Online Self-Service Solutions Focused on the Customer

2005-02-10
Reprinted from Local Tech Wire

Today’s associations, member organizations and other customer-focused companies are working hard to extend their reach and effectiveness, while looking to take advantage of the knowledge in their networks in service to their missions. Even with limited resources, they are actively competing for the attentions of their current and prospective “customers” – be they members, donors, and sponsors, or board members, committee chairs, and chapter officers.

Success depends on the ability to understand and react quickly to the customers’ changing needs throughout the lifecycle of the relationship while maximizing the efficiency of available resources. Customer-focused organizations need systems that can handle both back-end needs, such as the office support tasks of accounting and resource planning, and the front-end requirements of member communication, such as the ability to access and update their own records or register for events online. Association Management Software, which is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system for associations, satisfies both needs by providing an end-to-end solution that allows an organization to hone its ability to satisfy its constituents’ changing needs while maximizing resource utilization.

But before making such an investment for your organization, you should make sure to cover the following:

  1. Implement “customer-centric” business strategies: This step is all about planning. It is about putting yourself in your “customers’” shoes. See through their eyes. Discover what they want. Even anticipate what they don't want yet, but will. And when you've done that, you'll be ready to identify the best mutual opportunities for your constituents and your organization. Then you can prioritize these opportunities, pick the best and put them into play.

  2. Redesign functional activities: As a result of changing to more customer-centric business strategies in Step 1, you have to work differently. Otherwise, you’ll fall right back into the same patterns as before. This process requires that you figure out how to reconfigure your organization so that everything you do is designed to help “customers” and nothing you do adds unnecessary cost.

  3. Reengineer work processes: This step can basically be summarized as reengineering work processes so that each step is performed as efficiently as possible. The function of process reengineering is fairly obvious. In order to put the “customer” in the center of your business circle, you have to change departmental roles and responsibilities. And when that happens, new work processes must be adopted. Otherwise, you’ll do the same work you’ve always done with the same outcomes.

  4. Select the right software: Implementing an AMS system represents a significant investment before, during, and after implementation, so it is important for an organization to carefully evaluate its options and be sure to select both a system and a vendor that can work and grow with them. A few recommendations that have worked well for other organizations, including CED, are:

    • Establish a representative selection committee to collaborate on the project from defining and prioritizing requirements to attending vendor presentations.
    • Do your homework. For example, CED established a matrix early on that mapped features to requirements, compared pricing options, customers, first-year vs. five-year costs, and other comparison points that they continued to expand and fill in throughout the selection process
    • Maintain control of the process. Ask all the questions necessary to be able to truly compare apples-to-apples. This will be more challenging than you may think.
    • Determine total system cost. Be sure to have the vendor address training, support and maintenance, consulting, implementation, travel, hardware, third-party software and other less-than-obvious costs. It is helpful to work with the vendors to establish first-year, second-year, and expected five-year costs in order to address variables like upgrades, expected customizations, waived support costs for the first year, etc. Also, be sure to account for the costs of your staff’s expected involvement during the implementation process.
    • Talk to other customers. Request customer references from your potential vendors – and follow-up! Focus on how well both the system and the vendor adapted to the customers’ needs. Did the implementation go smoothly? On time? On budget?

Choosing to implement an AMS and making a selection from the vast array of available products and vendors is a big decision. No doubt a major undertaking for most organizations, implementing an AMS can help a growing organization gain operational efficiency across the back office, while more effectively leveraging business intelligence to communicate and meet the new demands of its user base. As one can see from the preceding, an organization’s commitment to a successful user relationship management strategy goes way beyond the technology. It requires an organization be prepared to make investments before, during, and after the implementation to ensure the successful selection, rollout, and adoption of the new system and strategy.