Benefits of custom CRM software

CRMExpectations from a good CRM software

In one of the previous articles we briefly spoke about advantages of a good Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. The key points mention there were:

  • Easy integration
  • Ease of use
  • Adaptability
  • Positive impact on customer satisfaction
  • Easy reporting & overviews

In this article, we would like to highlight the main differences of how these “good CRM software” indicators will play their role, when it comes to some popular general use CRM versus custom tailored (developed) CRM software.

The options of CRM choice

If you have reached this page, it means you already might have done some investigation in CRM software development area and know that there are:

a) off-the-shelf products in the CRM world, which you can sign up for and/or download and install on your own server;
b) possibilities to develop custom CRM software which will do 100% of what your particular business model needs;

The best choice of CRM for your business needs

Let’s see how the 5 key indicators might look like in both: off-the-shelf and custom CRM systems for you to understand better what to expect, if you choose to go one or the other way.

1. Easy integration

With off-the-shelf CRM

The system for sure will offer some kind of data interchange module for you to be able to import data from other systems. As one of the most popular data exchange formats still is CSV (Comma-separated values) file format, let’s see what you might be dealing with.

Let’s say your CSV file contains customer rows which have several phone numbers defined in one column, e.g. “+1 234 83647 6633, + 2 763 66644 223” but the CRM system supports a distinct entity PhoneNumber which contains fields country and number and is linked as many-to-one with the Customer entity. The example doesn’t have to be exactly like this, but you have to make sure that the mapping mechanism of the import tool can do the following:

1) it can be taught to split phone numbers by the separator first;
2) it can detect the country code from the phone number

Another example could be with addresses. Your CSV export file might contain address exported in one column and look like this: “Oak avenue 65, Arington, CA354623, Canada” but the CRM is designed to store the addresses in a structured way – distinct fields: Address, City, State, Postal code, Country. So, be sure that again, the mapping tool is capable of splitting the addresses coming from CSV files in correct parts and import them correctly.

All these issues can be solved, if the CRM software allows to design custom data import adapters. It might need some programming skills to create one but then you can be sure you will most likely be able to import everything you need.

With custom developed CRM

The benefit here is that custom software can easily implement handling of any specific case and be told to do whatever you want with the data, so no potential issues here.

2. Ease of use

With off-the-shelf CRM

System which has not been design specifically for your needs will just do things differently. In best case, it will do things like the most its users do (if developers have listened for the majority and adapted it), or it will do things how the creators of the system have imagined the things should be done.

The UI, workflows, feature accessibility and overall ergonomics are the things to consider, when looking at off-the shelf CRM systems. Probably, if the CRM system you bought can/may be modified, you can try to interfere and refactor the non-ergonomic parts in a way that matches your requirements. But in any case, you may come to a point where refactoring becomes too expensive.

A good example is integration of the CRM system with a VoIP phone system, like Asterisk or some other product which most likely is built on top of Asterisk PBX. Almost any CRM will offer integration, when it comes to “click to call” feature. You click the button and the system establishes a call between you and the customer without any need of typing the phone number on your calling device.

But when it comes to incoming calls (a customer calls you), not all CRMs will be able to show information about the incoming call (relevant customer details) in real-time. Remember to check if the CRM you are bying can do this.

With custom developed CRM

When custom CRM is designed, all requirements can be gathered, analysed and the best ergonomy of the system to be built can be planned in details. Custom tailored CRM will look and function as you desire and it can be programmed to show all information about the customer who is calling you before you pick up the phone, so that when you answer, you already know the name and history of that customer.

3. Adaptability

With off-the-shelf CRM

It is clear that the software needs to change together with the business in order to achieve the best results. It is no secret that it can be cumbersome to modify and extend software platforms which have been intended for general use.

Sometimes it can’t even be done without changing their core parts which can lead to 2 things:
1) you loose warranty;
2) you loose possibility to upgrade when newer version is released.

It is also not easy to understand system which has been built by somebody else, therefore changes, again, may turn out to be very time consuming which means – expensive.

With custom developed CRM

Those who have developed your CRM software know it the best and usually will be able to tell almost immedately how serious the changes you are requesting reallly are. Normally, it is always possible to refactor custom tailored software to meet the new business needs. Whether you’ll need to refactor more or less is another question, but the platform is yours, you know it and you can adapt it your way at will.

