Customer relationship management (CRM) platforms are used to manage the relationships a brand has with its customers throughout the customer lifecycle and provide instant access to each and every interaction that a customer has had with a brand, including chat history, purchase history, email history, customer service tickets and more. CRMs can provide customer service agents with instant access to a customer’s details, which facilitates a much more personal and effective customer service experience.
Let's take a look at the ways that brands are using CRMs to enhance and improve a brand’s customer service efforts — and what vendors find as highlights and challenges.
What Is a CRM Supposed to Do?
A 2022 survey from SugarCRM revealed that 71% of respondents believe that customers are leaving due to poor customer service or experience, and 70% of respondents said they need to do more to improve customer trust in their brand. Additionally, 73% of those polled underscored the need to act on customer feedback for improved customer service and experience. A modern CRM can provide brands with the ability to take their customer service — and the overall customer experience — to a new level.
The main purpose of a CRM is to help businesses simplify the process of customer relationship management. CRMs facilitate the aggregation and storing of customer data, customer service tickets and transaction history and provide details about every interaction that has occurred between a customer and a brand in real time.
Although CRM platforms are varied and have many unique features, they all share three basic functions, as we discussed in a previous article:
- The Management of Customer Data: The ability to store customer contact information such as names, phone numbers, addresses, email addresses, etc.
- Customer Interaction Tracking: The process of adding notes and tracking customer interaction history for the purpose of documenting conversations with each customer.
- Prospect/Lead Management: The process of converting prospects into potential customers.
How Brands Use CRMs for Customer Service: 3 Vendor Examples
Shift7 is a digital agency that uses Salesforce CRM to help its clients in the manufacturing and distribution industries completely revamp the customer experience. These industries previously relied on spreadsheets and catalogs, so CRM has been a game-changer for them. For example, Shift7 works with Allied Beverage, a large wine and spirits distributor. Shift7 determined that for ecommerce, sales and experience functions, Salesforce cloud services would work best.
When Allied customers (liquor stores, restaurants, etc.) check in on their order status or ask other service questions, they receive a much more seamless experience. Additionally, through the CRM, the relationship with the account and Allied is no longer an issue if a rep leaves. The CRM enables Allied to know who to work with, order history, etc., and they can now upsell.
Because CRMs provide a single source of truth about customers, they are able to provide details about every interaction that a customer has had with a business. A CRM immediately provides customer service employees with details about who they are interacting with, so the agent can refer to the customer by name. The agent also has access to the customer’s most recent purchases, along with previous customer service interactions.
Nick Lines, a director at UK Oak Doors, a UK-based premium door retailer, told CMSWire that with 20-plus years of ecommerce under his belt, he believes that a CRM should be the backbone of a brand's customer service efforts. "It should store all customer contact information, as well as past interactions and transactions. This will allow you to have a single view of each customer and provide customer service agents with the tools they need to best serve them."
Lines’s business has also been using Salesforce CRM for its customer service needs, and it's been very effective. “We've been able to successfully track our customer service efforts and see where we need to improve,” said Lines. “We've been able to see which customers are the most valuable and which ones we need to focus on and reward for their loyalty.”
CRMs of today have evolved to where they are not only useful, they can be engaging tools that are actually enjoyable to use. Michael Perlberg, director of support and implementation at Outfield, a performance-based CRM platform provider, told CMSWire that Outfield clients are leveraging a gaming CRM to improve customer service. Perlberg said that businesses are using Outfield’s Gaming CRM to not only increase the effectiveness of their customer service initiatives, but to also provide their teams with a fun and motivating experience as they work.
“As team members log their interactions with customers, they earn points and build up their stats over time; allowing them to compete in head-to-head style matchups with colleagues, earn achievements and climb the ranks on their team leaderboard, all based on the information they are inputting into the CRM," Perlberg said.
