A centralized and integrated employee, customer, task and sales management system is essential to running a profitable business. Regardless of which industry you are in, you will need such a platform to handle your day-to-day operations efficiently.
Unfortunately, most small and medium sized businesses do not use a centralized project/client management system or CMS. As Internet technology consultants, we see the efficiency issues and the high margins of error in completing tasks these companies have as we work with them to address their problems all of the time. An integrated platform should be a custom platform offering multiple functionalities directly addressing your organization’s requirements. Here are some elements that we have built into such an integrated system for our clients:
Custom Functionality for Custom Needs
Out of the box, CRMs and project management systems usually do not work. The reason for this is the fact that various businesses at different geographical locations might need specific rules, workflows and functionality for efficiency.
Let’s say that you are operating a limo service. You have:
- 20 available cars at any time
- 10 luxury limos and 10 town cars
- 16 drivers
- 1 receptionist
Your system should be able to match available cars and drivers based on the locations of requests from clients. Furthermore, you probably want to have GPS installed in your vehicles and integrated with the system so that when a request comes in you can dispatch the closest driver to your customer’s location. You need to track hours, routes and customer requests through this system. This allows you to collect the essential data that you need to improve efficiency and customer satisfaction.
A consultant will need to know or identify your priorities, weaknesses and business goals to build the most efficient system for your needs, which is something out-of-the-box solutions can’t do.
Efficient Client and Customer Management
Think of a system that receives and processes all requests through the same portal. If you have a website and allow clients to make requests through it, those requests should automatically be added to your internal project management system so your staff is alerted to handle them quickly and efficiently.
Let’s pretend you’re still operating that limo service. Someone searches for “limo service Miami” on Google, finds your website, likes your rates and clicks “Book a Limo”. He specifies his date and time, the type of limo he wants, enters his credit card information and pays. That order will be automatically added to the project management system. The system takes this order through a couple of logical steps:
- Is the order for today? If so, the system checks the GPS, locates the closest available limo and sends the driver an automated text message with the new order and pick-up location.
- If the order is for another day, the system reviews all of the other orders for that day, the locations involved and assigns the most logical limo and driver for that order automatically. In the meantime, a supervisor can always double check the assignments that the system makes to make sure that there are no errors.
- Once the driver picks up the client he can send an SMS saying “Picked Up” to the system so it knows that the client has been picked up. Once the service is done, the system can place an automated call to the client asking how their experience was.
The options are limitless here. When we implement functionality like this, we are actually doing a couple of really cool things:
- We are automating the business and therefore diminishing the margin of error.
- We are collecting valuable data that we can use to make smart business decisions in the future.
- We are giving clients the right expectation, which improves our chances of a satisfied customer.
- We are building a flexible and scalable system that we can grow with and learn from.
Custom Reporting and Data Mining Capabilities
Data means everything to a business. However, endless spreadsheets of useless information mean nothing. The key to getting accurate, reliable and useful reports is knowing the current conditions of a business and knowing which elements to alter to optimize those conditions.
Using the same example above, data that shows the usage rates of every limo and driver is essential to the limo service. Using that report on a weekly basis, a supervisor or analyst can optimize and increase revenue by implementing specific strategies for that limo and/or driver. Also, data over longer periods of time (months, years) as well as data from other sources (weather conditions, traffic conditions) can help you optimize your revenue and strategy.
Data Logic and Integration with Other Systems
While an integrated system is hard to build, it can be very useful, especially if your business is affected by other factors. You could be in the financial industry where your business would be affected deeply by fluctuating currency rates. Or, you could be a manufacturer affected by the daily change in the cost of raw materials. In either case, your centralized system would need to gather this data from external sources and couple it with your internal sales, workflow and tracking data to give you logical suggestions to improve your bottom line. This kind of logic is custom-created using code. The infrastructure of the most basic system you would like to use must have API Enabled. API stands for “Application Programming Interface,” and it specifies how two independent systems interact with each other. So, if you want your limo service project management system to integrate with the GPS data from each vehicle, you would need API enabled on both systems.
Customer Support and Ticketing System
You will have to deal with customer or client support no matter what kind of business you are in. To really master customer satisfaction, you need to have a centralized system for dealing with these types of queries. Doing customer support through email alone is impersonal or doing it just by phone does not allow you to gather essential data. (Unless you want to listen to all of your phone records!)
The ideal approach is for your customer support representatives to use a centralized system where they can log issues, bugs, complaints, return authorization requests, etc. This system must have the following;
- Response time tracking
- Response quality rating by the customer
- A powerful ticketing system and priority based on the type of support request
- Ability for a supervisor to approve / decline certain requests (for example, returns, refunds, insurance claims)
This will allow you to build a name and a brand through excellent customer service.
A whopping 95% of small /medium sized businesses do not have centralized systems to track tasks and employee productivity. This is because businesses require customization that can often seem overwhelming from both complexity and cost perspectives. However, our research shows that holding employees accountable for their tasks while giving them a user-friendly system to track their work and progress significantly improves productivity. Employees also take initiative in completing these tasks and solving problems when they’re within a greater integrated system.
Time Allocation and Profitability
With the above idea in mind, logging tasks and milestones in a centralized system with an advanced yet user-friendly time tracking mechanism allows small/ medium sized businesses to track profitability accurately.
Let’s say you have 3 mom and pop stores and 8 cashiers; how do you rate the performance of your cashiers? Your point of sale system gives you essential data, yet like most businesses, you’re not using it to your advantage. Now imagine your POS system sending you daily emails on your cashiers’ performance and your revenue. Then, couple that data with the margin of error (missing $ amount or merchandise). Add “times of day” data to that report and you’ll see how each cashier handled load times and stress. This gives you an ability to rate your cashiers based on performance and create schedules based on their ability.
While this example is very basic, we can apply the same logic to much more complex businesses and situations.
So, the perfect CRM with an integrated and centralized project management system will cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions with IBM, Cisco, Microsoft and similar caliber companies. However, you can build this system at a fraction of that cost with a little creativity and a few smart consultants. Remember, your business needs are unique and you need a custom system that is NOT HARD CODED!
A better solution for small and medium sized businesses is a combination of WordPress and Podio with some custom programming. WordPress is an open source content management system with great and secure infrastructure that we can customize, build and grow on. Podio is an excellent project management and CRM platform that has endless integration possibilities thanks to their extremely detailed API. At Optimum7, we were able to combine these two systems and build a centralized project, workflow, sales and team management system that has been extremely successful for us. We can tweak this combination so you can experience similar success.
I will write more about our experiment and methodologies to improve productivity in the upcoming weeks. In the meantime, if you’re interested in perfecting your CRM, please contact us. We can help.