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By: Jessica Barrett Halcom, TechnologyAdvice.com

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software was created as a way for businesses to better work with their clients through the use of centralized data. A CRM tracks conversations and supplies sales teams with personal information and buying habits and allows companies to analyze trends and preferences, thus being able to meet the customer where they are.

At least in theory.

What happens, in reality, is that we sometimes forget the “R” in CRM, and begin utilizing the CRM tool as a way to talk to customers, rather than listen to them. For a CRM to work as effectively as it’s designed to do, it’s critical to remember that it needs to work for both the seller and the buyer.

CRM Software

As is the case with any relationship, people are diverse and they continue to evolve and change. Rather than expecting them to become something they aren’t, a more effective approach is communicating and listening. Many companies use their CRM as a way to send out information, sales, coupons, new products – but what about using it to ask customers questions, and then listen for the answers?

A recent example of this is how Buffer handled a change they rolled out to their customers. Within the free version of their product, they planned to add some new features, but remove one that through customer feedback, they found out would have caused some serious consequences. Before the change went into effect, they retracted it, explaining that they valued the feedback, therefore expressing how much they valued the customers and retaining them as well.

If you’re feeling that there may be opportunities to strengthen your customer relationships, let’s take a look at three ways to bring the “R” in CRM back to life.

Customers are Real People

It’s so easy to stop thinking about customers as real people when you’re looking at scores of names and contact information. But the reality is that the people behind those names are very real. You wouldn’t call your Aunt Ruthie or your best friend Sarah a “lead” or a “prospect”. Begin thinking about the lives behind the list. You may know them by their purchase history and buying habits, but going a step further helps you understand what they’re like, what they value, and how they feel.

A CRM is not meant to simply house data so that you know the best day of the week to send out a coupon (although that’s certainly useful). A large part of the role of a CRM is to nurture those important relationships.

If you really want some good information, try selecting a group of high-performing or low performing customers (or both!) and send them a survey. Ask about buying habits, their understanding of your product, and how you can help them better. Just like you use your HR software to survey your employees, use surveys to better understand what makes your customers happy.

Go Beyond Brand Loyalty

The top brands in the world didn’t get that way by accident. It might appear that people were clamoring for them because they were the hottest thing on the block, but what we forget is that they started out by serving their customers first. The mistake many companies make is that when they create their ideal customer profile, they sometimes forget the very reason they exist as a brand.

brand loyalty

What we need to be asking is what problems are we solving? What do we do well that people need our help with? So often companies approach loyalty from the bottom by thinking about the desired outcome first: more loyal customers that buy more. Rather than working so hard to build brand loyalty by going after your ideal customer, instead consider the ways that you can create value for them. You can find this out by communicating with them directly.

Take Responsibility for Relationships Gone Bad

Creating loyalty programs is an important way to gather customer data and ensure that the most loyal customers are rewarded for their continued patronage. The flaw in only subscribing to this logic is that it can sometimes create a high-maintenance customer you don’t see coming. Rewarding your best customers with special treatment, allowing them to “break the rules” and giving in to their high demands can end up costing you more in the long run. This is the difficult part of being in a relationship: accepting responsibility for things turning sour, rather than pointing a finger at the customer.

To avoid this happening, treat all of your customers as valuable. There will be seasons where people spend more time and money with your brand than others. The key is letting them know they matter, regardless of average lifetime value.

It can be easy to blame the CRM for not being as effective at fostering customer relationships as you’d hoped. What’s more likely going on, however, is that the tool has become a database management system, and not an opportunity to build relationships.

The critical component of a CRM tool is its ability to foster and nurture customer relationships. Each relationship will look different, and they will continue to change over time. The power behind your relationships will be in your ability to make them meaningful, to meet your customers where they are, and to find out where you’re able to add the most value.

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Jessica Barrett Halcom is a writer for TechnologyAdvice.com, with specializations in human resources, healthcare, and transportation. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay and currently lives in Nashville, TN.

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