It's All About The Experience


A blog about managing and improving customer experience and improving profits.

Customer Relationship Management Not Just for Big Business
Customer Relationship Management Not Just for Big Business

Can Five Elements of Data Increase Revenue by 20 percent?

Several years ago, I tired of receiving emails on Halloween, Christmas, and Easter regarding filters that we use for our heating ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC).   The company sending me emails had a great business concept.  The Company sold just about any filter known to man through its website and had a good indexing system for finding filters on their site.  But there was a problem in our customer-vendor relationship.  Every six months or so when I needed to replace the filter (usually not on the holidays when they sent their emails), I would have to go through the process of finding the website, searching for the exact filter I needed, and ordering that filter online. I always ordered the filter too late in the filter's life cycle and spent far too much re-finding the correct filter.  

After receiving my second or third "It's Halloween/Christmas/Easter/4th of July, time to change your filter!" email, it occurred to me that this company -- let's call them EZFilter (not the company's real name) -- had five very important pieces of information which could be very easily combined to provide a computer application which would greatly improve the company's profitability and my customer experience:

  1. My email address; 
  2. My credit card number; 
  3. Filter Model Number I needed;
  4. Purchase Date of the Filter; 
  5. From the Manufacturer, the Expected Useful Life of that Filter.

I wrote an email to EZFilter customer service pointing out, by way of customer feedback, that the combination of these five data points created a large opportunity for the company. With this information, the company could use the useful life of the HVAC filter to send me an email telling me it was time to change the filter.  Ideally, the email would contain the date of my last purchase (a fact I can never remember), a URL link to the product (there are thousands of filters out there), and could allow me to easily login and use the credit card information on file to purchase the replacement filter. The application could further use my name and address information to save me typing that into the forms once again. A win-win for them and for me!

 Stealing Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

The head of marketing at EZFilter responded to my email with enthusiasm; however, later I learned that EZFilter was managed as a partnership and the head of IT had nixed my suggestion on the basis that the database work would be too costly and inconvenient at that time.

EZFilter illustrates an all too familiar problem in many companies which we will explore in later blog pieces.  Change requires consensus, leadership and vision, a combination which is often missing in the companies that need it most.  As a result, both the consumer experience and company profitability suffer.  My need to change an HVAC filter doesn't necessarily coincide with EZFilter's holiday marketing missives, making them annoying spam. Worse, every time I go online and search for filters is a new opportunity for this provider to lose me as a customer. In using search engines to find them (as many customers will) I not only increase the risk that EZFilter loses a customer to someone with a similar offer, but I also add to their acquisition cost, as I click on a pay-per-click advertisement from their search engine providers. In sum, by ignoring my suggestion the partnership managed to lower my customer lifetime value and that of the rest of EZFilter customer base by a significant measure.

Enter Stage Left

To make matters worse for EZFilter, has entered the sale of HVAC and refrigerator water filters. Amazon has raised the stakes considerably by turning a routine repurchase into an automatic one.  How?  Amazon has added a subscription purchase button to the product that allows the purchaser to receive automatic, twice yearly shipments of filters to the address on file, and billed to the customer's credit card.  In so doing, Amazon has turned a routine purchase into a subscription service. The exact filters that the customer needs are shipped automatically to the customer exactly when replacement is needed.  Amazon quite intelligently recognizes that it has little or no acquisition cost for the repeat purchase and that this customer, by engaging in a subscription arrangement, will have a much higher customer lifetime value. Amazon, therefore, passes along part of this value to the customer by providing a 15% discount.  Amazon may gradually eat EZFilter's lunch, gaining market share while at the same time leveraging the customer lifetime value equation to squeeze the margins in the filter company's business -- all because Amazon knows how to manage CRM, build databases, and increase customer lifetime value.   

Examples - Small Companies With CRM Wins

Moving the more positive examples, here are some instances where small and medium-sized organizations have used CRM successfully to increase the value of their businesses and the effectiveness of their fundraising:

