Any time that one of Mark Bonfigli's salespeople learns of a customer problem, question, comment or issue of any kind, he or she turns on a laptop, logs on to the Internet and enters the information into a special online serv-ice called Agillion Notes. The information then becomes instantly available online to any of the 11 employees of Earthcars. com Inc., a Burlington, Vermont, developer of software and Web sites for automobile dealers.
"It guarantees us immediate response to customer service issues," says the 31-year-old founder. "And that's what our company is based on."
Bonfigli's service is an example of customer relationship management (CRM), a term referring to a set of tools, practices and technology that helps people perform a number of customer-related tasks. Those tasks include collecting customer data in one place, making it widely available, iden-tifying the best customers, find-ing more like them, figuring out their needs and, eventually, turning prospects and first-time buyers into long-term, loyal customers.
In trying out CRM, Bonfigli joins Marriott, Doubleclick and an estimated 70 percent of large U.S. corporations, according to a study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and Andersen Consulting. CRM is a combination of technology, training and business strategy that promises to help companies improve returns on investments in marketing and boost both sales and profits. "Customer relationship management is all about building lasting beneficial relationships with customers," explains David Tinjum, founder and CEO of Customer FX, a St. Paul, Minnesota, CRM solutions provider. Among other things, CRM promises to generate better sales leads, enable faster response to changing customer needs and make sure everyone in sales and marketing has the right information, at the right time, for every customer.
That's a promise many users say CRM delivers on with interest. "It automatically means everyone is in tune in real time," says Bonfigli. "It's an extremely powerful tool, and that's an understatement."