Tech solutions that keep customers satisfied

Many entrepreneurs spend a lot of time and money trying to land new customers, an extremely important goal if you're trying to grow your business. But what are you doing to keep the customers you already have?

Customer retention is vital to a company of any size, for several reasons. First, it's generally more expensive to land a new customer than to keep an existing one. That's because wooing new customers often entails a higher level of costly marketing and advertising efforts and sales promotions to create awareness of--and desire for--a product or service. In contrast, existing customers already know who you are and what you offer (unless you're introducing a new product or service, of course).

Second, existing customers who are satisfied with your product or service are likely to become repeat customers. And they're apt to recommend your business to friends and colleagues. In our global, extremely competitive business environment, holding onto your customers has never been more critical. So how do you inspire customer loyalty? One way is through customer relationship management technology, or CRM. Technology may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you consider ways to ingratiate your business to your customers, but in fact, CRM technology provides small businesses with a wealth of innovative, effective tools that can help you build better relationships with your customers.

Do your customers prefer feather or foam pillows?

At a high level, CRM technology is designed to improve customer satisfaction by enabling a business to better understand its customers, their habits and their needs. CRM technology for smaller businesses is usually available as a web-based tool, PC software applications or software plug-ins that link a CRM program to other applications.

CRM technology is most often used by employees who interface directly with customers, such as sales and customer service reps. Data gathered from CRM tools is also analyzed by business owners to identify levels of customer satisfaction, buying patterns, the success (or lack thereof) of a particular marketing or sales promotion with customers, and more.

A general-purpose CRM software program for small businesses may cost about US$200 for one or multiple users. The software may combine a contact management database with tools for tracking all forms of customer contact, such as phone calls, letters and e-mails; forecasting and tracking sales opportunities; scheduling calls and meetings with customers; and generating reports on customer activities.

In addition, there are CRM software programs available that are aimed at particular industries. For instance, tech companies have developed CRM packages specifically for the hospitality industry, to enable small and large hotels alike to track guests' room preferences, among other things. Front desk clerks, the concierge, housekeeping staff and others can input details into a hotel's CRM database, such as a particular guest's preference for foam (vs. feather) pillows. That information is used to build customer profiles that the hotel staff can tap into in order to give returning guests special attention--and that helps improve loyalty.

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Peter Alexander

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