Gary Grabowski

What is CRM?

CRM stands for customer relationship management. Essentially, CRM gathers significant points of information about your customers. It is a strategy used by companies to learn more about their customers' needs and behaviors in order to develop stronger relationships with them.

There are many technological components to CRM, but thinking about it primarily in technological terms can be misleading. A more practical way to think about CRM is as a process that will help bring together lots of pieces of information about your customers, sales and marketing effectiveness, and responsiveness and market trends.

There is no ideal CRM software package that will work for every company and situation because every organization has slightly different customer relationship management needs.

There are several things to consider when choosing a package.

* Will the CRM software support tracking and updating information? If your company wants customer service to have ready access to changes in customer spending habits and an opportunity to offer new product options based on these records, make sure this capability is built in..

Trying to customize an off-the-shelf software package later will be time-consuming and expensive.

* Will the CRM software package integrate smoothly with all platforms in use at your company? If you will have to re-enter databases such as client names, addresses and phone numbers, this will significantly increase the cost in the long run. Will it integrate with your e-mail/messaging system? Make sure that you can either integrate smoothly or import all information needed flawlessly.

* Is the CRM software package you are considering more than you need? An enterprise solution that offers 15 functions you don't need and will never use isn't a bargain.

* Has the CRM package been used at a company similar to your size and industry type? If it has been used for companies up to 10,000 employees and you have 150,000, it may not be able to sustain the volume of data and will crash or develop glitches.

What can CRM do for your company? CRM can:

* Help you develop better communication channels with your customers

* Enable you to collect vital data, including customer details and order histories

* Create detailed profiles and customer preferences

* Deliver instant, companywide access to customer information

* Identify new selling opportunities

Measuring the benefits of CRM

CRM benefits can be measured and quantified. Using CRM applications can lead to increases in revenue from:

* Reductions in operating

* A higher percentage of cross-selling due to offering a single point of contact with your company

* More success in attracting new customers and closing deals faster

* Simplification of marketing and sales processes by understanding customer needs

* Better customer service through improved responsiveness and understanding

The ideal CRM package will enable customer service representatives to review the account information of customers while they are talking to them and immediately be able to understand something about their needs, wants and spending patterns.

Making it work

For many businesses, the idea of implementing customer relationship management technology comes with a host of reservations. Managers worry it will be too costly and complex and whether their employees are ready to learn a whole new way of working. What if we build it and nobody uses it?"

It is the responsibility of management to lead by example and push for a customer focus on every project. If a proposed plan isn't right for your customers, don't do it.

Send your teams back to the drawing board to come up with a solution that will work. Your customers will reward you in the long run.

Gary Grabowski is the operations manager at TriLogic Corp., a solutions integration company focusing on IT Infrastructure. Reach him at (724) 745-0200 or info@tri-logic.com.

Wednesday, 22 December 2004 06:05

Improving your customer value chain

How does your company create value for its customers? Different companies have their own unique formulas, but much of a firm's value proposition is created in part through processes. Improved processes result in better value to your customer.

A remote access solution is one way to enable your employees to become more productive, creating more value and, ultimately, greater customer satisfaction.

Remote access is the ability to access a computer or application on a firm's Local Area Network (LAN) through a secure connection from a remote location. Executives and employees can access e-mail, files and applications from home or on the road. Network administrators can remotely manage multiple PCs and servers, and your sales team can access key customer and product information while traveling.

Building a solution

There are numerous approaches to remote access solutions. They vary in degrees of complexity based on the types of access required, but they all share two basic components -- a personal computer or laptop, and a connection to a public communications infrastructure such as the Internet.

For the home user, the availability of high-speed Internet access is increasing and is typically available through a local cable television provider or the phone company. Both broadband (cable modem) and DSL (phone company connection) solutions offer connection speeds that support the needs of the average remote access user. For mobile users, the basic setup includes a laptop computer with an Ethernet port or a wireless LAN card.

There are Web tools that work in conjunction with most of the popular messaging applications that provide basic remote access to things such as e-mail, calendars and contact lists. This type of solution typically requires just an Internet browser and a connection to the Internet.

For complete remote access to the corporate network, one of the most widely used and cost-effective solutions is a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN provides the user with a secure connection via the Internet to the corporate network. This type of solution provides users with the ability to work at a remote computer just as if they were in the office. VPN solutions come in various hardware and software configurations and can be scaled to meet the needs of your business.

Several types of users benefit from remote access.

* Executives. Executives have complete access to company information day or night.

