Different departments use different application types to manage customer information; front-office employees use CRM applications that support customer-facing activities such as sales, marketing and customer service whereas back-office employees use ERP applications that support transactional, reporting and compliancy activities, such as invoicing, accounts receivable, cashflow management and financial reporting.
While front-office applications have historically been developed around the idea of cross-organisational collaboration, back-office applications, by contrast, have been insular in nature, with the finance department slow to open up its data and applications to other parts of the organisation. Additionally, many companies have continued to purchase their CRM and ERP applications from separate, specialist vendors. This combination of factors has meant that business applications have struggled to address key business process needs where the customer lifecycle crosses the front-to-back-office divide, resulting in:
● Departmental silos of information,
● Unnecessary administrative overhead and inefficiencies,
● Verbal sign-off requirements
● Process duplication.
Front-to-Back-office integration is made up of three inter-related elements:
1. Consistent data between related entities (e.g. ‘company’ and ‘account’) within the CRM and ERP applications.
2. 360 degree customer visibility, regardless of whether customer data originates in the CRM application or the ERP application
3. “Straight-through” processing which enables a user to initiate a transaction (e.g. booking an order) which then automatically triggers all related business processes as appropriate (e.g. order approval, shipment, invoicing etc) and passes seamlessly from one application (e.g. CRM) to the next (e.g. ERP) without the need for extensive manual intervention (e.g. re-keying information, paperwork or verbal sign-off).
A true Front and Back Office integration will result in the following benefits for the CRM users
● Sales teams to maximise their revenue potential through the identification of latent cross-sell and up-sell opportunities within their customer base.
● Sales representatives to book orders correctly, first time, every time, by providing them with access to the account, pricing and stock information they need to do their jobs effectively.
● Customer service representatives to address customer queries with confidence by providing them with the shipping, invoicing and returns information that they need to do their jobs effectively.
● Customer service managers to ensure that their customers are current on maintenance and service contracts, and that their service level agreements are delivered on a profitable basis
● Marketing executives to carry out detailed financial segmentation on their customer base to support highly targeted and effective go-to-market programmes
● Marketing managers to calculate ‘real-world’ return-on-investment based on actual revenue yield from their marketing programmes.
Independent research suggests that customer intelligence gaps still exist after the majority CRM implementations because the issue of back-office connectivity has not been adequately addressed. Where this is the case, customer data cannot be shared effectively and business processes are punctuated by errors, delays and paperwork. This is likely to result in customer satisfaction issues and spiralling administrative cost. The success of a CRM project, therefore, should not be judged solely on how effectively it brings together front-office operations, but on how it also facilitates interoperation with the back-office environment, encompassing people, processes, departments and applications.