typical SMB and your web site is not well-organized and not on-line with your ERP. You don’t have on-line inventory, because you thought that you could do e-business with 1.000 € of cost and a university student for a developer – I will blog on that another time…)

  • The above customer wants to receive a “statement of account”. He is a regular customer, with weeks of credit and open balances and frequent orders. He may be calling you two or three times a week, or more…

  • Another customer wants to give you feedback that they didn’t find what they are looking for in your inventory. Sure, they could do it through email, in the usual unformatted and unorganized way. And you would rely on a low-end employee to receive and process the request on his personal email… Wouldn’t you like to have an “inventory” of such “new requests”, inside you application systems?

  • Your business is doing good and you issue a large number of invoices. Instead of printing and sending (and consuming time and paper for it) why not “transmitting” them electronically, somehow; and I don’t mean emailing them… (Note to Greek accountants and lawyers: please do not bombard me with the usual “this can’t be done” etc. etc. It CAN be done, period).

  • You are a service provider of some kind and you want to organize your work through appointments. Typically, your customers call on your call-center. Therefore you need a call center which is constantly growing as your business grows. What if they could book an appointment from the web? What if the system could check and acknowledge the time and date? What if it were able to send SMS notifications one day before? What if...?

    The above are only a few examples of actions and tasks that YOU are currently doing, but I think, could be shifted to your co-operators. Therefore, while CRM is perceived as “exotic” and time-consuming by some line-managers, I am sure that they will appreciate ways that workload is taken off of the shoulders of the employee and moved outside the enterprise. Today, I described the problem. Stay tuned to find out the solution.
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