IRM: Managing Customer Relations & The Importance Of Data


Is your organisation making the best possible use of its data? We hear from Victoria Robinson,  Head of Marketing and Communications at the Institute of Risk Management (IRM), on why you’re still really only as good as your data.




vrprA few years ago whilst studying for my Masters, I tackled the topic of how universities, and in particular business schools, manage the process of converting undergraduate students to postgraduate.

As it turns out, the process is the same as any business wishing to move customers through the loyalty lifecycle, with the goal to create long-term value. Basically, cross and upsell, but on a personalised basis according to need – or as I remember from my Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) night classes all those years ago – target, segment and position!

1) Customer relationship management

In a digitally challenging and changing world – where customers complain publicly on social media prior to emailing a customer service desk – we need to be more savvy about how we engage, and this is where relationship management (RM) has a key role to play.

The increase in public communication platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram means even more time and energy must be spent on managing, nurturing, and analysing all customer touch points. This may come across as yet another drain on business resources, but there are major benefits to be gained, including greater brand advocacy, lead generation, and a wealth of data that can be used for targeted marketing and sales initiatives.

2) Data security

Though good data is becoming more readily available, businesses must consider the risk to the organisation of not having proper systems to manage it all. It’s a bit more involved than just having a database.

With an ever-increasing presence of cyber-crime, companies must ensure that data is secure, including both personal and financial details. Consider the reputational risk that would arise if your new online customer booking system was hacked and your customer details plundered and sold – this is just as likely to affect small companies as well as the large multi-nationals.

Recently there have also been reports of ‘CEO crime’, whereby emails purporting to come from the boss have been sent to the finance director, for example, asking to sanction large payments. Luckily in one such case the FD knew the boss signed off as David not Dave (as was in the fraudster’s email) so the payment never went through, but even a remote possibility of this happening is cause for major concern.

There have also been reports of faux suppliers (who have stolen clients details) and emailed finance to send payment to a different account number – not part of relationship marketing, but definitely a data risk issue!

3) The case for a good CRM system

When it comes to key account management, the old adage of ‘you are only as good as your data’ is certainly still true in the digital age. But the strength of good data comes not from how much you have or where it comes from, but how it is maintained and managed.

Being able to segment customers and position and target messages accordingly is a basic 101 in any marketing and communications plan – who are you talking to, what do you want to say, and how – but so many companies don’t seem to be able to integrate systems (i.e. online order processes, finance, events bookings etc.) with customers’ records. Or they have disparate files containing key client information which doesn’t talk to other key records, lay hidden when people leave an organisation, or are just simply out of date.

Clearly, employing a data solution will involve a robust project management exercise, but the rewards and insight will help to drive sales and understanding of your customers’ behaviours. Any good CRM system should be able to link any and every touch point you have had with a client so every department can truly build an overall picture of that customer.

The point is that you really are only as good as your data (including enterprise wide cyber security measures) – customers expect a 24-hour service, and for you to understand them before they show you their loyalty – brand switching has never been so easy.

4) The trouble with CRM systems

Some of the feedback from my research into business schools showed that the importance of RM is something that they are acutely aware of, but the costs, time, and staff resources involved in embedding proper RM systems are just prohibitive. This will cross sectors I’m sure.

CRM systems can be a massive financial burden, and many SME businesses just can’t afford this investment – the key is ensuring that any brief/specification has been mapped out properly and tested – and all departments consulted on what their expectations are – what do they need from the system? Reporting? Data mining?

From experience in various organisations I have seen how off the shelf packages are costly and timely to install, and often have missing functionality. On the other hand, bespoke systems often aren’t future proofed for all a company’s needs over the long term.

The key is to find a happy balance – one that not only manages data (in accordance with current legislation) across a business, but also is able to satisfy marketing/key account requirements, as well as providing meaningful management information to drive business growth.

Relationship management continues to be the way forward for businesses, both online and off, and an effective CRM system is the key to ensuring your data is secure and used in the correct way to maintain personalised, highly-targeted sales and marketing strategies. By combining good data with strong relationship management, you can leverage far greater lifetime value and develop sincere and lasting customer loyalty.

How do you organise your data, and is the relationship approach one that is embedded in your organisation? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the pros and cons of investing in a CRM system, and how you use it to enhance your marketing initiatives.

Victoria works as Head of Marketing & Communications for the Institute of Risk Management who have produced a wider guide into Cyber Risk security including issues around the management of data.


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