Customer Relationship Management in Online Markets: An Overview

CRM is a comprehensive business and marketing strategy that integrates technology, process, and all business activities around the customer. It is mostly defined in terms of the acquisition and retention of customers, and the resulting profitability. Effective CRM is assumed to lead to bottom-line benefits for the organization. Profits increase by 25-80% when customer retention rates increase by five points. The Internet has provided a platform to deliver CRM functions on the Web (eCRM), thus as business moves to the Web, eCRM will move to center stage.
The Internet represents a new media, with specific characteristics. The Internet is characterized by:

  • quick access and transfer of information
  • lack of space and time barriers;
  • ease of comparison between various objects, events, or organizations
  • interactivity and flexibility

Also, it has to be taken into consideration that in most cases, the e-service represents a one-to-one experience (company-customer).

In this specific environment, the customer will therefore be able to access the company’s website from any place in the world (as long as it has a working Internet connection), to compare the company’s offer and to interact with the organization on a one-to-one basis. On the other hand, the company is capable of attracting and developing relationships with customers located anywhere in the world, to make an ongoing competitors’ analysis, and to personalize its interaction with the customer.

Balancing the two sides of the experience (company/customer), an online service provider will have to define and select its target customers (focus) to analyze the specific competition for that particular market segment (competitive analysis), and to design its long-term interaction with the customer in order to achieve sustained customer satisfaction (strategic planning and implementation).

eCRM can be therefore defined as an interactive, content-centered, and Internet-based customer process, driven by the customer and integrated with related organizational customer support processes and technologies, with the goal of strengthening the customer-service provider relationship.
The Internet empowers the customer. The Internet user has the opportunity to switch the suppliers with several mouse clicks, to compare price and products on a worldwide basis, and to select without external pressure the best available offer. The winning combination of low-price/high-quality product does not work properly on the Internet because the same offer may be available to hundreds of other online retailers. The only possibility to increase the competitive advantage of online retailing is to create not only product-related satisfaction, but also customer-firm relationship satisfaction.

The implementation of customer relationship management (CRM) represents the key to increasing customer loyalty in the digital environment.
Besides the necessity of CRM systems in online businesses, the Internet also offers the possibility of implementing effective customer management operations through the use of complex IT applications (e.g., database software, customer management applications).

Consequently, the selection of CRM applications needs to be strategic and based on relevant criteria for implementation to stand a chance of success. These criteria will include functionality, company strategy, legacy back office systems, and application architecture. Current classification of CRM applications identifies three groupings:

  1. Operational CRM products – for improving customer service, online marketing, automating sales force, etc.
  2. Analytical CRM products – for building data warehouses, improving relationships, analyzing data, etc.
  3. Collaborative CRM products – for building online communities, developing business-to-business customer exchanges, personalizing services, etc.

The implementation of an efficient CRM strategy requires the introduction of a customer-focused organizational culture. Customer-centric organizations are defined as being very committed to raising customer satisfaction levels, using customer data to increase sales, improving customer data quality, gaining a deeper knowledge of customers, and implementing customer-management systems. The key operations for building an effective CRM strategy include:

  • identifying unique characteristics of each customer within the targeted customer segments;
  • modeling the current and the potential value of each customer;
  • creating proactive strategies and operational plans, or business rules that will support the desired experience for the customer, starting with the highest value customers;
  • redesigning the organization, processes, technology, and reward system to implement the relationship strategies.

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