As customers in both the public and private sector emerge from recession, an increasing number of them are choosing to invest in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, according to Phil Ryan of Ergo. “There’s a huge amount of activity in the sector,” he said. “A lot of businesses and organisations have either not invested or under-invested in their CRM systems over the past few years, or have put tactical solutions in play. But now that they have some budget available, they’re realising that they have to make some strategic investments, and one of the areas they are spending on is CRM. “We’re seeing a lot of tender activity within both local and central government, not just in purchasing, but in advisory- type services too.”
Ryan, who specialises in Microsoft CRM systems, said this demand for advisory services had increased significantly in recent times, and had changed the nature of his and his colleagues’ work. “Our role has definitely moved on,” he said. “In the past, maybe half my team would have been developers. Now, two thirds of them are consultants advising on business value – and the delivery of that business value – as opposed to being stuck writing code. “That was the role of an integration partner in the past, and it’s still there to an extent, but increasingly, our job is to help clients understand where they might go.”
Probably the biggest change in terms of the traditional CRM role is from a social perspective, according to Ryan. “A lot of conversations now which are of interest to organisations aren’t being had in traditional ways like letters in and direct one-on-one contact with a call centre – they’re being had on social channels like Facebook and Twitter,” he said. “Customers are increasingly asking how they can manage that. Perhaps they’ve got a single tool that is monitoring some of their social network, but that’s usually stuck in the marketing department, which is mainly concerned with protecting the brand. “They’re not necessarily turning that into action on the operations side of the house, or perhaps even on the sales side of the house.”
It is that gap, Ryan believes, that Microsoft CRM can help plug. “If companies and bodies can hook up various key words and tags that are related to their product set, their brand or their competitors through their CRM, then they are able to get a view of what’s going on across those channels,” he said. “That’s nothing new, but now they can turn that into action. So if someone is complaining about a product, for example, a company can turn that into a case in CRM and kick it straight off, or they can reply from within CRM back on that same channel – they can retweet it, they can reply to a tweet, they can reply to a post on Facebook and so on. “It’s basically adding a new channel or a series of channels to what traditionally CRM would be doing through a contact centre or email system.” This can be of particular benefit to public bodies and local authorities, according to Ryan. “Take the example of an event or an issue that is causing consternation in a local community. If the body or authority understands the conversations that are going on around the issue on social media, they can use it to frame their reaction and respond in a better way,” he said. “If a complaint is going viral, a system like this gives bodies the chance to respond quickly and in a targeted way, rather than ending up being asked to account for themselves to Joe Duffy on radio.”
Ryan is leading a practice within Ergo that is complementary to other Microsoft technology areas, and that aligns with how Microsoft is delivering solutions. “Instead of an individual product for a particular problem, they’re now looking at how they can leverage a number of their products in a seamless way,” he said. “Office 365 is effectively that strategy in action – you can buy a tenancy and then subscribe to the various services as and when you need them. “Those services can talk to each other without needing lots of infrastructure, spending or integration. That’s one of the main advantages of dealing with a company like ours,” he said.
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