* Office employees. Employees can't always finish the day's work, meet deadlines or catch up without staying after hours, and they typically aren't as productive during this time of day. With a remote access setup, they can leave the office, eat dinner with the family, then get online, finish the day's work and prepare for the next day. This relieves a lot of stress, making for a more productive and satisfied employee.

* Telecommuting employees. The availability of broadband connectivity in the home has given millions of working Americans the flexibility to better balance work and family demands, resulting in improved productivity and cost savings from reduced overhead.

* Mobile users (sales representatives). Mobile users have the benefit of expanding "hot spots" in public areas in most major cities. Airports, hotels and even coffee houses offer free wireless Internet access. Most major communications carriers offer wireless air card services that enable Internet connectivity virtually anywhere. Your sales reps can access customer data, inventory and order information, and can respond to client inquiries in real time.

* Network administration. System administrators can manage remote branch offices and remote users from a single location, resulting in reduced overhead costs and providing a quicker response time to resolve system issues.

Creating value through remote access solutions promotes customer loyalty and revenue growth and differentiates your organization from the competition. Careful planning, including a complete needs analysis (both user and processes), along with a detailed IT infrastructure review, will put your company on track to implementing a successful remote access solution and strengthen your company's position in your customer's value chain.

Gary Grabowski is the operations manager at TriLogic Corp., a solutions integration company focusing on IT Infrastructure. Reach him at (724) 745-0200 or info@tri-logic.com.

Wednesday, 23 March 2005 10:25

Upgrading your network

For years, organizations have used local-area networks (LANs) to conduct file sharing and e-mail communications. In the process, they have seen tremendous gains in productivity and profitability. Today, however, the network infrastructure is undergoing a major change and raising new challenges.

For example, businesses increasingly implement highly sophisticated software, including enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management and payroll automation applications. As a result, the demand placed on the LAN has skyrocketed, compromising network availability, performance, bandwidth and security. The emergence of the Internet as a vital business tool has led to increased congestion as most traffic heads for destinations outside the LAN, and widespread use of intranets and extranets has only added to the problem.

Deploying a network upgrade requires substantial planning. But to start, you must understand the existing environment. Then, you need to determine which new features to incorporate and how to use them to increase productivity and reduce total cost of ownership in your organization.

Documenting the network

Start by documenting your existing network. Document the physical and logical topology, and determine a complete and accurate inventory of the products and systems your organization uses.

* Hardware and software

* Network infrastructure

* File, print and Web servers

* Line-of-business applications

* Directory services architecture

* Security

While documenting your current network environment, take special note of areas where you currently experience problems. If you stabilize your network before implementing an upgrade, deployment and troubleshooting will be easier and you will have increased confidence in the improved network.

When documenting your network infrastructure, be sure to obtain both hardware data to document your infrastructure's physical structure and software data to document the existence and configuration of the protocols in use on your network. You also need to document the logical organization of your network, name and address resolution methods, and the existence and configuration of services used.

Documenting the location of your network sites and the available bandwidth among them will assist you in deciding whether to perform push or on-demand installations as part of your upgrade.

Security

A review of your organization's security standards and their implementation is useful even if you aren't moving to a new operating system, but it becomes particularly important when you are. Review security standards and procedures for mobile and desktop users, internal and external networks ,and dial-up and remote access accounts.

Project plan

Used effectively, a project plan can clearly identify specific phases of your deployment process and provide a clear and functional roadmap. While it is not necessary to follow your deployment process in a prescriptive manner -- as you would an installation procedure -- an infrastructure deployment process provides a conceptual framework for your upgrade project and makes it easier for your deployment teams to assess progress.

Many organizations already have project management methods and structures in place. To maximize the success of your deployment, follow a project management structure that is appropriate for your organization.

Even though your current systems may seem to get the job done, your company may suffer because your core systems can no longer provide what your key business requires. A well-planned and strategically executed infrastructure upgrade can save your company time and money, give you a competitive advantage and ultimately allow you to provide better value to your customer through improved processes.

Gary Grabowski is the operations manager at TriLogic Corp., a solutions integration company focusing on IT Infrastructure. Reach him at (724) 745-0200 or info@tri-logic.com.

Wednesday, 26 January 2005 10:13

IP communications

In keeping with last month's theme of creating customer value through improved business processes, it's only appropriate to discuss new ways to communicate, both internally and externally, through the implementation of an IP communications solution.

