By Diane M. Calabrese / Published October 2023
Customer relationship management (CRM) in the form of software to manage interactions with customers is a boon to businesses of all sizes. No business is too small or too large.
In fact, every business structure from owner-operator to corporation to ESOP [employee stock ownership plan] will reap the good that grows from adopting a CRM system.
For small business owners who have yet to tap into the potential of CRM, the enthusiasm of experienced hands should spark interest and rightly so.
“The biggest benefit we find is being in constant contact with our clients,” says Missy Ordiway, business development manager at Deco Products in Denver, CO. “We can share with them upcoming free trainings we offer, and this helps give them security in using our products.”
Ordiway explains that CRM keeps a company “top of mind” with its clients. But it’s about much more than the reminder that a business stands ready and equipped to serve.
CRM enables efficiency. “Our guys love that they can schedule and speak with the client in our CRM, so it gives them ease in communication and helps them to remember what they have been communicating about,” says Ordiway.
The efficiency extends to online presence. “I personally love the social aspect of our CRM as we can schedule and post what we want without having to get on multiple platforms,” says Ordiway. “This saves a ton of time when you are trying to spread the word in multiple places.”
CRM also allows for self-assessment. “Our company has goals set up on our site that help tell us what the client is looking for; if they sign up, then we know we are giving them what they want,” says Ordiway.
Essential to taking advantage of CRM is balance. Respect the differences among clients.
“You will always have someone who needs you for the moment but then doesn’t want to continue getting messages from you,” says Ordiway. “You have to find balance in what applies to them and what they are seeking to help their business grow that you offer.”
The awareness required with CRM is no different from that required when using any form of communication. “You can become ‘spammy,’ and that can turn clients off,” says Doug Rucker, owner of the DougRuckerStore.com in Porter, TX.
Thoughtful use, however, brings feedback that sums up the story. There are two big types of positive response from customers.
“The first response is ‘thank you’ for making it so easy,” says Rucker. “Clients are always dreading hiring service companies, and when you make it as easy as possible on them, they love it. Second, they love knowing they will have a reminder prior to their next service appointment. It’s something we have taken off their plate that they no longer have to worry about.”
There are so many benefits from CRM that it’s a difficult task to rank them. Depending on the day or the phase of the business cycle, one may take precedence.
“Having the ability to send quotes, schedule jobs, schedule team members, collect payment, take before and after pictures, etc. all from your computer, tablet, or phone is a huge time saver,” says Rucker. “I’d say the biggest benefit is being able to do all of these things from your phone.”
In addition to all that, there is one more. “The texting features are what customers really love,” says Rucker. “It makes it so easy for them.”
Education is also facilitated via CRM. “During the course of a year, we may send three or four promotional emails that have nothing to do with our services but are more of a helpful hint or recommendation that may help them in some area of their life,” says Rucker.
That could be education about preparation for hurricane season and genial subjects such as a new favorite recipe or restaurant experience—“things that may not have anything to do with ‘selling service’ but get our name across and help them in some other way,” says Rucker.
The key to all interaction is moderation, explains Rucker. One must, though: Request a review after a job is complete.
Who gains more from CRM—the customer or the business? It’s a true case of reciprocity.
The better the customer is served, the better the business can serve customers. CRM gives a business vital information and builds relationships it can use to “develop better processes,” says Maxwell Baldwin, owner and director of operations at Whisper Wash in St. Petersburg, FL.
“At the end of the day, customers are the core of every business,” says Baldwin. “Without customers there isn’t a business; so with that in mind, it’s imperative that we as business owners do everything that we can to keep an active customer service or customer conversation at the forefront of our strategies. We do this so that we can further understand and exceed the needs and expectations of our customers.”
Following the imperative gets noticed. “Our attentiveness to specific needs brings much positive feedback,” says Baldwin. “We take an approach that creates a unique experience for everyone, and this is what creates such positive feedback. People call and speak to a person; moreover, they speak to a person who knows what they are talking about and is an expert in their field. We are unique in this way, but it creates a much more understanding experience for our customers.”
Again, it’s about establishing the best mix of contact options. “I think we have all been inundated with those emails about our car experience survey,” says Baldwin. “There needs to be a balance of offers and typical or traditional business operations. Otherwise our businesses can seem gimmicky.”
A business must find a way to “generate interest and movement without sacrificing integrity,” says Baldwin. That means choosing carefully among available tools.
“Less is more when it comes to [available] types of incentives or surveys,” explains Baldwin. “Don’t create more work for your business than is necessary.”
With CRM a business owner can listen more acutely to customers. It’s a tool.
“People are our business at the end of the day, and we believe that listening and caring is the most important step in creating great and lasting relationships,” says Baldwin. To that end, understand how CRM fits.
Managing relationships with customers is as old as doing business. Sustaining and fortifying relationships simultaneously sustain and fortify a company.
Owners should reflect on a question to get a good fit when incorporating CRM, says Baldwin. “Is CRM factored into your business model as part of your product or identity?”
Whether employee or customer retention is more important dissolves into a chicken and egg analysis. What’s important is that CRM gives a lift to customer retention.
“By using a CRM system correctly—in our case, we use Salesforce—we are able to not only store customer data in one place but also develop detailed marketing plans based on segmented audiences,” says Carol Taylor, director of marketing at StoneAge in Durango, CO. “The audiences can be grouped by what product was purchased, where they are in the sales journey, geographic location, and about a million other categories.”
Such granular data become useful in more than one way. Examples are refining business strategy and taking business integration to the highest level possible.
“By building out desired fields within the system, we can capture a litany of data on past, current, and hopefully future customers,” explains Taylor. “Additionally, our CRM system is integrated with our marketing automation platform, meaning that the two systems talk to each other, providing an automated transfer of data to make marketing that much easier.”
Training is essential to successful use of CRM. Taylor emphasizes the importance of “data hygiene,” or ensuring that everyone understands the importance of entering the correct information.
With training and data hygiene prioritized, a company does not risk sending a message in the wrong language or making contact about a product a customer has not purchased, explains Taylor. She adds that unfortunately some things can never be avoided, such as sending a message to someone who has passed. (No different from the phone call most of us have made.)
An optimally functioning CRM system is easy to identify. It receives high marks from both the business team and customers.
“Internally, when we can identify potential customers for a product based on past sales data pulled from the CRM, our sales team is very appreciative,” says Taylor. “Externally, customers like when you follow up on a past sale, send personalized messages, and let them know when things are happening that may affect them directly.”
Taylor describes herself as “an advocate and a raving fan of CRMs,” but we sense in a non-digital age she would have embraced the same sort of follow-up and personalized contact with existing and prospective customers. That makes sense because it’s about good outcomes, not specific methods.
Hand-written notes on paper, calling cards, and even phone calls and handshakes become rarer each day. Their descendants are digital contacts. It’s change, and it’s inevitable and fascinating. Some may ask what comes next, and time will tell.