Editor’s note: Geoffrey Ables is President and founder of Customer Connect Associates, Inc.Business processes that gather customer information at every touch point, translate it into business qualified leads and push these leads out through all communications channels are the holy grail of Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Companies experiencing success in this area are using customer information across their marketing, sales, IT, service and finance groups.

Creating the technology to turn customer dialogue into profitable relationships is only the beginning. Creating an organizational culture that effectively uses this information is more difficult. Functional teams must be linked tightly in order to continually deliver new processes that add long-term customer value – thus increasing long-term business value.

So how can businesses start to implement programs that link all units and channels?

1. View your full relationship with customers

Companies need to be able to see their entire relationship with each customer. Most companies are divided along product, brand, distribution channel or other lines. As a result, they don’t really have a clear understanding of the relationships they have developed with customers. From healthcare to technology to financial services, companies rarely have one place where they can see a “360 degree” view of each customer. Because of this, customers become frustrated because they are treated like strangers each time they contact your business. And your business misses valuable opportunities to retain customers and cross-sell additional products.

2. Understand what’s already working

Typically, a centralized group decides what data the field needs to see when working with customers and pushes this information through sales force automation and call center systems. A more effective strategy is to find top performers in sales and service and interview them. Chances are you will find many of them have basic strategies that make them successful.

3. Ask the right questions

Technology today allows us to ask customers questions and store their answers in the “corporate memory” for use at an appropriate time. But many companies don’t ask questions, don’t ask the right questions or don’t remember the answers.

4. Determine the next best action

Businesses have many options about how to communicate with a customer. Should we sell a product? Should we ask a question? We only have this customer for 30 seconds – which option is best?

Business rules or statistical models can be used to choose the next best action and present it to the customer at the point of contact. Real-time decision making can be applied to alter the content of the exchange with the customer.

5. Create robust profiles

Even with the best technology and analysis, it is not always possible to perfectly predict what customers will want next. To alter the next action information, robust profiling and segmentation systems should be used. Simply put, when someone is talking to a customer, they should be able to have a broad view of the established relationship.

6. Deliver the right information

Sales and service channels cannot be treated the same as direct marketing channels. When a human is between the customer and the business, that human will need to understand WHY they are being asked to take a specific action with a customer.

7. Operationalize and incentivize desired behaviors

Many marketing organizations tend to focus on programs rather than processes. That is, they manually repeat marketing programs until they find a better program. The problem with this is that marketers tend to get bored with their own programs far sooner than their customers do.

Once a successful program is discovered, it should become embedded into the fabric of the organization and automatically triggered at the right moment in the relationship with the customer. In addition, incentives should be attached to these programs.

8. You become what you measure

Why are so many businesses obsessed with the bottom line to the point of underemphasizing customer loyalty? The trick is balancing the value the business receives from the customer with the value that the customer receives from the business.

Where do we go from here?

Customers expect companies they do business with to provide relevant information and a consistent message. Businesses expect to maintain growth rates without significant new overhead.

The way to achieve these goals is to implement customer relationship management strategies. Because these strategies require a tight bond across all departments in the company, a new approach must be utilized. This new approach is facilitated by the latest CRM technology. It leads to environmental changes in how your business thinks about and treats customers.

Geoffrey Ables is President and founder of Customer Connect Associates, Inc., a Charlotte-based firm that specializes in building customer relationships through technology enabled marketing and sales processes that create measurable returns for your business. He can be reached at 704-892-2633 or geoff.ables@cust-connect.com