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What is CRM?

Two workers look at a set of charts on a shared laptop.

At some level, all organizations manage relationships with their customers. But in the modern era, most references to customer relationship management (CRM) refer to the software and other technological solutions utilized for this task.

Originally, CRMs were created to organize, track, and document a customer’s interaction with your organization. The ability to accurately document the meaningful touchpoints a customer had offered a massive upside to customer support, marketing, and sales teams. By limiting unwanted interactions and better informing necessary communication, the overall customer experience improved.

However, customer expectations are ever-changing, and CRM solutions continue to evolve in response. As customers became more accustomed to the higher level of service offered by organizations, demand for enhanced experiences increased as well.

For this reason, a modern CRM goes beyond simple documentation and enables your team to connect to essential customer data company-wide. This data can be utilized to track the entire customer journey sequentially. This ability to track the customer journey with well-informed data allows teams to make better calls on the interactions that are most beneficial to the customer experience. Automation, self-service tools, and data reporting allow teams to continually hone in on a better overall experience.

While CRM solutions are utilized daily, it can be difficult to define what, exactly, a CRM is. Due to the wide variety of solutions on the market boasting several different features, each organization’s CRM plays a slightly different role than the next. But most CRMs will have these features in common.

What is a CRM?

If you’re going to satisfy your customers, you need the appropriate data to be accessible and actionable. A CRM refers to the technology managing all your company's relationships and interactions with customers and prospects. With customer expectations evolving, intelligent CRM solutions have started to grow in popularity as businesses look for robust, feature-rich solutions from the CRM industry.

Gartner defines a CRM as “A business strategy that optimizes revenue and profitability while promoting customer satisfaction and loyalty.” Forrester likewise describes a CRM as “The business processes and supporting technologies that support the key activities of targeting, acquiring, retaining, understanding, and collaborating with customers.”

At the core of this conversation is the understanding that data is the foundation of customer experience strategies that meet customer expectations. These expectations can range from personalization to touchpoints and everything in between.

Why a CRM is more important than ever

Customer relationship management has always been important, but today, customer data is more prevalent than ever. The amount of available data continues to grow by the day, and customers continue to expect a more personalized experience as a result.

When technologies such as these are widely adopted in the CX industry, customers begin to unconsciously expect the benefits they offer. An organization equipped with a CRM can pick up a conversation in the right place at the right time rather than re-starting the customer journey every time a handoff is made.

But the task isn’t always as easy as it sounds. The mound of customer data is growing every day; The healthcare industry alone accounts for 30% of the entire world’s data. Some of the systems that were designed to house it are growing antiquated by way of the access options they lack.

The way your organization utilizes data helps to define the customer experience. Mishandling or underutilizing data can make you fall behind other organizations that are providing better customer experiences. On the other hand, properly managing customer data offers the potential to create those experiences within your own organization.

Who needs a CRM?

A CRM is broadly applicable in most organizations. While a small team might be able to get by without a centralized system, a mid-sized, large, or growing team demands a structure behind the complexity of customer relationship management.

CRMs are most commonly used by sales, customer service, and marketing teams. In fact, many organizations find that the solutions are made most effective when all of these teams are equipped with access to the CRM. This way, information can be freely passed from one stage to the next as a prospect matures into a customer. When that customer faces issues or needs support, that too can be handled from within the CRM.

In sales, a CRM is used to streamline the sales process. CRMs make it easy to track deals and prospects, prioritize, and follow up. Unlike many of the solutions that pre-dated CRMs, it’s easy to avoid duplicate actions simply by tracking actions. A CRM that’s been thoughtfully optimized can also create automations, provide stronger action-tracking functionalities, and aid in making pivotal moves down the funnel.

In marketing departments, a CRM is most often utilized for collecting insights about customers and prospects. Those customers and prospects can then be segmented, grouped, or personalized to continue testing messaging and observing patterns. Once the prospect is ready, the marketing team can graduate them into the sales process without ever leaving the CRM.

Customer service teams work inside CRMs to address customer comments, concerns, and other actionable items. Some CRMs may even include a ticketing system that creates further efficiencies in this area. CRMs can be the go-to place for your customer service team to find all of the information about any given customer in one centralized location.

What does a CRM do?

A CRM system has many jobs. One of the most important roles of a CRM is to house the customer and prospect data that supports day-to-day operations for departments, such as sales or marketing. A CRM can also produce metrics with this data to gauge the effectiveness of an organization’s customer relationship efforts, and even help forecast the best course of action.