  1. A dental practice could increase revenue by many tens of thousands of dollars a year by "saving" one or two no-shows a day.1 With this knowledge, a dentist uses data about her customers and her schedule to send out text messages confirming appointments2. The messages go out a week before the appointment and then again, the day of the appointment. These messages allow the patient to reschedule by calling in at the number on the text message or through a link that can be used on the smartphone. These automatic messages relieve the dentists' administrative assistant from making lots of outbound calls and focusing on other tasks in the office. The number of missed appointments is down dramatically, as well. This increases revenue to the practice and makes the dental group more profitable. Customers like me are happier too!3
  2. A dry cleaner uses an industry-specific CRM system to log clothing dropped off for cleaning by customers. The system tracks new customers and old customers alike in their use of the dry cleaners.  And the system is smart enough to notice if a customer fails to come back in with additional dry-cleaning in a 60-day period. It sends an automatic email from customer service noting that the customer has not returned, and asking what the customer thought of the job the dry cleaner did.  This follow up email allows the dry cleaner to watch defecting customers and address any problems that have arisen in its services.4
  3. An equine veterinarian's multi-office practice needed a system that can take and store patient notes, track payments, share medical histories, monitor accounts receivable, and communicate with clients from where their patients are -- barns located across a multi-county region.  The practice moved to a cloud-based CRM system specially designed for veterinarians and outfitted its trucks with Internet hot spots.  The veterinarians and clients alike have commented on the simple, easy to understand the layout of invoices/medical records and the user is saving significant postage and labor costs by sending all communications electronically5!
  4. The Jane Goodall Institute, an International Institute for the study and protection of wildlife, had increasing challenges raising money online with web-based appeals due to an old website.  The problems included slow time to go live for online content, little or no reporting, and minimal budget for coordination of all the organization's needs. The system licensed a website (Drupal(R)) and CRM system (CiviCRM(R)) specifically designed for nonprofits.  The reported results were growth in their email list by 300 percent; a decrease in opt-outs by 70 percent, and online revenue/donation increase that delivered an overall ROI of 500%.  The back-end CRM system served (CiviCRM(R)) to focus efforts on increasing donations and marketing, not web maintenance6.

Each of the examples above shows a use of customer relationship management (CRM) system in a small business or nonprofit setting to improve customer experience and profitability or outreach.  

Keep It Simple at First - The Most Important Thing is to Get Started

 Why should we bother with this exercise, you ask?   Wharton Marketing Professor, Peter Fader, makes the important distinction between companies that are, "customer-centric," and "product-centric." Dr. Fader starts his course with a playful discussion of which companies are Customer Centric.  In his book, Customer Centricity, he argues that truly customer-centric companies are those which know enough about their customers to differentiate their approach and offering to target and serve those customers who are profitable to them. At the center of this "customer-centric" model are customer relationship management and customer lifetime value:


The first step of CRM is to keep it simple. Start with simple data and then add simple queries that you want to make on that data, keeping the operational parts around it simple. Then you can build up and add complexity as the company has a genuine need for it. CRM has gotten kind of a bad reputation. I think it's undeserved. I don't think it is the fault of CRM or the vendors that sell CRM systems; the companies that are bringing it in are biting off more than they can chew in many cases.7

Dr. Fader's cautionary remarks regarding CRM Systems are very well taken. System vendors have incentives, financial and otherwise, to sell users as many modules as possible. For a small business, any CRM or big data solution must work on a standalone basis.   Don't be afraid to begin creating a database in Excel or Access.  When you do step up to a more sophisticated CRM, while systems vendors provide entire company enterprise solutions, be careful not to try to do too much too soon.  It is wise to start with the basics, make sure you have clean data, and focus on understanding a few basic questions about who your customers are, why they buy from you, what they want to buy again, and how you can attract more people like them. Start with simple, practical opportunities to understand your customers and key customer segments; then drive internal efficiencies in managing your customer relationships; then move onto improving experience, reducing costs, and increasing sales. 

Find A Vendor Who Knows Your Industry

The above examples also bring us to a very important point about CRM. Just about every industry these days has some sort of CRM offering that is tailored to the unique needs of the business or nonprofit. The case study provided by the software dental practice cited above is just one example. If you are a member of a large but somewhat specialized vertical, say you are a veterinarian, for example, be sure to search out CRM systems that are specifically designed for your industry. These systems are typically cloud-based and will provide a great deal of functionality that will save your organization time and money. 

Further, those CRM systems with great penetration in the marketplace, for example, (SFDC), have very large numbers of applications to which they have already integrated, everything from email providers, to analytics programs, to data providers.  Often, using a program like SFDC, your organization can develop its own customer or member scenarios, addressing unmet needs, and building differentiation in the marketplace. 

Summary - Start Small, Think Big

Even a small amount of customer or donor information can be leveraged in creative ways to improve revenue and increase repeat sales.  Creating a Customer Relationship Management system does not have to be expensive or technically difficult.  It can start as a simple customer list in Excel or Access and
starting your CRM journey can be as simple as adding a request for email and phone numbers to every new customer interaction.  Getting started is the hardest part, but once started, it is an important step in growing both the amount of revenue and frequency of revenue in your organization's relationships.  We'll explore how we've used CRM's to improve client profitability in upcoming blog posts.




3 Laura Cox and Sarah Walker's award-winning dental practice in Knoxville, Tennessee using smile dental messaging solution:

4 My friend Don Holocek at Crown Cleaners in Knoxville uses a similar system.




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