CRM tools: software for customer care

In various industries, the relationship between a company and its customers should be long-term and one of the most important success factors. Customer relationship management (CRM) is therefore one of the most important tasks that a company needs to take care of. These measures cover a wide range of departments, beginning with research and development through to marketing and sales, and classic customer service.

In order to maintain customer relationships, many companies collect data from their customers in extensive databases. Detailed analyses can then be carried out with all the information that has been collected. These analyses should provide information on which customers are particularly important for a company, as well as whether they can contribute to the development of customised campaigns for customer care, since it is assumed to be more cost-effective to keep existing customers than to acquire new ones. In order to cope with the flood of customer data, there are special CRM tools that help you structure the information and even record it automatically.

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What is a CRM tool?

CRM tools (often referred to as CRM systems) are database applications that are specifically tailored to the needs of customer care. As such, they enable a particularly structured and, at best, automated collection of all relevant customer data. This is also crucial for industries where a CRM solution has been developed, since different industries sometimes require different information and functions: thus, the range of stored information extends from simple user account data through to records of user behaviour to very confidential information, such as information on credit and addresses. A good CRM tool, however, is not only limited to collecting and archiving customer information, but ideally also provides an easily understandable graphical interface.

Most of the available CRM software for SMBs (small and medium-sized businesses) are proprietary applications even though there are free open source systems that can deliver good results. In principle, it is important to distinguish between installable programmes and software-as-a-service (web-based CRM software). The former must be operated on a separate server, whereas the required hardware resources in the latter variant are the provider’s responsibility. Via interfaces, CRM systems can be combined with other applications, such as data warehouses, e-mail marketing tools, or enterprise resource planning programmes (ERP).

What are the advantages of using a CRM system?

There’s no doubt that a good relationship between business partners and customers is important for a company’s success. The different phases, challenges, and benefits of customer care are already mentioned in another one of our articles on this topic. But what are the reasons for using CRM tools in order to collect data and to optimise the customer relationship? In particular, smaller company- or web shop owners use their own solutions for cost reasons or convenience, but they are often not as effective as CRM tools that are available on the market.

On the one hand, there is CRM software that is free, as well as other systems that are specially designed for smaller companies and are characterised by their particularly simple operation. This means that the critical customer data is not only stored in a very short time, but can also be retrieved without any problems. The effort is significantly reduced and is complemented by powerful analysis mechanisms, which enable conclusions to be drawn about how satisfied the customer is, as well as what their behaviour is like.

In addition, a single tool can improve collaboration between departments: the marketing department can later use the analysis data for personalised campaigns. Customer support can access customer data directly in the tool and get hold of the information stored. Exchanging information is therefore faster so that the time saved can be invested in the actual goal – binding important and profitable customers.

CRM software: the most important evaluation criteria in the selection process

Companies differ in size, structure, and philosophy – and the available CRM tools also differ in terms of the features offered. While some applications focus on storing customer data, other programmes focus on marketing features. Some systems are distinguished by the fact that they have a relatively large range of functions. The most suitable CRM solution for your business doesn’t, in principle, have to be the software with the greatest range: such universal CRM systems are usually very complex and therefore not suitable if you are just starting out in customer relationship management. Moreover, solutions like these are usually quite expensive.

What’s just as important is availability. Web-based CRM software, for example, can be accessed at anytime, and from anywhere as long as there’s an existing internet connection. This isn’t possible with a tool that is installed on a local system and does not have a web interface.

In order to facilitate your search for a suitable CRM tool, we will explain in the following paragraphs what you should pay particular attention to when selecting CRM software.

Prices and user-friendliness

In principle, CRM software should bring structure when collecting, archiving, and processing customer data in order to facilitate customer care and save valuable time. In this way, you can focus on developing strategies to improve the relationship with your customers. From CRM tools in the upper price segment, you should expect transaction and service processes to be partially automated based on the acquired data. For example, the response time for complaints can be significantly reduced by direct database access. Some programmes have the ability to send reminders and offers to customers automatically.

A solution that saves you a lot of time does not necessarily have to be expensive. What is most important is how well you or your employees can work with the software. If a programme does have automation features, but takes a while to get used to, the additional effort quickly outweighs the time saved. The same is true for linking the CRM application to other software, as well as for updating and expanding. It is very important that you choose a tool that supports the programmes you use, or allows you to implement them with little effort.

