TAMPA, Fla., Jan. 9 /PRNewswire/ -- Companies interested in maximizing profitability and meeting customer demands for higher levels of service are realizing the importance of a well-defined customer relationship management (CRM) strategy. According to Shannon Yost, Director of Customer Solutions at Tribridge, provider of business consulting services (www.tribridge.com), the investment companies make in acquiring a good customer must result in a long-term relationship if it is to be a profitable investment. The proper CRM program can help accomplish that. "Believing they are in survival mode, many companies are focusing their energies on gaining and maintaining a satisfied, loyal customer base," says Yost. "By developing a dynamic CRM strategy, they will be much better positioned to understand, anticipate and meet customer needs." Once considered a solution primarily for Fortune 1000 companies, CRM may be even more important for the middle market. Yost estimates that approximately 10 percent of middle market companies have developed a CRM strategy, but concerns about the cost of developing a strategy have deterred many others. As a result, these companies continue to focus on tactics rather than on complete strategies, achieving minimal results. "Mid market companies, possibly more than any other segment, need to invest in a comprehensive strategy," she says. "Implementing tactic after tactic on a piecemeal basis results in an expensive process, and falls short of reaching the goal of gaining the complete view of the customer and their interactions with a company." In implementing a CRM strategy, Yost suggests businesses follow a clear process that includes: * Customer assessment: Evaluate the current customer experience, from both customer and employee perspectives, including channel partners to ensure all touch points with the customer are considered. Set clear customer relationship goals to determine where the customer experience deviates from expectations. * Process and procedure improvement: Identify and improve mission-critical business processes based on the results of the customer assessment. * Selection and implementation of CRM technology: Define technology needs that support improved processes and identify tools that meet those needs. * Alignment of customer touch points with CRM goals: Ensure people are equipped with the training and attitude to provide the desired customer experience. In terms of evaluating the CRM program, Yost cautions against establishing the wrong criteria. "Although many expect CRM to drive revenue, it may often yield a more qualitative, subjective result," she says. Factors to be considered include retention of top-tier customers, acquisition of new top- tier customers and measurements of customer satisfaction and loyalty. Although businesses often concentrate on the technology aspects of CRM, it is a much broader strategy that focuses on all areas in which the company interacts and maintains relationships with its customers. The bottom line is that CRM empowers staff with knowledge, allowing them to provide better service, quicker response and improved customer satisfaction. Hitting all the touch points of the customer relationship, it allows sales and marketing staff to analyze data and target more effectively, as well as giving service employees the information they need to provide better service. "This is where the technology proves most effective," Yost says. "Through the ability to 'slice and dice' information, it provides a quicker, more sophisticated way to deliver CRM and use the resulting information for better business decisions." Tribridge (www.tribridge.com) provides business consulting services, ranging from assessment through implementation. Services are focused in the areas of customer solutions, operations, technology and healthcare. Based in Tampa, Fla., Tribridge also has offices in Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Atlanta.