An effective enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution helps businesses oversee, analyze, and optimize inventory, production, and the supply chain. However, those capabilities represent only a part of what modern ERP can do.
Today’s ERP solutions offer advantages that stretch across entire organizations. ERP capabilities now range from accounting and financial management to human resources and sales, offering substantially more value from this business software.
Better customer service, understanding, and support are all possible with modern ERP software solutions as well. Nearly every business wants to prioritize strong, long-lasting customer relationships, and ERP can help.
Let’s take a closer look at how and why ERP has evolved to include more capabilities. Then, we’ll focus on the customer understanding and engagement aspects of ERP.
ERP’s Growth as a Comprehensive Business Solution
The basic concept of ERP began before the term itself was created. Early software tools were developed in the mid-20th century to support manufacturing-specific tasks. That includes needs like warehouse management, inventory management, and purchasing raw materials.
Due to the technological limitations of that era, only large companies had the funds needed to develop and maintain these systems. As the decades went on, tools for managing business processes slowly became more accessible as technology advanced and related costs fell.
Acquisition and maintenance costs fell over time. With the introduction of cloud-based ERP systems, organizations no longer had to make major investments in servers and other digital infrastructure.
Now, companies large and small can purchase cloud ERP solutions that offer the same reliability as traditional ERP. Cloud-based software also offers some unique advantages, including anytime, anywhere accessibility for staff.
The functionality of ERP grew along with its accessibility. The modern concept of ERP was established in the 1990s, Epicor explains. At that time, ERP expanded to include functions relevant to most businesses. Tools for managing human resources, accounting, sales, and other processes outside of manufacturing and the supply chain emerged.
Modern ERP now includes a robust suite of solutions for customer relationship management. These capabilities go beyond only sales, stretching across the entire customer lifecycle. Support for marketing, customer interactions, and customer service are just a few capabilities of modern ERP solutions.
How Does ERP Help to Improve Customer Service and Experience?
One key quality of ERP that we’ve only touched on is its ability to gather, connect, and even analyze data from across an organization. That’s one of the key reasons ERP solutions were developed in the first place and became so popular over time.
A single repository of information for most or all business functions and departments is incredibly valuable. This one source of truth helps managers and business leaders make informed decisions that take the entirety of the organization into account.
Instead of making choices while focusing only on manufacturing output, for example, a company can take staffing, inventory, and other factors into account. The same is also true when it comes to customer relationships, support, and service.
Understanding the Complexity of Customer Relationships
At first glance, customer relationships can seem relatively simple, at least by the standards of modern businesses. Companies market to potential and current customers, engage them through appropriate sales channels, and invest in customer retention. In reality, it’s a much more complex process.
Companies need to build effective strategies for all points in the customer journey. MarketingProfs highlighted five stages in the B2B customer lifecycle that help us understand how expansive that journey can be:
- Awareness. Potential customers find out about a business and start to learn more about its operations and what it can offer to them.
- Consideration. Prospects look at your company along with similar competitors, trying to decide which option is best for their needs.
- Purchase. A lead becomes a customer as they make the all-important decision to work with your company and use your products.
- Experience. Customers learn how your products fit into their own processes and workflows. They also discover what it’s like to work with your team on an ongoing basis.
- Advocacy. When provided with a consistently positive experience and dependable, high-quality products, customers start to trust your business and even recommend it to others.
This division of activities makes it easier to understand the complexity of customer relationships, but it’s still a simplification. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of touchpoints across this five-stage cycle.
The Value of ERP for Customer Relationships
Every interaction your business has with a customer can influence the continued success of the relationship. A dependable ERP solution collates and connects those individual events, offering key context and supporting a more informed view of customers. The entirety of a customer’s relationship with a business can be reliably tracked through ERP solutions.
ERP can also track how other parts of your business may influence customer relationships. Beyond sales and marketing, that includes manufacturing and delivery timelines for products customers have ordered. It also includes records of non-sales interactions — questions, concerns about products, general feedback, and any other conversation.
Looking at customer data holistically can help paint a clearer, more accurate picture of the customer relationship.
ERP can help to track inventory levels and predict customer demand. That makes it easier to avoid a low-stock situation, whether it’s for raw materials or finished parts.
Generally, ERP also plays a key role in identifying potential issues with customers. Whether it’s a complex customer question awaiting an answer or an unavoidable delay in manufacturing or the supply chain, ERP can make concerns more visible. That makes it much easier to reach out to a client to offer the requested information quickly. Or to provide advance notice about a delay in a timely and respectful way.
Effective ERP Cloud Solutions for Machine Shops
Cre8tive Technology & Design offers a custom-designed, turnkey cloud ERP solution built with the unique needs of machine shops in mind. With streamlined ERP implementation, a fixed cost, and a focus on A&D compliance, your machine shop can quickly begin enjoying the benefits ERP provides. Contact us to learn more!