Off the Shelf and Customised CRM compared

In one of our previous articles, we briefly spoke about the advantages of having good Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. The key points mentioned there were:

  • Easy integration
  • Ease of use
  • Adaptability
  • Positive impact on customer satisfaction
  • Easy reporting & overviews

In this article, we would like to compare and contrast the main differences between any popular general use standard CRM package and custom developed CRM software, in relation to the above features

The options of CRM choice

If you have reached this page, it means you have probably already done some investigation into the CRM software market and know that there are, broadly speaking, two choices :

a) Off-the-shelf CRM products, which you can sign up for and/or download and install on your own server;
b) Custom developed CRM software which will fulfil 100% of your particular business needs;

The best choice of CRM for your business needs

Let’s see how the above 5 key indicators might look in terms of both: Off-the-shelf and Custom CRM systems so that you can better understand what to expect, whichever option you choose.

1. Easy integration

With off-the-shelf CRM

The software will offer some kind of data interchange module for you to be able to import data from other systems. As one of the most popular data exchange formats still is CSV (Comma-separated values) file format, let’s see what you might be dealing with.

Let’s say your CSV file contains customer rows which have several phone numbers defined in one column, e.g. “+1 234 83647 6633, + 2 763 66644 223” but the CRM system supports a distinct entity PhoneNumber which contains the fields country and number and is linked as many-to-one with the Customer entity. The example doesn’t have to be exactly like this, but you need to make sure that the mapping mechanism of the import tool can do the following:

1) it can be taught to split phone numbers by the separator first;
2) it can detect the country code from the phone number

Another example could be with addresses. Your CSV export file might contain addresses exported in one column and could look like this: “Oak Avenue 65, Arington, CA354623, Canada” but the CRM is designed to store the addresses in a structured way, that is, as distinct fields: Address, City, State, Postal code, Country. So, again, be sure that the mapping tool is capable of splitting the addresses coming from the CSV files into the individual elements and then import them correctly.

All these issues can be solved if the CRM software allows the design of custom data imports. It might need some programming skills to create one but then you can be sure you will be able to import everything you need.

With custom developed CRM

The benefit here is that custom software can easily implement the handling of any specific case and be told to do whatever you want with the data, so there are no potential issues here.

2. Ease of use

With off-the-shelf CRM

A system which has not been designed specifically for your needs is likely to just do things differently. In the best case, it will do things in the way that most its users do (if developers have listened to customer feedback and adapted the software to suit), or it will do things in the way that the original creators of the system have imagined that things should be done, which could cause you a problem.

The UI, workflows, feature accessibility and overall ergonomics are the things you need to consider when looking at off-the-shelf CRM systems. In some cases, if the CRM system you bought can be modified, you may be able to change the functionality in a way that matches your requirements. But sometimes, you may come to a point where customisation becomes too expensive.

A good example is the integration of CRM system with a VoIP phone system, like Asterisk or some other product which is most likely to have been built on top of an Asterisk PBX. Almost any CRM will offer integration when it comes to a “click to call” feature. You click the button and the system makes a call between you and the customer without any need for typing the phone number on your calling device.

But when it comes to incoming calls (where a customer calls you), not all CRMs will be able to show the relevant information about the incoming call, (for example, who is calling and what company) in real-time. Remember to check if the CRM you are buying can do this for you.

With custom developed CRM

When custom CRM is designed, all requirements can be gathered, analyzed and the functionality you want can be designed in from the start. Custom tailored CRM will look and function as you desire and, for example, it can be programmed to show all information about the customer who is calling you before you pick up the phone, so that when you answer, you already know the name and history of that customer.

3. Adaptability

With off-the-shelf CRM

It is clear that the software needs to change together with the business in order to achieve the best results. It is no secret that it can be difficult and costly to modify and extend software platforms which have been intended for general use.

Sometimes, the modifications you need can’t even be achieved without changing the core parts of the software, potentially leading to two problems:
1) you lose any software warranty;
2) you lose the possibility of easily upgrading when a newer version is released.

It is also not easy to understand a system which has been built by somebody else, therefore any changes, again, may turn out to be very time consuming which, of course means – Expensive.

With custom developed CRM

Those who have developed your CRM software know it best and will usually be able to tell almost immediately how serious the changes you have requested really are. In most cases it is possible to redesign custom tailored software to meet any new business needs. Whether you’ll need software changes more or less is another question, but the platform is yours, you know it and can therefore adapt it at will.

