Vendors such as Microsoft and Salesforce.com have developed IP-based customer relationship management (CRM) solutions designed for the needs and budgets of small and midsize businesses, allowing these businesses to collect, organize, analyze, and disseminate information about customers, including purchases and returns, buying habits and behaviors, preferences and anecdotal information, and service history and contracts.
With CRM running on a network platform, small and midsize businesses can also monitor business activity and employee performance across the entire company and use that information to improve the customer experience. For example, managers can analyze call duration and first-call resolution in a contact center to optimize staffing levels, or improve billing and invoice tracking.
Now here is where the power of a converged network really shines: By combining unified communications and CRM, small and midsize businesses can deliver customer-contact information to the screen of any IP telephone on the network. Employees in any department, such as accounting or shipping/receiving, can view the latest customer information and better answer customer inquiries or take advantage of cross-sell and up-sell opportunities. Small and midsize businesses can provide the same information to remote workers to extend their customer-facing capabilities beyond the confines of traditional offices, improving operational efficiencies and providing strategic opportunities not before available.
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A Shared View
ERP solutions designed and priced for small and midsize businesses are also now emerging, and they have enormous potential to help small and midsize businesses enhance customer interactions by providing customer-facing agents with appropriate supply chain information. ERP systems help companies better communicate with vendors and suppliers, track orders more easily, and coordinate manufacturing, inventory, and shipping among many different locations simultaneously. Using the network to standardize supply chain information flow can save time, increase efficiency, and empower employees throughout your organization to better address customer needs.
No longer necessary are proprietary, standalone ERP systems -- traditionally a costly alternative for resource-strapped small and midsize businesses. Along with CRM and unified communications, ERP becomes affordable for small and midsize businesses when everything shares the same standards-based IP network.
A Natural Advantage
Small and midsize businesses never lost their advantage over larger competitors -- they are, by nature, closer and more in tune with their customers. The recognition of this by large enterprises -- and the innovative network-based applications pioneered to help them compensate -- has now come full circle to benefit small and midsize businesses. With the SMB-focused solutions now available to help smaller businesses provide the type of customer interactions customers now demand, their ability to take advantage of their closeness becomes even more distinct.
Doug Dennerline is senior VP of US Commercial Sales for Cisco Systems Inc.