Cloud-based business software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings like Salesforce, SugarCRM, and Microsoft Dynamics have helped make customer relationship management (CRM) more attainable for small and midsized businesses (SMB). Boutiques, coffee shops, spas, and all manner of small companies can now collect and analyze customer data like never before. This allows companies to interact with their customers in engaging new ways.
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As a result, impersonal mass mailings give way to targeted communications. Helpful recommendations and reminders replace indiscriminate sales pitches.
Businesses shower today's consumers with personalized attention and engaging customer experiences. And consumers won't settle for anything less.
"It's the age of the customer," Harry West, senior vice president of product and strategy at Appirio, a San Francisco-based cloud services company, told Small Business Computing. "The bar has been raised so high in the eyes of customers."
Heightened customer expectations also drive much of the innovation in the cloud application market, he noted. Increasingly, that means business software platforms must serve many masters within an organization.
Rigid, department-based software and IT purchasing decisions are a thing of the past. "You can't do anything in silos," said West. Selecting effective technology that carries across separate divisions, like ecommerce and marketing, not only helps small businesses to deliver focused and cohesive customer experiences, it can help them get the biggest bang for the buck.
Based on a recently-published presentation from Appirio, West shares his advice for small businesses on evaluating and picking the right customer experience technologies.
Engage Your Customers and Your Workforce
While seeking to engage and delight your customers, it's easy to lose sight of a crucial part of the equation: your own workforce.
"You need to empower and engage workers," said West. No matter how many customer-oriented bells and whistles a software solution contains, it will fail if employees and can't use it to its full potential. "Your technology enablement can only take you so far," he cautioned.
Consider collaborative, cross-team technology solutions that make customer data and dashboards accessible to your employees, suggests Appirio. Instead of looking through the narrow lens of a marketing app or other point solution, employees get a fuller picture of a customer lifecycle, making them feel invested in your organization's efforts to engage with its customers.
Unearth Meaningful Insights
West is a big fan of journey mapping, the act of charting a customer's relationship with a company.
Encourage feedback and invest in technology platforms that let your company analyze customer interactions and their levels of satisfaction. Not only can it help you spot your strengths and weaknesses as a customer service organization, it can help you find new opportunities for some much-needed software and systems integrations.
"Map everything out," advised West. "It gets you beyond those silos."
For example, new customers often get caught up in all the attention they receive by a company during the initial sales process only to start feeling neglected as the months go by. In this case, systems that link sales with customer service and support can help businesses spot opportunities for sustained engagement, ensuring that their customer's journey never goes off the rails.
Create Breakthrough Digital Moments
One way to keep customers coming back for more is to create digital experiences that "wow and delight your customers," said West.
Armed with the aforementioned insights, it's time to start anticipating your customers' needs and desires. Deliver experiences that tap into the milestones along a customer's journey. Seek out opportunities to improve sales and drive revenues from timely service offerings. Look for data-driven software and systems that help identify those opportunities and transform them into engaging mobile, Web, or digital marketing experiences for your customers.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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