IT in manufacturing: Connecting better with CRM

Boeing stressed that no parts produced using the new manufacturing process would be delivered to its customers

In manufacturing industry, Customer Relationship Management is still playing catch-up. But will a fast-changing competitive environment bring about an uptick in adoption? IT editor Malcolm Wheatley talks to Microsoft.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) isn’t new. Its use is widespread, and – as individual consumers interacting with banks, utilities and retailers – each of us is routinely touched and tracked by CRM processes in our everyday lives. In short, in little over a decade and a half, CRM has come a long way, fundamentally changing our customer experiences across many sectors.

But its use among manufacturing businesses is less widespread. While it’s relatively rare to encounter a manufacturer without an ERP system, a manufacturer without a CRM system is far less exceptional.

“CRM is still relatively new in manufacturing,” observes Cassandra Whobrey, CRM product manager at Microsoft UK. “But that’s changing, as early adopters highlight the benefits of taking a more customer-centric view of their businesses.” To see those benefits in action, she says, look no further than truck and bus manufacturer Scania UK.

Scania’s existing systems, including a third-party dealer management system, had always tended to view customer relationships from the point of view of the vehicle. While appropriate in a consumer context, where there is a one-to-one correspondence between a vehicle and its owner, the approach is less obviously suited to a fleet context, where the customers own and operate multiple vehicles.

Now, Scania’s new vehicle sales team uses Microsoft CRM to manage the entire sales process from initial enquiry through to vehicle delivery, enabling sales and marketing efforts to be more focused, and providing a consistent view of the customer in terms of aftersales service and warranty claims. What’s more, in-built Microsoft reporting tools have delivered powerful business analytics.

Cassandra Whobrey, CRM Product Manager, Microsoft UK
Cassandra Whobrey, CRM Product Manager, Microsoft UK

“CRM provides a window into how your customers view you and your business. Who are they? What do they buy? What don’t they buy? When did they last buy? Geographically, where are they? How do they contact you? The answers to such questions can provide powerful insights”Cassandra Whobrey, CRM Product Manager, Microsoft UK Cassandra.Whobrey@microsoft.com

“We’re benefiting from much improved business intelligence, and the solution has helped Scania to move from a vehicle-centric perspective to a customer-centric perspective,” sums up Scania project manager Harjinder Atwal.

And writ large, says Whobrey, this shift in perspective is taking place right across manufacturing industry.

Consumerisation

“For manufacturers, the world is changing,” sums up Jamie White, CRM business manager at Microsoft UK. “And what’s different is the customer: customer expectations have been transformed in consumer contexts, and now business customers want to be treated as they are in their everyday lives – with recognition that their custom is important, and that it is valued.”

Of course, after the worst recession in over sixty years, there can be few manufacturers who don’t already recognise the importance of doing just that. But, says White, there’s a world of difference between recognising that something is important, and being able to transform that recognition into a reality that the customer can perceive.

“It’s not enough to manage the relationship well: you need to manage it well, manage it at a high quality level, and manage it cost-effectively,” he notes.

“Selling isn’t an event, it’s a process – as is customer service. CRM lets you manage that process to a consistently high standard and manage it in a way that lets you build detailed insights into customer behaviour, as well as ways to improve your own offering.”

And the growing use of technology in customer-supplier interaction provides a case in point, adds Whobrey. At a basic level, she says, the customer relationship isn’t a static one, but a dynamic one. And consequently, manufacturers need to be much more proactive in terms of managing it.

“You need to know your customers better,” she insists. “CRM isn’t just a glorified address book: it provides a window into how your customers view you and your business. Who are they? What do they buy? What don’t they buy? When did they last buy? Geographically, where are they? How do they contact you? The answers to such questions can be powerful insights into building stronger and more profitable relationships.”

Jamie White, CRM Business Manager, Microsoft UK
Jamie White, CRM Business Manager, Microsoft UK

“Customer expectations have been transformed, and businesses’ customers want to be treated as they are in their everyday lives as consumers – with a recognition that their custom is important, and that it is valued”Jamie White, CRM Business Manager, Microsoft UK Jamie.White@microsoft.com

Second, there’s the web – a tool that is increasingly used in business-to-business transactions and sourcing processes. As consumers, she notes, we have high standards in terms of what we expect from a website’s interaction with us – from remembering us from prior visits, to ‘pop up’ help and contact screens, staffed by live agents.

“Few of those expectations are met in the business-tobusiness environment,” she explains. “Yet the insights can be powerful. Just look at Amazon’s ‘Customers who bought this also bought that’ facility, for instance.”

Thirdly, adds White, CRM helps manufacturers deliver a consistently high customer experience, whatever their chosen means of contact.

“Someone who is engaged with technology will expect the same outcome, irrespective of whether they’ve telephoned a company, written to it, or sent an e-mail,” he observes. “Yet in reality, what often happens is that the responses will come from different people, each lacking a unified view of other prior contacts.”

Competitive edge

In short, he argues, there’s a compelling case to be made for manufacturers taking a long hard look at what CRM can offer them. And, what’s more, doing so as an early adopter, rather than as a business playing catch-up after losing market share and customers to better equipped competitors.

Naturally enough, White’s also keen that manufacturers put Microsoft Dynamics CRM on their list of prospective solutions to evaluate.

“Over two and a quarter million people are licensed to use Dynamics CRM in over 80 countries and they do it in over forty languages,” he notes. “So you’re joining a community of over 33 thousand customers – large and small – spread across a huge number of industries, using a product that’s matured and developed to a high standard.”

Microsoft’s CRM business is booming, having seen seven successive years of double-digit sales growth. Much of that growth in recent times has come from customers choosing Microsoft’s CRM Online capability.

“What we’re aiming to do is help our customers to become more effective at serving – and selling to – their customers, using everyday familiar interfaces such as Outlook,” sums up White. “You can deploy in the cloud, as a ‘software as a service’ solution, or on-premise. And you don’t have to have previously deployed a Microsoft ERP solution: Microsoft Dynamics CRM is ERP-agnostic. So if you’re thinking about CRM, then get in touch.”