4. Positive impact on customer satisfaction

With off-the-shelf CRM

It is, of course, better to use CRM rather than not at all. These types of CRM systems will offer you plenty of tools for appearing more professional in the eyes of the customer. But again, the devil may be in the detail. Let’s get back to the previous example of identifying the incoming caller – if you have to ask an existing customer “what is your name or identification number?”, it sounds terribly unprofessional nowadays. The customer immediately gets the feeling that you don’t know him and he’s just one of your many customers. But if you are able to greet the customer by name when the call comes in, this gives the customer the feeling that you care, because you recognize him. It matters!

With custom developed CRM

Although off-the-shelf CRM systems can offer many customer-centric tools that give a positive impression, custom developed CRM may allow very, very specific features which would be hard to get in any general-purpose product. Custom, scenario-based e-mail campaigns, push notifications, API call-backs for customers who integrate with your system. All these features can be easily implemented when your CRM is being custom built.

By the way, have you heard of scenario-based, customer interactive robot phone calls? Yes, they also can be implemented using Asterisk and Asterisk Gateway Interface (AGI) scripts that interact in real-time with the CRM system, deciding what recordings to playback and what input to gather from the caller.

Also, what about real-time chat where you as the CRM user/support member see all the relevant details about the customer and the customer on his side can use embedded chat widgets to work with the information in a way that it is immediately stored in the CRM, rather than just typing the information in the chat, passing it to the support and then the support person using that information for processing?

Let’s look at another example – you are in a support chat and some customer writes that there is an issue with delivery of his order. First of all, you can already see which customer it is and if there is only one active order, then there’s no need to ask the customer for the order number. You can immediately get to work on solving the issue. But let’s imagine the customer created 2 orders on the same day and he’s now complaining. Asking the customer for order number means that the customer needs to go to his mailbox and search for the number. Inconvenient, isn’t it? What we can do is simple – the support user clicks the widget for inquiring the order number from the customer. At that very moment, the customer on his chat screen gets the list of the orders made and can choose the relevant one. Convenient, don’t you agree? Will you get such functionality out of a standard product? That’s questionable…

5. Easy reporting & overviews

With off-the-shelf CRM

All creators of standard CRM systems know that reports are a must-have feature. Yes, sure. They also understand that reports have to be customized to meet the needs of each individual company. Good. But consider this:

  • Can you create a dashboard widget in your CRM showing the customers who have birthdays today?
  • If you use CRM for your hotel, can you create lodging statistics exports, as required by state institutions, where countries and world regions are mapped to very specific numeric codes (like in Germany)?
  • Can you get call recordings (audio files) easily played back in your CRM when needed?
  • Can you get real-time statistics?
  • How fast are the statistics generated if you have millions of leads?
  • Can the reporting correctly handle affiliate presence and leads/customers belonging to several affiliates at the same time?

With custom developed CRM

As in other cases, you again must remember that you have full control over your software application and you can literally implement any kind of report you want. Whether it’s main-stream reporting based on predefined filters or groups or very specific PDF exports including map images, indicating how many new customers you have won from which countries.

Real-time reporting is also a function which is not often found in general purpose products, but which can be included if you build your own system.

In case your business operates with “big data” or just has a lot of leads, conversions or trends, statistics can be pre-aggregated on a time period basis and used later to aggregate larger period statistics or, alternatively, pushed to some analytics service which can then work on it. This is not something you will normally find in the off-the-shelf products.

In Summary

Although not related to the CRM topic, I would like to compare the existence of off-the-shelf CRM systems to UI themes which you can find on ThemeForest. They are really great, they implement the best practices and, in many cases, you can use them as they are. The best part is that they cost way less than a custom created UI design. Adapt them a little bit and you are good to go; that is, if you find what fits your expectations. If you find something similar but not exactly what you were looking for then, well, fine – you can try to adapt it or make some compromise.

The difference here, however, is that adopting a UI theme takes a lot less work than adapting the underlying functional system, as the depth and complexity of architectures is incomparable. Large software systems sometimes take several years of development to implement every feature you want.

I have never heard of any web design project lasting that long though!

So, think of off the shelf CRM systems as a great opportunity to quickly start with something but, take your time and choose wisely.

However, when it comes to custom developed software, including CRM software, perhaps the best way of describing its capabilities is by quoting Barack Obama and saying: “Yes, we can!”. The custom-tailored software can literally implement all of your business processes, your chosen user interface, export, import, integration with other systems, etc. There are, virtually, no limits.

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