Before customer relationship management (CRM) software was readily available, building service contractors relied on a variety of methods for keeping track of customer contacts. Spreadsheets, datebooks, even sticky notes all made an appearance — and, in many BSCs offices, they still do.

CRM software allows salespeople and customer-service representatives to track their interactions with customers via computer. Some packages are tied in with the telephone system, and dial contacts automatically, and display customer information and history when someone calls. A few packages even offer scripts for salespeople to follow when customers complain, or when they want to up-sell their services.

Early arguments against CRM software included price and complexity: Companies had to buy whole systems up-front, plus pay seat licenses and ongoing maintenance fees. Currently, however, CRM is less expensive and easier to use than ever, says Bill Price, the Bellevue, Wash.-based consultant and owner of Driva Solutions ( Part of the reason is increased availability of on-demand CRM.

With an on-demand system, BSCs pay the vendors only when the systems are used, or a fee per user per month, as opposed to buying a whole system up-front. These systems also can be accessed from any Internet-enabled computer.

Even though they may be comfortable with their current spreadsheets or calendar programs, Price strongly urges even the smallest BSCs to look into a CRM system.

“I think in this day and age, I don’t think there’s any reason to stay with spreadsheets,” he says. “Spreadsheets need to be modified and customized, and it’s really hard to share them.”

Also, he says, CRM programs are scalable — start with one or two employees and add dozens later, whereas companies using spreadsheets might outgrow the programs quickly.

There are, Price says, additional customer-level benefits to using CRM.

“There is a productivity advantage to have customer information computerized and stored,” he says. “It also increases your sales capability — there still has to be a buyer and seller agreement, but you can match up what the customer needs with what the company has to offer. You can bring up previous purchases and try to tailor your pitch. If a customer calls in and says they want to cancel, you can look up their history and find out they’ve been an awesome customer for the last few years, and even access a script you can use for recovery.”


Challenges and caveats
However, with any new software program, challenges will include training and buy-in.

“See training as a cost of doing business,” Price says. “You have to train on how to use the software, but you also need to train on what to do when you newly have this information available.”

For example, some systems display information before the salesperson even picks up the phone, giving the user only a few seconds to figure out who’s calling and what to do with the information. Price recommends training users in interpersonal and empathic skills as well as technical.

Another challenge is getting buy-in from users and management alike. Price advises BSCs not to decide which programs to use (or whether to use one at all) unilaterally, or to rely solely on their information-technology (IT) departments or consultants to make the decision for them.

“There needs to be a joint decision rather than an IT department decision,” he explains. “Operations, sales and support need to be intimately involved as well.”

There are a multitude of packages from which to choose, and vendors range from small start-ups to Microsoft. CRM packages can be found through existing information-technology providers, or by searching the Internet.