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Messy CRM hurts start-ups

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Manually keeping track of customer details is messy, inaccurate and difficult to share with fellow employees. SANDRA SWANEPOEL, Vice President, Mid-Market Africa & Middle East at Sage, gives some advice on when to invest in CRM.

As a startup, you may have had a ‘little black book’ where you noted the names of your most important customers and their key details, like what sort of products / services they usually buy from you and the last interaction you had with them.

As your business began to grow, you may have started to capture you client’s contact details and other account information on spreadsheets to track them.

Manually keeping track of your customers – who they are, what they buy, and when last a company rep from your company spoke to them – makes it difficult for people in your business to share information across the team.

You also can’t be sure that everyone is keeping customer records up-to-date or that everyone has access to a uniform set of information. Or you might have a situation where your sales and service team keep a lot of customer information in their heads rather than recorded in an electronic database.

This is where customer relationship management (CRM) can help – it is a must-have tool for any business with a growing customer base in a market where your customer experience is what sets you apart from the competition.

What is CRM, actually?

CRM is software that you can use track your customer relationships over their lifecycle. It provides you with a single, central place to store your customer data as well as the tools to analyse your relationships with each customer.

You get CRM software designed for businesses of all sizes and specific industries. Some of the basic features you will find in a good solution include the following:

  • Customer data: the ability to manage basic customer details such contact details.
  • Contact management: the ability to track and plan interactions with customers, such as a site visit by a sales rep or a routine maintenance call from your service team.
  • Marketing: tools to segment your customer base and manage and automate multichannel marketing campaigns across social media, mail, email and the telephone.
  • Sales: lead generation and tracking, quotation management, territory management, and other features to empower the salesforce and track their performance.
  • Service: functionality to manage service interactions such as helpdesk support, service tickets, service level agreements and service planning.
  • Analytics and reports: these help you to analyse customer behaviour and profitability, the sales funnel, salesforce performance, sales opportunities, and so on, so that you can maximise profitability and customer satisfaction.

When to consider investing in CRM

Many Small & Medium Businesses think of CRM software as a complex product that only large companies require. However, as customers become more demanding across all industries, businesses of all sizes can benefit from using CRM to offer slicker, more automated experience to their customers.

Some signs that your business might benefit from CRM include the following:

  • Your marketing, sales and service teams don’t have access to a single, up-to-date repository of customer information.
  • You can’t get a clear view of your sales pipeline without asking each salesperson what they’re working on.
  • You’re not able to track the leads you generate and how your team is following up on them.
  • Your sales team keep important account information in their heads or stored locally on their computers.
  • You are not sure about the day-to-day service issues your important customers have encountered in recent weeks.
  • Your sales and marketing teams are spending too much time capturing information and not enough time selling.
  • Your salespeople can’t access and capture customer information while they’re in the road—they need to phone someone or come into the office.

CRM is a great investment in your business

Customers are the lifeblood of any successful business. Nurturing customers and providing them with an excellent customer experience will improve your retention rate and drive growth. This starts with having the right information at your fingertips to understand what relationship your company has with them as well as how it can respond to their changing needs and desires.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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