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Written by: Dennis MichalisRelationships are a two-way street. And your “customer-centric” organization may be too focused on on-coming traffic.The nature of customer relationships has changed in the past decade. Drastically. Ubiquitous technology—most visibly, social media and mobile devices—has revolutionized the way your customers experience and interact with your brand. Consumers have found their voice: it’s powerful and they’re not afraid to use it.As a result, the connections that consumers have with brands, products, and services have become increasingly complex and dynamic. As our relationship with our customers evolves, the notion of how we “manage” these relationships needs to evolve, as well.Research shows that the moment of truth—the moment your company first makes meaningful contact with a customer—is moving farther and farther along the sales funnel. So how do your customers become aware of your brand? How do they decide to buy products and services? And how and when do they actually engage with your company (and your competitors)? Answering these questions, and understanding how your customers experience your brand and interact with your company in the digital era, is certainly critical to developing an effective customer relationship strategy. But it’s only half the story.The other half of the story—the other side of that two-way street—is understanding how your company interacts with your customers. Because although customers engage with your brand, they interact with your people: the people who sell your products, the people who market for you, the people who provide support and service on your behalf. It’s these people who determine whether each customer experience is a good one.Managing customer relationships depends on empowering your people to do the best job they can. To represent you as well as they possibly can. To ensure positive interactions. Today, customer relationship management is about more than just customers. It’s about giving your people the tools to build lasting relationships with them.Rethinking Business TechnologyAn evolution in business is usually attended by an evolution in business technology, so as we’ve been observing observed the changing nature of customer relationships, we’ve also been innovating on the tools we use to manage those relationships.Companies have traditionally approached CRM or ERP (the technology) as backward-facing systems or applications: they track customer histories, manage business records and contact info, and enable the analysis and reporting that give us insight into customer behaviors and sales performance. While that serves the needs of sales managers, analysts, executives and the company as a whole, it neglects the people on the front lines, the people who own the relationships with your customers. For too long, we’ve been asking salespeople and customer service reps to contribute to the CRM data stream, while providing them with very little value in return.At Microsoft, we believe that technology should be proactive. We’re developing tools that enable relationships—not just record transactions. Your business applications shouldn’t be about data entry and reporting, they should be about making people’s jobs easier. They should be about giving your people tools that empower them to interact meaningfully with your customers, and in doing so, helping them build relationships.Imagine customer service reps who know your customers so deeply they can anticipate a customer’s intent before they pick up the call. Imagine sales people who understand their prospect’s motivations and objections before they even make contact. Imagine marketers that look beyond the single moment of truth to a long-term, ongoing relationship, with prospects as well as existing customers. Imagine technology that truly helps you build relationships.Post originally written for Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/microsoftdynamics/2012/11/15/creating-new-relationships/
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