How a Systems Thinking Approach Can Improve the Customer Experience Don Breckenridge When you think about your business, do you think about it in terms of separate, discrete elements? While this is a traditional way of thinking about your business, compartmentalizing systems and processes can result in siloed operations and lack of communication – impairing your ability to create an awesome customer experience and delight the socks off of your customers. “Systems thinking” is an approach that looks at people, processes, and technology can work together for successful outcomes – primarily a better experience for your customers. It’s a way of envisioning your business not as a collection of independent processes, but as a holistic system of interdependent processes that affect not only each other, but the system as a whole. For instance, Apple took a systems thinking approach when it integrated iPod features into the iPhone – and we all know how incredibly successful it made their business. How Systems Thinking Benefits Small Businesses So, you’re not Apple…how can systems thinking benefit you? Systems thinking can actually give you a better handle on your business as a whole, so you can anticipate how changes will impact the customer experience. For example, say you’re considering investing in a CRM for your sales team (and if you aren’t familiar with CRM, more in this later in the post). The traditional, siloed way of thinking would consider only the impact a CRM would make for the sales branch of your business: Joe needs a better way to track his sales pipeline and organize his contacts, notes and follow-up tasks. But, if you used systems thinking, you might think about the investment quite differently: How will giving Joe access to a CRM database impact the rest of the team? Are there other workflows we can streamline or consolidate if we’re investing in a new technology? Can we leverage the CRM to track interactions with our customers as well? What about the marketing process? Can Mary, our marketing assistant, access the database as well? Should we look at a CRM that also has marketing functionality so that our customers and prospects stay in one system, rather than separate tools? Systems thinking helps you look at problems creatively – for instance, it may be possible that the root cause of a problem in one process may actually take place in a different process. As a more concrete example, say that your monthly revenue is down. That’s a problem, for sure. If you’re taking a siloed-approach, you might think of it as a sales problem. But, with a systems thinking approach, you might also consider that you have a problem retaining customers – helping you fix any leaks in the entire customer lifecycle – not just on the sales side. Systems thinking also encourages feedback, both positive and negative, from every department, helping you catch problems early, and capitalize on success. For example, say you are a consulting firm looking for new ways to increase sales. You go outside of the “sales silo” and meet with an account manager who has insight into what your clients need most – a 30-minute on-demand Skype consultation. You love the idea – while sales is building lucrative relationships with new clients, you can quickly increase your customer lifetime value by upselling existing customers. With companywide feedback, your customers get the best service and your team gets the most successful outcome. CRM and Marketing Automation Are Natural Partners in Systems Thinking Customer relationship management (CRM) is how your company manages interactions with prospects and customers. In many cases, the contacts in your small business CRM system come from your marketing campaigns. When you have marketing automation tools that integrate with your CRM system, prioritizing clients is easier, you’re less likely to let prospects slip through the cracks, and your customers enjoy a more consistent experience – from marketing, to sales, to customer service. Your small business CRM system, along with marketing automation tools help you adopt a systems thinking approach to marketing and sales. Information from marketing campaigns can be automatically included in your CRM, laying a foundation for a better customer experience. Finding a Small Business CRM with the Right Features A small business CRM can be just as powerful as what larger enterprises use. In fact, they can be even more powerful because they are simpler to implement and easier to use. And, when you choose a CRM that includes marketing automation tools, you can take a systems thinking approach to sales and marketing, streamlining your process for capturing new leads, nurturing them with compelling content, and handing them to sales as soon as they’re ready to buy. Your small business CRM system should also help you identify customer problems and create solutions efficiently. It should help you segment your contacts by their interests so you can develop solid buyer personas and better cater to your customers’ needs. A systems thinking approach can give customers and prospects a much more personal experience with your business, building trust and rapport, and ultimately increasing sales and revenues. Small businesses that want to understand and make the most of their customer base often invest in CRM. The right small business CRM solution can allow you to take a systems thinking approach to attracting customers and strengthening relationships with them. The end result is better control over your business and better anticipation of problems, better way to take advantage of opportunities, and an overall solid process for delivering a consistently outstanding customer experience.