Gartner is recommending hard pressed organisations maintain their investment in customer relationship management technologies despite the tough economy.
"Just because times are tough and budgets are being cut, companies should not think that means no CRM investment," said Scott Nelson, managing vice president at Gartner.
"Companies need to think in terms of spending smarter, not spending less. There are zero, or low-cost strategies that can be implemented now that can make all the difference, generate competitive differentiation and not draw the attention of the CFO."
Organisations that pull back from their CRM strategy risk delaying the impact of the eventual benefits when the economy recovers by at least 12 months, the analyst firm said.
Nelson warned IT leaders that there is no such thing as true "zero cost strategy". Investment has already been made on CRM systems which need ongoing care and maintenance.
However, Gartner has identified five low or no-cost strategies that Nelson said, would give organisations a "sling shot" effect going into the eventual recovery, putting them well ahead of the rivals who chose to wait and who equate CRM success with spending more money on technology."
Gartner predicts that CRM of the future will be about creating online communities of customers via emerging social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and similar Web sites.
The economic downturn provides a great opportunity to begin experimenting in this area, and Gartner advises companies to set up accounts on the various Web sites and learn what they do and don't do, and how users interact.
Once bought and installed, analytic tools can be put to good use during economic downturns.
Many companies have more information than they know what to do with, and now they have the opportunity to put this to good use studying attrition models, looking at the next most likely to buy models, and figuring out channel usage patterns.
While doing so, companies should bear in mind that customer behaviour may change when the economy improves.
Many segmentation schemes are based on psycho-demographics, profitability or account attributes.
However, a "down economy" provides companies with the opportunity to review their segmentation strategy and see if it really is the very best one that they could have.
Process is often an overlooked part of CRM and in many cases all that CRM technologies have done is taken out old, broken processes and made them run more efficiently.
Now is an excellent time to study customer processes with a view to redesigning them and creating a win/win situation for both the company — which gets greater efficiency — and the customer — who gets a "partner" that interacts with them in a meaningful way.
Organisational change is one of the most difficult areas of CRM strategy, but many companies need to make the move from product-centric to customer-centric.
In a down economy, with fewer distractions, many companies will find that this is the perfect time to start to address some of the organisational issues that get in the way of serving the customer.
These strategies will feature at the Gartner Customer Relationship Management Summit, September 14-16, in the US.
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