Using CRM to Aid Client Relations

Developers extending software to professional services providers.

Maximizing the value of an enterprises customer relationships has long been the value proposition of customer relationship management software. But companies in the business of selling services, not products, have been largely left out of the CRM party.

But some CRM software developers are trying to correct this situation. Interface Software Inc., for one, specializes in CRM for professional services companies. It focuses on providing those companies with increased visibility into the overall state of their client relationships, or what the Oak Brook, Ill., company calls "relationship intelligence."

Ross Mullenger, group IT director at Numerica Group plc., a London company that provides accounting and business advisement services, echoed many services companies take on CRM.

"CRM software is strong on products and what your [profit/loss] and sales are, but they tend to be far too weak in the area of relationship management," Mullenger said.

But Numerica did find that Interfaces InterAction suite was a good fit for its CRM needs. Numerica has embarked on a strategy of growth through acquisition. As it acquires new companies and client rosters and adds new services to its offerings, its looking to sell more services to that growing client base.

"We need to identify and maximize the cross-sell opportunities that a larger customer base gives us," said Mullenger.

InterAction includes a marketing automation application that can deliver those opportunities to customers. But before that, the software finds relationships among data in disparate systems—billing systems, spreadsheets, contact management, even Word files—to track every instance of contact with a customer and who in the organization had that contact.

It can then develop profiles of clients and deals, check for conflicts in client relationships, and track skills and experiences of internal users to find the best employee to deal with a particular client.

"Our marketing and sales professionals have a suite of tools and utilities that can enable them to make better decisions that will bring immediate benefits to us," said Mullenger.

Berwin Leighton Paisner, a London law firm, uses InterAction to track all its dealings with clients—the work it has done for clients in the past; which lawyers have worked on what projects with particular clients; and what employees have come and gone from client companies.

"We need to give our partners a number of pieces of information so they can understand the picture of whats happening with the client," said Gillian Khan, marketing director at BLP. "If were going to work with a client and we dont have this information, it can make us look rather silly."

With 16 practice areas, BLP can use this information to find new legal services to offer to clients. It also surveys clients periodically to get a better understanding of them and adds that information to the InterAction system. Although not yet integrated with the firms practice management system, InterAction does link into BLPs overall knowledge management system, Khan said.

"Client intelligence is the key to being able to develop your clients," said Khan. "Understanding whats going on in the client organizations is critical.

"All of the contacts and activities generate pages and pages of information. You couldnt run the client effectively without having that information at your fingertips."

Client relationship management for service companies doesnt always involve knowledge management schemes, however. The Telvista Co., a Dallas-based provider of outsourced call center services, has a more basic CRM need: to make sure its on the same page with customers in meeting their service expectations.

"Our CRM strategy is whatever our customers CRM strategy is," said Mary Jo Lichtenberg, director of operations support at Telvista.

To that end, Telvista has deployed Witness Systems Inc.s eQuality Balance software to evaluate calls with its customers.

"We listen to the call with the customer, score the call and discuss it to make sure were listening with the same ear," said Lichtenberg. Telvista also uses the software to monitor calls and train employees to handle calls better.

While services companies are seeing some benefit from CRM, takeup of the technology may still remain slower than in product-focused companies.

"Most CRM products really are not designed for consulting companies like us," said Jeff Held, chief technology officer of human resources and benefits consulting services company Watson Wyatt & Co., in Washington. Held said most CRM suites have more functions and features than his company could ever use.

"Theyre designed for manufacturers and retailers with large product lines. Wed get very little out of them for the expense wed incur," Held said.

As a result, Watson Wyatt is not rushing to deploy CRM software.

"You could easily end up spending a lot of money that way for technology you dont really need. Its a classic problem," Held said.

"[CRM] is really not a critical priority for us right now," said Held. "Were a relatively small company with a relatively small number of users."