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CRM / Customer Relationship Management

CRM stands for customer relationship management. It essentially is the practice of taking an active approach to understanding how a company interacts with its customers and creating a strategy to manage that relationship for both current and future customers.

In practice, CRM is typically used to describe software systems, of which many are available.

In practice, CRM is generally used synonymously with CRM software. There are numerous systems available to help manage the wealth of customer data that you have available to you. In a nutshell, CRM software is a multi-tentacled database that links the various aspects of your customer relationship into one system that coordinates activities.

CRM software alone, though, is not enough. You must have strong customer facing processes in order to effectively manage relationships. For example, a CRM system may tell you when to contact a customer, but your sales team needs good processes in order to make that contact effective. The same holds true for any of the contact points with your customers.

Continuous Improvement and CRM

The most obvious way that continuous improvement efforts help your customer relationships is by helping you produce products correctly, quickly, and economically. Get those three things done right, and the keeping things on good terms with your customers is much easier.

The less obvious way to use Lean to help your customer relationship efforts is to inventory all of the customer facing processes you have and then create a plan to manage each of those process. A great place to start is with a value stream map. Be sure to emphasize the information flow, as that often feeds the information into the CRM database.

Another infrequent application of continuous improvement efforts is in the sales process. The traditional view of sales is that it is a creative effort where structured processes have limited benefit. While there is some truth to that once a salesperson is in the room with a potential customer, there is quite a bit of room for improvement in the support systems.

A final impact point for continuous improvement is in establishing metrics and managing countermeasure for the data that the CRM software system produces. The structured approach to misses will help get the most out of your CRM investment. What does this mean in practice? If you set monthly targets for, say, the number of new prospective customers added to the database, and you fall short, you’ll be required to do something about it. That “something” will focus on specific processes, and the improvement efforts will be more effective with the application of continuous improvement principles.


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