When it comes to customer relationship management (CRM), most service managers have at least a fair understanding of who their customers (i.e., C) are and what kinds of relationships (i.e., R) their business has with them. But even good managers often don’t fully understand exactly how to manage (i.e., M) those relationships.

In some cases, the manager may have the basic know-how — but not the tools — to fully manage the relationships. In other cases, the manager may have neither the tools nor the know-how to make it work. The latter is the worse of the two scenarios, but in either case, it is abundantly clear that without M, you can’t sustain an R and, ultimately, you won’t have any Cs!

There’s no doubt about it: Service organizations can’t afford to let management be the weak link in their customer relationships.

Keeping the Customer Satisfied

You could argue that good management is all you need in order to keep your customers happy. But can your business really gamble on that, or do you need to invest more squarely in your customer relationships? These are all critical Q&As to consider before going down the CRM path — especially if you want results ASAP.

Managing CRM is just like any other aspect of the business — with the main difference being that your business’ survival depends on it. If you do not manage the CRM process effectively, you might ultimately still have some customers, and you will definitely have a relationship with them — but it may very well be a bad (and short-lived) one.

To improve your chances for successful CRM, you must first define your business vision. Translate this vision into reasonable and achievable objectives. Next, analyze your business processes and requirements to determine whether your organization needs any adjustments (or re-engineering) to achieve your goals. Last, but not least, you must put a measurement system in place to gauge your success. Once you establish that measurement system, you will need to update it regularly.

The Secret to CRM Success: Communication

Even with your business vision and processes aligned, your CRM program will be worthless unless you effectively communicate it to every stakeholder at every level of your organization — as well as to your vendors, partners and, most importantly, customers. If anyone in the business chain does not clearly understand what you’re trying to accomplish, and how you plan to achieve it, you will simply be setting yourself up for failure.

Communication is critical, from the earliest planning stages to the execution phase. You’ll be amazed at how much valuable feedback you can glean from your employees during initial planning while, at the same time, creating stronger buy-in for the further changes that your will need to implement.

I’ve seen many companies implement a CRM platform primarily as a technology solution and fail because their changes were superficial at best. In these cases, companies only deliver marginal improvements, with an exceptionally long ROI period for minimal results. That’s the danger of approaching CRM primarily as a software technology solution instead of as an integral business solution: Choose the wrong technology and you limit your chances for success — if not eliminate them altogether.

You can’t buy C, R or M at the grocery store, nor can you get a license for CRM at the DMV. It must come from within — from the CEO on down through the entire organization. Sometimes you must look outside the box to find all of the elements needed to make it work, and you’ll almost always need outside help achieve the necessary design, configuration and implementation for success.

CRM isn’t for the timid, nor is it strictly for the bold. It’s for any and every business that has customers, employees, partners, vendors, stakeholders, stock owners or any combination thereof. But while every organization needs it, at the end of the day it will only work effectively for the ones that really know how to M their Rs with their Cs.