In addition, you should ensure than you have the necessary resources for setup and maintenance (whether in terms of time, personnel, or finances), otherwise you will not achieve any significant improvements with any CRM tool, whether open source or proprietary.

Support services

Usability is an important evaluation factor, but even the most user-friendly software is never 100% immune against programme errors and other problems (errors during the update process, other malfunctioning software, faulty file import/export, etc.). It is therefore all the more important for the provider to offer good support. For minor problems, help is often available in the form of documents, tutorials, blog posts, and FAQs, However, if there aren’t any helpful aids at hand, a competent, personal customer service is required, in line with customer relationship management. In any case, it makes sense to check whether what’s on offer meets your expectations. You should answer the following questions:

  • Does the provider offer the desired contact form (telephone, e-mail, live chat, etc.?)
  • Does the support have to be paid for?
  • Is the support available at the desired times (time of day, weekdays vs. weekends/bank holidays?
  • Are certain service packages dependent on the selected CRM package?
  • How quickly does the provider respond to a support request?

Integration of third party software

External programmes are usually integrated for one of the following two reasons: on the one hand, these applications can contain features that the selected CRM solution doesn’t provide. A good example of this are e-mail marketing features, which some systems already offer from the start, but in most cases, can only be used via third-party services. On the other hand, external tools are often useful when importing or exporting data. Links with the used e-mail account and calendar system are also typical. Regardless of the purpose of the respective third-party software, two CRM implementation options are available in theory for CRM tools:

  • Native integration: the simple way to integrate external software is called native integration. In this case, pre-built modules already exist for the CRM system from third-parties, which you only need to select or download and activate. The more common a CRM tool is, the higher the likelihood that such native modules exist.
  • Integration via API: if there are no native modules for integrating a third application, the integration only works if both sides (the application and the CRM system) support an open API (Application Programming Interface). Using these interfaces, which are usually based on REST (Representational State Transfer), you or your IT team or other users can integrate the desired third-party software yourself. This method provides more flexibility, since the customer relationship management application can be linked to almost any other programme. On the other hand, it is often associated with a lot of time and money.

E-mail and social media features

There are numerous platforms and channels that customers can use to get into contact with you: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have been popular for many years, not only in the private sector. Social networks have also become more important for companies and are now not only important marketing channels, but also indispensable tools for customer relationship management. A close connection to social media is therefore a decisive criterion for evaluating a CRM tool – even if your activity on the social platforms is still limited.

Even if e-mail interaction has lost some of its importance, most businesses continue to frequently use e-mails as their main form of contact. For customer relationship management, e-mails are usually even more important than posts or tweets, since they reveal more about the customers. The CRM system should therefore offer the option for integrating e-mail clients and accounts and, in the best case, provide features for automatically collecting messages and assigning them to individual customer profiles. In addition to e-mails and social media activities, some CRM applications can also assign telephone calls and chat histories and include them in customer history.

Marketing and lead features

Customer care and marketing are closely linked: if you know your customers well, you’re more likely to reach them with your marketing campaigns. The same applies to leads i.e. users who are to become customers or buyers. However, the more customers there are to care for, the more difficult is it to tailor marketing campaigns to individual customer groups. Therefore, many CRM tools have features that can automate various steps of marketing. The following automatisms are some examples:

  • The CRM tool automatically reminds you to perform a specific marketing action after a specified period of time.
  • After a certain time, the application predicts the probability of a potential customer becoming a customer.
  • After a defined period of time, the programme automatically starts an action and sends the buyer a voucher for their next purchase.
  • The CRM system automatically includes external software, such as e-mail marketing programmes.
  • The tool generates detailed analyses that represent important key data such as return on investment (RoI) and are presented visually.

It’s also useful when the CRM system includes a campaign manager that allows you to track and manage all marketing campaigns right from the start.

Privacy and security

Customer data is very confidential information. With the customers’ consent, you can collect their information and use it for marketing purposes, but you need to be aware of data protection. The choice of the software and the hosting or installation environment is crucial. For example, if you choose a web-based CRM software, your data and that of your customers is usually stored in a Cloud managed by your provider. With a desktop version that you install on your own system, you can make sure you adhere to data protection.

On one hand, you guarantee the general security of the data through appropriate measures (firewall, anti-virus software, etc.) within your network. On the other hand, the CRM tool itself should also provide certain mechanisms to protect the database against unauthorised access. These include, for example, a password protection or an option for defining specific access rights. You should also make sure that the selected system protocol runs on all accesses and changes.

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