Magazine Article | December 1, 2000

Understanding The Scope Of CRM

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

There's a lot of buzz surrounding customer relationship management (CRM) technology these days. But, eCRM (Web-based CRM) still has some room for improvement.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, December 2000

The technology industry is filled with acronyms. Letters like ERP, EAS, POS, and USB help to shorten our product descriptions and conversations. But, these same acronyms often lead to more confusion among technology buyers, who may not fully understand our "industry speak." CRM (customer relationship management) is no exception.

In my October 2000 column, I discussed the renewed popularity of CRM (visit to view this article). I explained that the acronym CRM can be defined two ways. First, CRM is software that helps a customer manage customer relationships in an organized way. Second, CRM is also used to describe a grouping of products ranging from call center management, customer interaction management, sales force automation, to customer sales and marketing, and many other products.

The Next Level Of CRM
With so much buzz surrounding CRM, other CRM-related technologies continue to emerge – adding to the CRM product medley. I discovered at the CRM Conference and Expo (Oct. 24-26) in San Francisco that CRM products are becoming smarter. CRM software vendors are building intelligence into their applications. Or, CRM vendors are partnering with business intelligence or knowledge management vendors to integrate their products together.

Intelligence was the next logical step for CRM. By using analytic tools like rules-based models or text searches, retailers can mine the CRM data for specific information. These tools can be used by retailers' sales and marketing professionals, customer service representatives, or even customers through a self-service Web interface.

The Journey Ahead For CRM
Even with smarter CRM, this technology has a way to go before it reaches its full potential. At least that's what Henri Asseily, CTO of BizRate, thinks. BizRate, one of the Web's leading shopping marketplaces, is featured in this issue (p. 34). I met with Asseily at a recent Informix event in Chicago. He is more than candid when it comes to his evaluations of different technologies and products. At the mere mention of eCRM (Web-based CRM), he scoffed at its capabilities to identify and track customers. And, he's right.

The technology is not there yet. E-tailers do not have the tools to determine a unique customer and all of their shopping habits. For example, if a consumer uses more than one browser and/or more than one computer to shop online, there's no way for the e-tailer to determine that this is the same unique user.

A recent study by Primus, an eCRM software provider, found customer service to be an important driver in online purchasing decisions. According to Primus' random telephone survey of over 500 consumers, respondents said that it is much more convenient to buy things online than over the phone. However, respondents commented that there is room for improvement for meeting their expectations for customer service on the Internet. Specifically, 68% agree that the inability to ask specific questions makes shopping online difficult. In fact, 53% of consumers would rather shop at a retail store than face inadequate, online customer service.

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