A women uses a surface tablet to help a female customer in a small SMB boutique retail shop.

In today’s always-on media culture, being able to effectively manage customer relationships is more important than ever before. Customers now expect a prompt and personalised response across a variety of platforms. To do that effectively, it’s essential to have the data you need at your fingertips.

A customer relationship management (CRM) system allows you to move to more efficient and collaborative tools that provide greater access to customer information exactly where and when you need it. This is especially crucial for small businesses, who don’t have huge teams to support with customer data.

Get to know your customers

Having the right customer data plays a crucial role in maintaining positive levels of engagement. Building great relationships with your customers is exactly like building any other relationship – you need to get to know them. Document all your contact with customers across all your channels. You can then refer back to this information in future and use it to improve your service.

By utilising a CRM system, you can ensure that you not only  keep track of customers’ purchases, but create customer follow-ups – either to monitor customer satisfaction or to remember a special occasion like their birthday by treating them to a discount code or gift.

Another major reason to implement a CRM system in your business is to build customer trust and be GDPR compliant. It’s no longer possible to keep your contacts on an insecure spreadsheet, or even in a notebook. You need to make sure it’s held in a secure place so it can’t get into the wrong hands. While this can sound threatening – it’s actually a win-win. By ensuring you professionally and securely handle customer data, you’ll be improving your customer relationships as well as safeguarding your business and reputation.

Select the right CRM system for your business

With so many CRM systems available, it can be difficult to find the right one for your business needs. Here are five questions to help you find the one the ideal system for you:

1. What data do you need?

Before choosing your system, think about exactly what you need it to do. Do you need to capture sales as well as contact information? Some business owners just want to capture a customer’s contact details, to follow-up and make notes of meetings or phone calls. Others need more extensive information, like time spent on a job and all sales information. Think carefully about what you need, both now and in the future, before selecting your system.

2. How do you categorise your customers?

The data in your system might relate to potential, current and past clients, as well as a few you might want to treat as ‘VIPs’. A good CRM system will allow you to categorise your clients so that you can communicate with each group in the most appropriate way. It will also have life cycle management built into it by design, so you can show customers you care about their rights over their data.

3. How secure is the system?

Look at whether your CRM allows you to allocate certain staff members to certain customers. If you are a larger organisation, you will have more users and more customers, so you want to ensure that the right staff have the right access. You also want to ensure you can quickly update or revoke user access as needed.

GDPR means you need to respect and protect personal data no matter where it is sent, processed, or stored. You have to ensure the CRM system meets this. Ensure it has privacy-by-design and privacy-by-default and that it can handle, store, and transmit data securely.

4. What is your budget?

Price is obviously a factor when choosing a CRM system, so you’ll want to find out if there’s a monthly, annual or one-off charge. It’s also worth looking at whether the system you choose charges per user. Some systems offer free subscriptions for a set number of contacts, so you should also work out how many customers you want to able to service with it and what that will cost you. It’s a good idea to ensure it can scale and grow with your business without breaking the bank.

5. Do you require ongoing support?

As well as the tool itself, consider what the ongoing service support is like with your CRM provider. Are you going to be able to easily find an answer to a question you have when you are working on your CRM after 7pm, for example? This can easily be handled by seeing if the website has a good Q&A or a tutorial section.  A good way to test this is to send a general enquiry message after hours and see how long it takes before someone answers you.

Before you consider investing in a CRM system, you should start with your customer needs. Do you have a place where you store information such as your customers’ interests, important dates and previous purchases? If you don’t already, then you should. Is it secure and compliant? If it isn’t, then it should be.

Having this information to hand ensures you’re having relevant conversations when you talk to customers. This allows you to share targeted messages that are relevant to their needs and interesting to them – resulting in happier and more engaged customers. Microsoft helps businesses of all sizes to overcome this challenge.

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