So what are IP communications? Simply put, IP (Internet Protocol) communication solutions let you deliver converged data, voice and video applications to your entire work force, regardless of location, over a single IP network.

Efficient communication is key to increasing customer satisfaction. By combining voice, video and data communications into one powerful environment, you can bring together your employees, customers and other associates for improved collaboration. An IP communications solution can allow faster and easier access to voicemail, e-mail and faxes through a single inbox, while enabling you to reduce telephone costs and lower your network administration and maintenance costs.

It helps organizations realize business gains by improving operational efficiencies, increasing organizational productivity and enhancing customer satisfaction.

The basics

There are a wide range of both hardware and software components that can make up an IP communications solution. While the list is extensive, here are some of the core system features and functionality.

These may vary by system manufacturer, and many options and software applications may only be available through third-party companies. A typical IP communications solution may include the following.

* IP telephony. IP telephony is the technology for transmitting voice communications over a network using open-standards-based IP. IP phones combine the functions of a traditional telephone with an Ethernet connection and optional customizations to deliver a complete suite of business telephony features such as call waiting, caller ID, transfer and conference calling.

These features can be deployed across any number of sites that are connected by a company's data network.

* Unified messaging. Unified messaging applications enable the user to easily and seamlessly access e-mail, voicemail, faxes and schedules via PC. Phone calls can be automatically dialed with the click of the mouse and conference calls set up by dragging and dropping.

This type of application allows the user to access e-mail over the phone and voicemail through their computer from any location, and send and receive faxes electronically while increasing organizational productivity and improving customer service and responsiveness. This type of functionality can provide increased productivity for mobile sales and service people and eliminates the cost and hassle of managing separate voicemail, e-mail and fax systems.

And it enables employees to be able to respond faster to customer requests from any location.

* Video integration. Users can access video conferencing and training right from their desktops. Dial plans can be integrated so users are able to just dial an extension in order to join a video conference or access a video based training application.

* Call center applications. Available third-party call center applications tie phone and e-mail systems to back office applications where customer account information is stored. When a customer calls into the center, the call center agent has instant access to the caller's account history and can deliver a more personalized and timely service. And, customers visiting a company's Web site can use new Internet tools to request assistance from a live agent.

IP telephony enables the agent to deliver voice assistance over the phone while assisting the customer online in real time.

The bottom line

By combining voice and data traffic on the same line, IP communications allow you to reduce the number of incoming phone lines, and for those companies with multiple office locations, it provides direct communications to remote sites just as if they were local, resulting in reduced long-distance charges. Moves, additions and changes are greatly simplified.

In some systems, when users change locations within the company, they simply unplug the telephone and take it with them, and the system will know who and where they are.

Finally, IP communications provide increased employee productivity and efficiency and, ultimately, a greater value to your customer.

Gary Grabowski is operations manager of TriLogic Corp., a solutions integration company focusing on IT Infrastructure. Reach him at (724) 745-0200 or info@tri-logic.com.

Wednesday, 31 August 2005 10:01

Going mobile

Mobile technology is easily defined as technology that makes it possible to work from anywhere. Solutions in mobile technology have been growing by leaps and bounds over the last year or two, so now may be a good time to explore mobility options for your business.

The workplace has continued to evolve beyond the traditional desktop environment as employees and workgroups are becoming more mobile. When your staff conducts business away from the office, they are losing valuable access to key applications, Internet content and communications tools. This separation from the desktop negatively impacts the productivity of both teams and individuals.

To respond to this disconnect between traveling workers and the resources they need, companies are extending network access to employees outside the office. Using virtual private networking (VPN) and wired and wireless LAN connectivity, companies are equipping workers with the tools needed to be more productive and responsive while working at home or on the road.

Mobility solutions allow organizations to become more productive throughout the workday by providing their employees with secure, wireless, high-speed access to the applications, content and communications channels of their choice.

Here are a few ways that mobile devices enable an organization to extend its traditional computing infrastructure to the farthest reaches of its business and to its mobile work force.

  • Personal information management. Everyone can benefit from having access to their contacts, calendar and e-mail from wherever they are.
  • Line of business applications. Mobile workers can have remote access to dedicated business applications via a VPN.
  • Documents. Availability of word processing or spreadsheet documents along with Web pages and multimedia data via a laptop, hand-held device or even over a cell phone.
    Mobility solutions provide employees who have traditionally relied on desktop PCs, planners, spiral notebooks and sticky notes with real-time access to important information, no matter where they are.
    There are many industries with high concentrations of mobile professionals that are already experiencing improved efficiency through mobility solutions.
  • Health care. Allows doctors quick access to patient information, and helps with writing drug prescriptions, tracking flow of drug inventory and increasing data accuracy.
  • Law. Attorneys can gain access to data from anywhere — documents, e-mail, applications, etc.
  • Real estate. Realtors have real-time access to property information, the ability to submit listings remotely and show virtual tours of properties via their laptop.