Perlberg believes that this competitive, motivating environment is where the CRM thrives the most because the value a brand gets out of a CRM is dependent on the information going into it. "And when employees are motivated to log their interactions with customers, companies are empowered with valuable data they can use to improve their overall customer service offering," he said.
Steve Oriola, CEO at Act!, a CRM and marketing automation platform provider, told CMSWire that according to recent survey data from Act!, 42% of respondents ranked customer service as the top aspect of their business that has improved since using a CRM platform. Oriola said that one of the benefits of using a CRM for customer service is that it enables service agents to have more meaningful, personal conversations with customers.
"Act!’s CRM platform enables small businesses across professional services industries to improve their customer service by empowering them to communicate smarter with clients and prospects." Oriola gave an example of how such an interaction could work. "If a customer mentioned that their dog Lucy was sick the last time they called, you can store that in the CRM and ask about Lucy’s health the next time you meet or talk to them. By creating personalized experiences, a company can cement its place in the hearts of its clientele and boost its customer service."
The Challenges of CRMs
Vasili Triant, COO of UJET, an enterprise contact center solution provider, told CMSWire that the problem that many contact center leaders see today in regard to access to the CRM is that API integrations facilitate the bare minimum when it comes to data sharing and functional app connectivity.
"Instead of unifying data, most API integrations produce piecemeal or fragmented records of individual and collective customer data, which then need to be painstakingly stitched back together," Triant said. "Important details or entire customer records can be lost or deleted, which hurts the customer experience and, in turn, the bottom line."
Triant said that unifying the contact center with a CRM has many benefits, including that it’s inherently compliant and designed to be more secure because they don't store customer credit card data, transcripts or any personally identifiable information (PII) in the contact center platform.
Another challenge is that traditional CRM platforms are great at tracking the current state — sales opportunities in the pipeline, customer contacts, open support cases, etc. — but they are limited because the current state is a single point in time, according to Christian Wettre, senior vice president and general manager of the Sugar Platform at SugarCRM, an intelligent CRM platform provider. “It is lost the moment something changes. Consequently, CRMs have not been able to provide much insight into how customers actually got to their current state and likely future outcomes.”
Benefits of 'Time-Aware' and 'No-Touch' CRMs
Wettre said that a next-generation CRM should be "time-aware" and "no-touch," so brands can deliver a high-definition customer experience that is critical to improving customer service. “The concept of time-awareness in CRM delivers a new standard: high-definition customer experience (HD-CX). Time-aware CRM frames and tracks customer data in both historical and forward-looking senses,” Wettre explained, adding that:
- It displays any single customer’s full history as a journey, with every interaction, change and outcome recorded.
- It’s built to “hand off” this data seamlessly between marketing, sales and customer service departments, ensuring that everyone has access to the data they need.
- It detects patterns in the data to identify trends, problems, and opportunities, and to recommend next best actions to improve customer experience.
- It leverages knowledge about the past to make predictions about the future to empower better business decisions.
Additionally, CRM systems are only as good as the data they contain. Wettre said that some of the major root causes of bad data in a CRM are manual entry errors and poor activity logging. “In a ‘no-touch CRM’ world, business professionals simply go about their day using their standard email, calendar and mobile tools to connect with customers and receive relevant answers at the right point in the customer’s journey.”
Wettre suggested that in this new “no-touch” paradigm, a CRM system becomes more like a personal assistant, suggesting automated email follow-ups and recommending updates to CRM records based on what was said in the last interaction with a customer. “Insights about customers are pushed to employee devices as they happen, without ever having to know to ask the question.”
Related Article: Using Customer Relationship Management to Promote Business Growth
Final Thoughts on CRMs
While CRMs simplify the process of customer relationship management, many brands are finding that they can be effectively used to improve the customer service experience for both customers and service agents. As the single source of truth about customers, CRMs are able to provide details about every interaction that a customer has had with a business, which enables service agents to provide answers and solutions to customers in real time.