Putting the Customer First

CRM solutions to improve the relationship with the new and existing consumers

Being in a demand-driven sector, it is crucial for companies in the oil and gas sector to maintain their customer base. This issue has grabbed headlines in recent years. Companies are increasingly realising the importance of putting their customer first and taking initiatives  accordingly. One such noteworthy application that has been receiving considerable attention is customer relationship management (CRM). The term refers to business philosophies, practices, strategies, and technologies that assist in acquiring, managing and analysing customer feedback and interactions with the company. The prime intent behind using CRM is improving the relationship between the company and its customers.

CRM is implemented by an organisation via a software solution. All customer-related departments such as sales, marketing and customer services can possibly employ CRM. Players in the oil and gas sector are employing CRM in order to solicit useful feedback from their customers that can further be used to improve and enhance their service deliverables.

Earlier, the success rate for CRM was not encouraging because 50-70 per cent of CRM implementations did not succeed. Presently, the scenario has changed for the better, as three out of four companies are now using, implementing, or planning to adopt a CRM solution. However, the question is not whether CRM should be employed or not, but rather what is the right way to go about it.

Customer communication mechanics

The typical communication flow for handling customer complaints involves registering the complaint, categorising the issue, forwarding the complaint to the concerned department, updating the customer about the complaint status, and closing the complaint when it is resolved. The suggested or standard communication flow is slightly tweaked under CRM. It involves improving the typical process by analysing customer’s requirements, and implementation of  innovative solutions to meet the same.

The bright side

By integrating CRM with the latest technologies and software programs, companies in the oil and gas sector can secure many benefits. A major and clearly evident advantage is improvement in customer dealing. The data coming in from CRM can be analysed in different ways. Interactions with every customer can be recorded and analysed to learn about best practices.

The resulting benefits of the exercise include longer customer retention, possible acquisition of additional customers, and enhanced employee efficiency.

To get the most out of CRM, companies should conduct repeated complaints analysis, feedback calling, know your customer (KYC) data cleansing, and root cause analysis. Repeated complaints analysis is particularly relevant for the oil and gas sector because it receives the same complaints regularly. Feedback calling can assist in getting relevant feedback about the problem that has been resolved, which can further help the company in improving its problem resolution methods. Of equal importance is cleaning and maintaining the KYC data set. Root cause analysis is a three-step procedure, that is, identification of the problem, elimination of the problem, and prevention of the problem in the future.

CRM in practice

While some companies have already put their CRM framework in place, others have yet to deploy it. On December 21, 2018, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoPNG) launched various digital customer initiatives of Indraprastha Gas Limited (IGL), including a social CRM initiative.The technology platform, Social CRM, is aimed at addressing customer queries, complaints, service requests, and grievances on various social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The Social CRM initiative could potentially be used to effectively view and monitor the grievance redressal process by making use of sentiment analysis. Sentiment analysis software helps companies to gauge the opinion and satisfaction of customers by assessing the comments, blogs and reviews that they post online.

Mahanagar Gas Limited’s (MGL) CRM department has implemented a cloud-based email platform that sends out an automatically generated acknowledgement to their customers informing them that their email has been received. The back-office activities of the CRM department have been outsourced to a vendor. For the purpose of monitoring, a real-time dashboard of email traffic has been made available to the CRM department officers. MGL’s CRM department is planning to roll out a system of Redressal on Wheels (ROW) to receive and address customer concerns.

In Green Gas Limited (GGL), the following systems are in place – a toll-free number with interactive voice response (IVR), an on-website facility for online registration, complaints, and payment, SMS and email notification, electronic bill (e-bill), and spot billing. Three more initiatives are under consideration and are likely to be put in place soon. These are the CRM module, a mobile application, and smart metering. GGL has already received approval for the procurement of smart meters.

Areas of apprehension

Two central issues pertaining to CRM implementation are technology related and cost related.

Since CRM is a software, technology-related issues are likely to emerge from time to time. A related issue is that of cybersecurity. Ensuring the security and confidentiality of the data collected needs  to be accorded priority.

The cost of CRM is an important variable that needs to be factored in because it is a very costly system. Additionally, budgetary allocations will need to be made for the system in government-run enterprises. For the implementation of this system, proper training of the existing manpower as well as sourcing additional manpower are required. All these come with a big price tag.The separate cost of module upgradation will also be incurred as technology changes at lightning speed. The software employed is required to be constantly maintained, which has a cost of its own.

Apart from these two broad issues, there are some other obstacles in the way of implementation of CRM. Clarity about the objectives or reasons for using CRM is required for its effective implementation and maintenance. Selecting the right agency for handling CRM is critical. Agencies with successful experience of implementing CRM should be employed. Even after a suitable  vendor has been identified, implementation can be a problem. Another vital element is verifying the genuineness of the complaints received by the company. The company should also ensure that timely updates are received from the concerned departments. It is also crucial to ensure the presence of customer care centres in the peripheral areas as customers are not willing to visit faraway centres.User adoptability is also a hurdle due to the generally observed resistance to change. It is hard to undertake CRM because of the involvement of multiple departments and its successful implementation requires constant efforts on the part of all departments and personnel involved.

Hence, a well-planned strategy for the implementation of CRM is necessary. Requisite arrangements should be made for the daily review and monitoring of CRM. The feedback received should be analysed and corrective measures should be taken based on the findings of the analysis.

Outlook

Oil and gas companies in the upstream, midstream, and downstream segments have witnessed an increased application of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) solutions. The adoption of CRM by sector players testifies to the fact that resistance to the adoption of new technology, especially by state-run enterprises, is gradually declining. The sector is today at a juncture where it is preparing to adopt more technology-based solutions in its operations.

The CRM initiative will help provide better customer services in the sector. Longer customer retention, better relations with customers, and a larger customer base are all positive outcomes of CRM implementation. CRM can even function as one of the channels for increasing sales and thereby boosting revenues.

However, CRM is in its initial phase in the oil and gas sector at present, with only some companies leading the way in its implementation. There is most definitely room for improvement. Enhancement of IT infrastructure is a prerequisite for taking CRM to an advanced stage. Further, the huge influx of data being generated through CRM applications should be put to use in a useful and productive manner. There is also a need to ensure that the user interface of CRM thus developed should be easy and seamless so as to enhance the overall customer experience. Efforts should be made to promote the proper implementation of CRM as this initiative can help improve governance along with being beneficial for the companies using it.

Based on inputs from Jiledar, Managing Director, Green Gas Limited, at a recent India Infrastructure conference

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