Getting connected
A growing number of hotels, restaurants, airports, coffee shops and other businesses are beginning to provide free wireless LAN access for customers access the Internet. The increased availability of public hotspots offers significant benefits for properly equipped business professionals.

Keep in mind that public hotspots are by no means as secure as your company’s internal wireless network. You should be sure you are logged into your company’s virtual private network before you access or send confidential documents over a public hotspot’s network. Usually, the encryption offered by your company VPN will keep preying eyes from reading any bits of data they might snag out of thin air.

Benefits
Transforming to a mobile environment helps in many ways.

  • Connect your employees to clients and critical business information 24/7
  • Increase revenues through enhanced sales productivity
  • Expand your workplace with lower operating expenses
  • Boost customer satisfaction by increasing responsiveness and face time.

When you take wireless to the next level and deploy mobility solutions like mail, messaging and work force automation, you will see increased mobility, flexibility, time savings, productivity, responsiveness and collaboration throughout your business.

Obviously, technology, people and business processes must come together synergistically for the full benefits of mobility to be realized. Building a mobile environment perhaps has less to do with evaluating and installing technology than with creating a corporate culture around mobility that includes behavioral norms and best practices.

Gary Grabowski is operations manager at TriLogic Corp., a solutions integration company focusing on IT Infrastructure. Reach him at (724) 745-0200 or http://info@tri-logic.com.

Wednesday, 29 June 2005 20:00

IT changes

In today's highly competitive business environment, one of the biggest challenges businesses face is in aligning technologies with business goals and ensuring that IT investments are effective.

Every organization is unique. Some do a much better job than others when it comes to developing business strategies and defining how they expect technologies to help achieve goals and objectives. However, there is more to aligning IT to a business than matching technology initiatives to business strategies.

Begin by having a detailed understanding of the business requirements and priorities. This will help you establish where additional functionality and systems integration can be derived to better deliver on key business objectives. This type of assessment is typically designed to leverage existing infrastructures to re-engineer, not to reinvent, the existing technical infrastructure of an organization.

It is important to understand how you are going to measure the success of a technology before deciding on the solution. This seems obvious at one level, but it is all too easy to worry about a perceived solution to the problem before fully understanding what it is that you are trying to accomplish. Significant gains in productivity may come from relatively simple changes to underlying processes and techniques.

One of the challenges you may face is keeping your technology aligned with the way you do business and in designing the business in a way that leverages new capabilities. Not to long ago, businesses could afford to experiment with new tools and emerging technologies. In fact, experimentation was almost a necessity.

No one truly knew the implications of Web-based applications and shifting business models. The most successful companies now work to create a strategy that focuses on meshing both business and technology to achieve far greater organizational success.

Some IT departments have become so immersed in the day-to-day activities of running an organization that they haven't had the time or the resources to learn about or even consider implementing new technologies, while others have a tendency to get caught up in the latest emerging technologies. But IT departments need to know which technologies are the right ones to invest in.

They also need to understand and accept that their success is achieved when they set the stage to accomplish business process change by building an efficient IT infrastructure. However, the IT department must be willing to accept joint responsibility with business executives to actually achieve a change in the business processes that support the enterprise.

If your IT department is considering a new technology strategy, here are some tips for success.

* Understand your organization's short-term and long-term problems and objectives.

* Define integration and support requirements.

* Define performance and scalability objectives.

* Understand both the limitations and capabilities of the technologies you're considering.

* Focus on workflow automation, not just individual tasks.

* Assume that the requirements of the business will change over time.

* Plan for success.

Companies are under pressure to economize and streamline, and at the same time bring innovation to the market. Knowing how to improve your business processes and knowing which technologies are the best for your company is critical.

One important thing is to do a careful review of your existing infrastructure and applications. You can't plot a course for the future without look at where you've been. By aligning technology with business objectives, you will be able to realize significant returns on your technology investments.

GARY GRABOWSKI is operations manager at TriLogic Corp., a solutions integration company focusing on IT Infrastructure. Reach him at (724) 745-0200 or info@tri-logic.com