Concepts are all well and good but putting them into practice is often easier said than done. On behalf of HSO, Arjan van Beek advises organisations daily on IT’s opportunities and possibilities for improving customer intimacy. We chatted to him to ask his advice on the practical implementation of a customer intimacy strategy.

Where should you begin if you want to take steps towards customer intimacy?

“Many companies I visit have an ERP system for their operational processes. Multichannel innovations have been implemented and a huge amount of data is being collected. But what do you then do? The customer expects all the information on agreements and deliveries to be directly accessible, and that someone will always be ready to answer questions. That’s when you feel the limitations of your ERP system as an organisation. By introducing a CRM system alongside your ERP you gain far more options for serving your customers well. Both in terms of sales and marketing, and customer service.”

Ok, so CRM is the starting point?

“It’s not as black-and-white as that. First as an organisation you have to consider whether you do want to take that extra step, and if you are overlooking any options. Organisations with huge volumes or a focus on one or a few products often have a generic customer group. In that case you can sometimes get by absolutely fine with a properly-configured ERP system. But if your customer population is diverse, or you are dependent on just a few large customers per year, a CRM system will give you just that extra boost you need. I do have to caution here however: I wouldn’t recommend an extra, isolated standalone service to anyone. That’s when you again have the problem that data from one system doesn’t match that from the other. But a CRM which is fully integrated with the ERP, straight out of the box, will certainly help you achieve customer intimacy.”

So what is the actual added value in practice?

“On one hand it’s in the period prior to your customer seeking contact with you. By that stage the customer journey has already largely been covered. He has spent some time on your website, has called around, has scoured some of the comparison sites and so on. Based on a smart CRM system you can already help your potential customers in this phase. For example, with nurture programmes where they automatically receive relevant information. Or through insight into the platforms they visit, so that you can seek out low-threshold contact. We also call this social selling. In this way you’re involved in the process a step earlier, and you have a much better idea of what the customer is seeking. But you absolutely shouldn’t forget your existing customers either. They have chosen you, and you want to reward this with a good follow-up. In CRM you can easily log any appointments which have been made, and you can plan your follow-up actions.