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The battle between CIS, ERP, and CRM for customer centricity

Utilities industry is a perfect example of the spectrum in which the truly successful companies have understand the difference between what are customer centric processes, and what can be described as transactional processes - fail to understand this key difference, and your company will surely fail in the long term.

Begin with the mindset

The goal of customer-centric CRM is to optimize customer value. It treats relationship marketing as a continuum as opposed to treating it as a means to an end. Companies that view CRM as mere software end up automating business processes, instead of using the tool to optimize customer transactions and improve buyer experience (Source: ITtoolbox.com)

But what does it actually mean to be customer-centric? Customer centricity is not just about offering great customer service, it means offering a great experience from the awareness stage, through the purchasing process and finally through the post-purchase process. It’s a strategy that’s based on putting your customer first, and at the core of your business.

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Your customers are your most important asset. Do you really know them?

Customer centricity has been one of the key business topics of the last 20 years, however as suggested by the Harvard Busines Review organisations often lack the processes and operational capabilities to target customer them with personalized communications and experiences, … as well as knowing how to use their internal technologies to serve the customer, not the product. 

More often than not, customer centricity is considered a priority only for certain functions such as marketing. Despite some marginal efforts, the core organizational culture at most companies remains product-focused or sales-driven.

Managing Customer Centric Processes

Utilities industry is a perfect example of the spectrum in which the truly successful companies have understand the difference between what are customer centric processes, and what can be described as transactional processes - fail to understand this key difference, and your company will surely fail in the long term. Generalising across the utilities industry, three core systems traditionally share up the largest portion of the technology landscape: Customer Information System (CIS) and Entity Resource Planning (ERP), Master Data Management, and Customer Relationship Management. These three systems are not necessarily separate to one another, as CIS/ERP can take the responsibility of both MDM and CRM at the same time. 

CIS used typically in utilities are a strategic resource that reflect the utilities’ commitment to position themselves as competitive and customer-centric companies. The CIS enables utilities to be timely and proactive in responding to customer requests, market forces and regulatory changes (Source: www.electriceenergyonline.com)

These systems are traditionally designed to manage large and complex data sets and take the responsibility to manage the core organizational processes, such as billing and finance, meter data management, master data management, address utility meter-to-cash (M2C) process, and others. Often, we see that CIS is also responsible for customer service part of organisation, however this might not be the best practice as we discuss further.

Going back to the difference between the customer centric and transactional processes, the core organizational processes mentioned above cannot be customer centric since they do not provide a larger context. The CIS/ERP handles billing, finance, M2C, and market switching processes as transactions on its own, without putting them in the perspective of the customer – thus making them rigid. In contrast, within the core of truly customer-centric processes, we see sales, marketing, customer care, e-commerce. 

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These processes rely heavily on the transactional processes discussed above and cannot under any circumstance perform well and deliver set business objectives if they are unable to capitalize meaningfully on the vast transactional data levels generated each day. Effective sales process requires you to know the customer down to the finest grain, starting with information regarding their debt, outstanding invoices, past and current complaints, or if they are currently in any change of occupancy / supplier process, as well as any marketing efforts targeted toward the customer. All this shape the value propositions your sales department can pitch to the customers – failing to know the complete picture and you are likely to lose the (potential) customer. A perfect job for the integrated customer centric CRM.

CRM to the rescue

Sure, CRM is not designed for everything. CRM was and still is a buzzword because it promises many things, among some to support the know-how with scientific rigor, to accurately measure and improve marketing investments and dramatically improve ROI. While the advent of cloud-based marketing tools in the past several years has accelerated CRM, it has also served as the catalyst for the rapid proliferation of disparate data sources. 

While leading CRM tools, such as Salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics, effectively streamlined workflow and automated repetitive tasks, they simply aren’t built to manage, standardize, and cleanse data that lives in unsanctioned master data files in spreadsheets, small user databases, and websites (Source: www.destinationcrm.com). The correct application of MDM, data quality assurance, and appropriate data combination from all the data silos, enables your organization to achieve customer centricity from a 360-degree view of the customer. This means that you are able to provide the best customer experience across all channels, by allowing for a unified view of all customer touchpoints (Source: www.callcenterhelper.com).

 Organizations must start to understand that CIS/ERP processes were in their principle not designed to be customer facing – and as such they are far too rigid and inhuman. 

Organization should not rely upon them to achieve customer-centricity, but should however seek to integrate and bundle the process outputs into a coherent whole – CRM customer 360 view.

Domen Šmuc, Business Consultant

Experienced and certified Microsoft Dynamics 365 consultant in the utilities industry, with focus on the UK B2B market.

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