4. Positive impact on customer satisfaction

With off-the-shelf CRM

It is better to use rather than not to use CRM at all, of course. These types of CRM systems will offer you plenty of tools for appearing more professional in the eyes of the customer. But again, the devil may be in the details. Let’s get back to the previous example of identifying the incoming caller – if you have to ask the existing customer what is his name or identification number, it sounds just terribly unprofessional nowadays. The customer immediately gets the feeling that you don’t know him and he’s just one of your many customers. But if you can greet the customer by his name when the call comes in, the customer has the feeling you care, because you recognize him. It matters!

With custom developed CRM

Although the off-the-shelf CRM systems can offer many of customer centric tools that leave a positive feedback, custom developed product may implement very, very specific features which will be hard to get in general purpose products. Custom, scenario based e-mail campaigns, push notifications, API callbacks for customers who integrate with your system. All these features can be easily implemented when your CRM is being built.

BTW, have you heard of scenario based, customer interactive robot phone calls? Yes, they also can be implemented using Asterisk and Asterisk Gateway Interface (AGI) scripts that interact in real-time with the CRM system and decide what recordings to play back and what input to gather from the callee.

What about real-time chat where you as the CRM user/support member see all the relevant details about the customer and the customer on his side can use embedded chat widgets to work with the information in a way that it is immediately stored in the CRM, rather than just typing the information in the chat, passing it to the support and then support person using that info for processing?

Let’s go by an example – you have a support chat and some customer writes that there is an issue with delivery of some order. First of all, you already see which customer it is and if there is only one active order, there’s no need to ask the customer for order number. You can immediately get to solving the issue. But let’s imagine the customer created 2 orders on the same day and he’s now complaining. Asking the customer for order number means what – the customer needs to go to his mailbox and search for the number. Inconvenient, isn’t it? What we can do is simple – the support user clicks the widget for inquiring the order number from the customer. At that very moment customer on his chat screen gets the list of the orders made and can choose (!) one of them by seeing some details. Convenient, do you agree? Will you get such functionality out of a shell product? Questionable…

5. Easy reporting & overviews

With off-the-shelf CRM

All creators of the shelf type CRM systems know that reports is a must have feature. No doubt. They also understand that reports have to be customized to meet the needs of each individual company. Good. But now:

  • Can you create a dashboard widget in your CRM showing the customers who have birthdays today?
  • If you use CRM for your hotel, can you create lodging statistics export, required by state institutions where countries and world regions are mapped to very specific numeric codes (like in Germany)?
  • Can you get call recordings (audio files) easily played back in your CRM when needed?
  • Can you get real-time statistics?
  • How fast the statistics are generated if you have millions of leads?
  • Can the reporting correctly handle affiliate presence and leads/customers belonging to several affiliates at the same time?
With custom developed CRM

As in other cases, you again have to remember that you have full control over your software application and you can literally implement any kind of report you want. Whether it’s a main-stream reporting based of predefined filters or groups or it is very specific PDF export with map image on it, indicating how many new customers you got from which countries.

Real-time reporting is also a part which is not often met on general purpose products but which can take place if you build your own system.

In case your busines operates with “big data” or just has a lot of leads, conversions or trends, statistics can be pre-aggregated on time period basis and used later to aggregate larger period statistics or pushed to some analytics service which can then work on it. This is not something you will normally find in the off-the-shelf products.

Afterword

Although not related to the CRM topic, I would like to compare the existence of off-the-shelf CRM systems to UI themes which you can find on themeforest. They are really great, they implement the best practices and in many cases you can use them as is. The best part is that they cost way less than a custom created UI design. Adapt them a little bit and you are good to go…

… if you find what fits your expectations. If you find something similar but not exactly what you were looking for then, well, fine – you can try to adapt it or make some compromise.

The difference here, however, is that adapting a UI theme is relatively a lot less work to do than adapting the underlying functional system as the depth and complexity of architectures is incomparable. Large software systems sometimes may take several years of development till you implement every feature you wanted. Never heard of any web design project lasting that long though.

So, think of shelf CRM systems as a great opportunity to start with something but choose wisely.

However, when it comes to custom developed software, including CRM software, the best way of describing its capabilities is quoting Barack Obama and saying: “Yes, we can!”. Custom tailored software can literally implement all your business proceses, your requirements against user interface, export, import, integration with other systems, etc. There are, virtually, no limits.