Improving Customer Relationships in the Laboratory

A customer relationship management system means a phone call from a client doesn't require them telling a potentially long story, all over again to each person they talk to. It means consistent and updated information as well as satisfied customers.

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Satisfied customers have always been critically important at BioTek Instruments, Inc. We recognize that high customer satisfaction will ultimately lead to increased loyalty and sales, while dissatisfaction could potentially inflict lasting damage.

While we enjoy the reputation of providing excellent customer service, in addition to the microplate instrumentation that we manufacture, we recently implemented a formal system of self-improvement so that this reputation could be further enhanced. It was an eye-opening experience at times, and we gained such tremendous value from this process that we believe others may benefit as well — including the laboratory market.

Though not always readily apparent, every laboratory has customers. In fact, lab customers can be found in a wide range of areas, from the far-reaching “consumer” to another lab down the hall — and anywhere in between. It’s important to keep these customers happy — if they’re not, your lab’s credibility could suffer, or worse, existing and future responsibilities could be transferred to another lab. In the normal course of human nature, problems do arise and errors are made, but ideally the relationship is as smooth as possible. So how can you avoid bottlenecks and pitfalls to ensure pleased customers? You may be able to find the answer through the implementation of a CRM strategy.

Customer relationship management

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a system or process that enables organizations, regardless of specialty or market, to manage, service, retain, and often strengthen relationships with customers. A successful and efficient CRM system encompasses the entire company, from the executive level to every department and employee. Through CRM, a synergistic effect is created between a pre-determined process, the employees of the company, and the CRM technology and database system creating one complete view of each customer, both internal and external, in real time.

Find your customers

From the scope of the laboratory environment, do you know who your customers are? It may be surprising to learn that some people in your lab have differing opinions. To complicate matters further, do you know who your customer’s customers are? Your customer may be the lab down the hall but do you know who depends on them? Often, you may have a piece or two of the puzzle, but not many people have the time and/or resources to gather all of the pieces to create the complete picture. An ancient and well-known proverb puts this into perspective. Four wise men were led into a dark, windowless room with their hands outstretched. The first wise man ran his hands along the rough trunk of a tree. The second wise man felt a large tropical leaf. The third wise man trembled as he handled a giant serpent while the last felt nothing but a warm, rudimentary wall. As they voiced their discoveries, confusion swept the room — torches were lit, and the tree, leaf, serpent, and wall were revealed as the leg, ear, trunk, and body of a large elephant. The four wise men nodded their heads slowly as they realized the lesson that they had learned — only through collaborative knowledge will a deeper understanding be achieved.

This is where we found that the process of implementing a CRM system can be helpful, and the resulting picture of internal and external BioTek customers was greater and more complex than we could have anticipated. As each laboratory and department identifies their customers, a CRM system can combine the multifaceted data into a comprehensive model.

Why is change necessary?

Once the pieces are in place, and internal and external customers are identified and combined with existing database systems, a hectic picture will often emerge (Figure 1), along with areas that require improvement. This is where implementing a CRM system becomes a way to improve and identify problem areas. We found that implementation of a streamlined CRM system helped to promote communication both internally and externally, and all departments now have access to the same information. Customer service and interdepartmental service were both improved as a result of this collaborative knowledge, which in turn, benefits our customers. In addition to improvements that we experienced, lag times can also be reduced through implementation of a CRM system, along with an increase in efficiency. Future problems that may unavoidably arise can be identified, minimized, or even eliminated before they become major issues. Finally, in our performance-driven world, a CRM system allows for continued growth of the company by increasing loyalty, reducing unnecessary labor and material costs, and saving time.

Gaining commitment

Dr. W. Edwards Deming, esteemed author, consultant, and quality expert, once noted, “What we need to do is learn to work in the system, by which I mean that everybody, every team, every platform, every division, every component is there not for individual competitive profit or recognition, but for contribution to the system as a whole on a win-win basis.” The same applies here; a firm commitment from executive to laboratory levels is necessary to create and sustain this broadbased and fundamental change. We realize that active involvement of the entire team creates understanding, empowerment, and ultimately motivation to plan for and then implement a CRM system.

Making the change

So how does one make this change? Once commitment has been gained, the next step is to create a specific and detailed goal. What is the known issue to address — purchasing delays, incompatible research databases, etc…? Or are you looking to proactively streamline communication and processes within your laboratory or organization? BioTek’s goals included improving real-time communication both internally and externally, creating tangible metrics for projects in various departments, and establishing a virtual profile of our customers so that complete information was available in one convenient location, regardless of the department that accessed it.

After identifying the goal, document it, and refer to it often to ensure that the process of change remains focused. It also is essential to create a physical map or flowchart of the processes that are being automated. This step in particular will help identify problem areas that may need resolving before implementing a CRM solution. Think of your project in terms of stages, rather than trying to accomplish everything at one time. Then develop realistic timelines for each phase. Depending on the complexity of your needs, you may want to take advantage of a CRM consultant for extra assistance. Creation and implementation of a CRM strategy can be complex and labor-intensive, and if internally managed without a true focus, the strategy is very easily pushed to the back burner in favor of existing job responsibilities.

When you have developed a focused goal and know what you wish to accomplish with a CRM system, look for a CRM vendor with the flexibility to develop a solution based on your specific needs, or, if your implementation is fairly simple, an off-the-shelf program might be all that’s necessary. We narrowed the field from fifteen candidates to four before awarding the project to a company based in the Midwest. Keep in mind during this search phase that internal departments will certainly be involved in the overall process.

Creation of the system

Once you’ve chosen your CRM partner, a Project Manager will work closely with the entire team to understand the goals, finetune the business practice flowcharts, and combine co-dependent and associated activities into an interconnected electronic application, allowing all information to be shared in real time. The pre-defined goals, strategies, and processes all drive development and customization of the information technology.

Summary

Results from improvements can include streamlined processes (Figure 2) resulting in less waste, less confusion, increased efficiency, and enhanced customer satisfaction — even from the lab next door. Although the results from a CRM system may not be readily apparent to outside customers, they’ll appreciate the prompt and high-quality customer service they receive from every member of your laboratory. Our customers have appreciated our proactive approach; they spend less time explaining their needs and more time working with us towards a solution. Our CRM system provides us with more time and resources to serve our customers.

Deborah Farnham is Marketing & Sales Operations Manager at BioTek Instruments, Inc., and spearheaded the implementation of a successful CRM system within her organization to ensure the continued happiness of BioTek’s internal and external customers. She may be contacted at 802-655-4040; or farnhamd@biotek.com.

Categories: Business Management

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A Nominal Agenda to Reduce Work Stress

Published: December 1, 2006

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