A CRM is essential for understanding your customer at a deeper level. Most CRMs contain more than enough data to aid in producing a holistic customer profile. The customizable features available in many solutions allow your team to prioritize the most relevant information.

Finally, CRM systems help you stay connected to your customers and inform your interactions with them. If utilized properly, CRMs can, over time, help you to be more effective and efficient in these interactions. You have the opportunity to fine-tune your processes to better time automations and follow-ups, more effectively forecast future actions, and more.

While CRMs are a powerful tool with many functionalities and applications in an organization, there are also some things that a CRM does not do. A CRM does not help with backend operations such as production, warehousing, fulfillment, shipping, engineering, or finance. CRMs are typically highly customizable and for some, that can be a tempting offer when considering additional ways to utilize the solution. However, backend operations such as these demand more specialized and targeted solutions.

What’s the difference between CRM and CX technology?

Thinking of a CRM as the end-all, be-all in CX is a mistake. While CRMs do play many important roles, they are just one small piece of a larger CX strategy. There is a broader ecosystem of customer touchpoints you must consider to have truly effective customer experience.

That said, integrating your CRM into that broader ecosystem is an essential effort that can have a rippling effect throughout your organization.

In the contact center, a well-implemented CRM can help empower agents with better access to more data and more detailed reporting. But like the CRM, the contact center is just a portion of the greater customer experience.

In your wider CX tech stack, your CRM can serve as the data center - the solution at the heart of it all. The data from your CRM can flow into every other program you use.

If you’re seeking to better understand the essential differences between CRM and CX technology, read our blog post on the subject for a more thorough overview.

Five key benefits of a CRM system

If an organization’s CRM serves only to track data and systematize operational tasks, it’s not being used to the maximum effect. A great CRM that’s well-implemented should offer five key benefits that are broadly impactful.

Customer Empowerment

While a CRM should empower your agents, it can also empower your customers. Many CRMs offer self-service tools that can be implemented to support user forums, chatbots, and more. Since the CRM tracks these actions along the way, both the agent and the customer are better equipped for their first interaction when the time does come.

Streamlined Data Access

In many organizations, customer data is inaccessible despite the incredible volume that is amassed. A CRM solves the data accessibility issue, providing employees access at any time from any place. While providing data access to employees remotely can be challenging in some circumstances, a CRM simplistically solves these issues.

More Detailed Reporting

With the amount of data stored inside a CRM, the potential for customized, personalized reporting is tremendous. Savvy users can extract any number of data points to create unique reports with pinpoint accuracy.

Single Source of Truth

Siloed information with conflicting data points can create more problems than solutions. A CRM can serve as your centralized, single platform for customer data and relationship information. With greater access to more accurate data, salespeople, marketers, and customer service agents are set up for success.

By training a team to utilize a singular platform as the data hub within the organization, you’ll eliminate unneeded confusion and the constant mistakes and misjudgments that result from it.

Improved Lead Management

Never lose track of a lead. With the help of your CRM, creating and categorizing leads is a quick and efficient process. Automation can help to determine each lead’s value and priority as well as arrange for nurturing opportunities. Instead of leaving a wake of abandoned leads somewhere in your marketing funnel, you can be notified when deals are rotting or failing to progress due to neglect or the quality of the lead.

In the end, your team can track the effectiveness of their efforts as well. Detailed statistics and reports show where deals are lost and won, how long the sales process is lasting from start to finish, and more.

Re-evaluating your CRM strategy

The challenge of implementing a CRM can feel overwhelming. It can be expensive, time-consuming, and nuanced. And yet, harnessing the potential of growing stacks of customer data is too important to ignore. When an organization comes to this crossroads, it is important to carefully consider the way the solutions will be handled.

Asking a question like “Which CRM should I choose?” is the wrong place to start. Instead, answer these fundamental questions to guide your process:

  • What are the business outcomes you are trying to achieve?
  • What do your customers need to achieve that outcome?
  • What do your employees need to facilitate that outcome?
  • What role does CRM play in that strategy?

The answers to these questions are essential for understanding where a CRM fits in your CX tech stack. Adding a CRM in as an afterthought is likely to do more harm than good. This system needs to be the heartbeat of the entire tech stack if it’s going to make a positive impact in your organization. If your team is allowed a deeper understanding of the customer and how to properly engage them with your business, you’re making the most of your CRM!

If you’re looking at implementing a CRM and feeling overwhelmed, TTEC Digital is here to help. Our team of CX experts can help you answer the essential questions that will aid in identifying the right CRM strategy for your organization. We’ll help you implement that solution in a way that’s cohesive with your CX and contact center programs.