The Age of Marketing has undergone a profound paradigm change over the last few decades. Instead of advertising and product driving the market, globalism has both shrunk the borders of economics and made products far more available worldwide. With this availability of production and shipping comes the inevitable -- hyper competition. What then, are organizations to do to keep their sales and marketing edge? Because of the number of choices today's consumers have, the organization must differentiate itself in some manner that appeals to a specific customer base -- and to hope that base is large enough to fulfill its internet profit needs. The answer for many organizations has been the development of enhanced customer management systems, collectively known as e-CRM (electronic customer relations management). This powerful tool organizes the individual organization's customers, uses appropriate contact and data manning protocols, and amasses information in a way that allows the organization to make better decisions that actively involve its customers. This report reviews one such study on eCRM, the way the authors view the model, and the usefulness in the marketplace.
eCRM (Electronic Customer Relations Management) is derived from E-Commerce, or the sales and marketing of goods and services over a net environment (intranet, extranet and internet). In its most basic form, eCRM concerns the ways of managing relationships with clients and customers using information technology and integrating that technology into all aspects of marketing in order to fulfill their needs best. The power, of course, is that the technical data available. eCRM is designed to not only forge relationship marketing, but to allow companies to more profitably address the needs of its major customer base in a dynamic and proactive manner, necessary due to the tremendous competition in the marketplace (Chen & Chen 2004).
This paper will provide a critical analysis of the journal article, Exploring the success factors of eCRM strategies in practice, by authors Chen and Chen. This article was published in July, 2004 in the Journal of Database Marketing and Customer Strategy Management.
2.0 Review of the Literature
Essentially, eCRM is relationship marketing modernized. This is the way to attract, maintain and enhance customer relationships by means of finding out and exploiting their needs and forming a more meaningful dialog with, at least, the top customers within any given organization (McKenna 1993). Relationship marketing is not new, but became formalized in the post-1970s world in which global competition increased to the point that most businesses acknowledged that the customer had far more power and impact on the strategic direction of the company than ever before. In fact, the essential difference between relationship marketing and eCRM is that relationship marketing does not require the use of technology, while information technology and management is essential for eCRM (Ryals & Payne 2001).
eCRM is focused on effectively managing and growing divergent relationships with customers and communicating with them on a regular, and individual basis. The basis for this paradigm is that modern companies know that there are many choices for their clients, and many drivers for the customer purchase decision. Since customers vary drastically in their behavior, desire, and responsiveness to marketing, it is important to find the very best and most efficacious means for direct focus on the needs of the customer (Zeithaml 2001).
Chen and Chen examined 180 companies using an empirical survey along with in-depth interviews of 36 firms. They selected industries that were most likely to employee CRM techniques (retail management, hospitality, financial services, consumer electronics, media, etc.). They also tried to hone their choices into fields that were extremely competitive and then further delineated their choices based on company revenue. The authors broke the interviews into stages and collected both qualitative and quantitative data, multiple respondents per firm, and a statistical process of data triangulation to provide the most robust analysis (Chen & Chen 336).
4.0 Discussion and Examination
Most managers of the firms analyzed find eCRM extremely important as a competitive tool within their industry -- and indeed, view it as a strategic necessity in taking care of their customers -- specifically in view of the competitive environment. All are quite aware of the choices consumers have, and how even the most innocuous of events or perceptions can have a serious effect upon the customer's perception, and therefore, loyalty to the company. Indeed, the authors find that there are both tangible and intangible benefits to eCRM:
Increased revenue and profit
Increased customer Satisfaction
Quicker turnaround time
Positive word of mouth marketing
Reduced internal costs
Improved customer Service
Higher employee productivity
Streamlined business processing
Reduction of marketing costs
Closer and faster contact management
Higher customer retention rates
Increased depth and customer segmentation
Protected marketing investment with maximized returns
Acute targeting and profiling of customer; better understanding of their needs
(Chen & Chen, 338).
5.0 Results and Implications for Future Research
Now that there seems to be consensus on the value of eCRM, software developers might look at the four basic steps to implementing an eCRM model and expand for smaller companies (e.g. retailers or sole enterprises). Along with this, the paradigm shift about customers may require further research to determine saturation rates, etc. -- as eCRM evolves, so will customers' perception of such. Will consumers come to expect a much higher level of service or will they believe themselves to be part of a psychographic profile? What will the relationship be between consumer loyalty and increased eCRM programs? Indeed, how might consumers respond to algorithmic choices that help predict what other goods or services they might enjoy? (Lawson-Body & Limayem 2004).
6.0 Representation of data
Chen and Chen vividly explain their data through prose, charts, and graphs. They find that there are four basic steps to implementation of an eCRM system:
Needs analysis -- how do the technical needs of the organization mesh with the qualitative needs of sales and marketing? What data is necessary? What implications does that data have for sales?
Design -- Once technical concerns are addressed, how will the needs of the customer translate back into the system in a robust and vibrant manner that will allow for appropriate implementation?
Application Testing -- Testing with stakeholders.
Rollout -- rollout in test market, elaboration and redundancy issues (Chen & Chen; see also: Holmen 2010).
Designing and creating eCRM systems is risky in that there is no typical customer, no typical business model that will adapt to each stage or need. However, that being said, failure rates in eCRM systems seem to drop continually as technology improves -- from a high of 80% in 1998 to half that in 2003 again to half that by 2010. Additionally, the authors found five major areas of failure using eCRM techniques: 1) difficulty in accurate measurement and valuing of intangible benefits; 2) failure to identify and focus on specific business problems; 3) lack of active senior management sponsorship or endorsement; 4) poor usage acceptance, and 5) trying to automate a poorly defined process. Still, 70-80% of good data may override some of the limitations (Chen & Chen; Turban 2008, pp. 330-5).
8.0 Future Research Recommendations
Since there is some discrepancy in the research of the actual efficacy of the eCRM model, more studies are needed to determine some of the variables and limitations of the model. The Chen and Chen study was certainly thorough in both breadth and reach, but was not set up to be longitudinal. Additionally, in view of the influence of globalization, more research is needed in how organizations in various countries and growth phases use and develop eCRM plans, and how they measure their effect.
9.0 Writing Structure and Format
Chen and Chen are thorough, professional, and adept at bringing disparate materials together both for the specialized and lay audience.…