Before we even begin to talk about the system side of CRM, we should breeze through a quick overview of what exactly CRM is and what it essentially means. You cannot read a magazine, business journal, trade publication or newspaper without seeing this term thrown around like crazy.

CRM—Customer Relationship Management—is, at its core, a mindset. It is the routine practice of placing the wants and needs of customers at the forefront of business. This theory has grown into an industry of itself and as with all new trends is driven by sophisticated software programs that help companies easily implement this management strategy. In a nutshell, CRM is all about finding and retaining customers. Sounds like a mouthful, but the underlying theory does actually make sense. Customers as the No. 1 priority ... last time we checked, that was what business has always been about (or should have been).

There is one major point to the whole CRM phenomenon that not a lot of people like to talk about: no matter how sophisticated the software and its applications are, CRM is a mindset. Actually, not understanding it and lack of willingness to adapt are two of the most common reasons CRM fails.

Some of the most common functions of CRM systems include instant access to sales, marketing and customer information. It is the “instant” part of this equation that dictates the strength of the overall voice/data system. For it is these two critical systems that essentially operate as the backbone of CRM. We all know that the expensive, multifaceted software suites that run CRM are vital, but if the network itself is not up to speed (no pun intended), then the functionality just will not be up to par.

Other elements of CRM include things such as call centers, Web-enabled customer access to information (generally via the usage of an extranet), automated voice response systems and call routing. In fact, a lot of these functions are accomplished through IP telephony. This is why you see a lot of IP manufacturers also promoting CRM software. Mainly it is because they know the importance of voice and data communications in the ever-present pursuit of customer satisfaction. The CRM system must be fully and seamlessly integrated into all other operating systems, and to top it all off, one better be sure that the structured cabling in place has enough power to handle all of that data transfer.

Once we start to look at the structured cabling end of this hot topic, other factors such as cable management and maintenance become increasingly important as well. The sheer and vast amount of cable runs required to host such things as call centers could baffle even the most seasoned of electrical contractors. Add to that the importance of the electrical system itself to power the whole mess and it starts to make even more sense as to why electrical contractors need to be aware of CRM.

Since data is the key to the whole thing, it makes complete sense to combine voice, data and video capabilities into one, which is probably why companies that have heavily invested in CRM utilize VoIP (Voice over IP) so that advanced functions such as switching, call routing, network services and the like can all be simultaneously used.

Perhaps one of the most interesting theories among CRM gurus is the personalization and routing of customer calls. This actually combines voice and data capabilities. The way it generally works is that a customer calls in and either gives basic information to a live attendant or they enter a customer account number or another identifying piece of information. That triggers the software to pull up all customer information. From that point, it is determined to whom the call should be routed.

It may sound a lot like what has always been done manually in the past, but the CRM software streamlines and simplifies the process. This is all done in an attempt to further satisfy the customer.

Understanding some of the elements that are the underlying, driving factors of CRM makes it that much easier for electrical contractors to understand just what exactly it is their customer’s want. Nowadays, when there seem to be acronyms for absolutely everything, there are certain ones that have just really taken off. CRM seems to be here to stay, guess so since some companies have invested millions in high-tech CRM software packages. Talk about investing in a new way to do business. EC

STONG-MICHAS, a central Pennsylvania-based freelance writer, can be reached via e-mail at JenLeahS@aol.com.