CRM in Unlikely Places

Looking for ways to spice up your CRM strategy? Then these unexpected examples might offer the zest you've been craving...
Customer Experience

Customer relationships are at the core of every thriving business, so it's logical to assume that solid CRM strategies aren't far behind. But, while many organizations are focused on emulating the success of core industry groups, leaders often fail to recognize that customer relationships and their subsequent management strategies aren't just reserved for these sectors. CRM can be found in even the most unlikely places.

When most companies think of CRM, they immediately think of the customer-salesperson relationship-specifically, someone using some software to keep track of customers and prospects to ultimately sell them something. But, as Vinda Souza, director of marketing communications at Bullhorn, explains, CRM remains important for any organization that deals with relationships which, in some form or another, means every business, every non-profit, and every service provider qualifies.

"What's missing is the fact that relationships aren't made up of required fields or data points-they are connections with real people," Souza says. "Companies that are using CRM in unconventional ways are using tools that provide a proactive picture of relationships. These are tools that fit seamlessly with the way they do business and provide sales leaders and other employees with the deep insights they need to improve their relationships."

Yet, while retail and financial brands regularly gain recognition for CRM strategies done right, countless unexpected industries and organizations exemplify CRM at its finest. Here's how some of the most overlooked sectors integrate CRM and what their examples mean for customer engagement within their respective markets:


While most utility companies already have their own CRM systems in place, changes within the industry have exposed the limits of such strategies. In the U.S., the advent of energy efficiency and demand side management (DSM) programs now fosters more situations where contact center agents and account managers can 'sell' energy improvements and incentive programs to help reduce customer bills. The rise of solar and competitive energy retailers have also made customer needs more complex, raising the imperative to serve those customers better. Indy Ratnathicam, vice president of marketing and strategy at FirstFuel Software, emphasizes that utility companies are at an inflection point, which has already begun to spark transformation.

"Historically, utilities have sent customers bills with little to no insight into their energy use breakdown," Ratnathicam explains. "That model's no longer accepted by consumers, who increasingly demand service providers who cannot only explain how they're using energy specifically, but also provide information on how they can optimize use. Commercial customers today are especially challenged with new energy offerings that are being presented to them every day. From solar to storage, they need their utility to help guide them toward what makes the most sense based on their individual profile."

As the market faces deregulation, customers have more choices, and with that comes more robust CRM programs aimed to engage. Retailers may be among the best in the world at using every scrap of data available to create better, more personalized experiences, Ratnathicam adds, but utilities have their own 'point of sale' device-the electric meter. With this tool, providers can use the data about how their customers use energy to greatly improve the personalization of service, the customer experience, and the offers and programs their customers seek. Utilities that embrace the evolving market and revamp their business models to devise, and execute, highly customized CRM strategies based on heightened customer intelligence will maintain their position in the value chain.


Accountable care and new payment models reward healthcare providers that deliver outstanding service and are able to prove this through their metrics. Thus, because of this dramatic shift, healthcare-specific vertical CRM has begun to emerge within health systems, post-acute care organizations, pharmacies, radiology, and diagnostic laboratory settings. Brad Bostic, CEO and founder of, explains that the demands of these organizations far outstrip the function of more generic CRM systems, for they require specialized data support for both clinical and business information and roles-based security that has been designed from the ground up to meet and exceed HIPAA requirements.

"Today, healthcare CRM is being applied to unify information silos and facilitate effective communication across care settings in order to better serve the end customer," Bostic says. "Hospitals, health systems, diagnostic labs, and providers are under mounting pressure to provide each stakeholder with personalized service, and the strategies required to accomplish this span multiple entities and IT systems, while encompassing several points of failure. In a life and death industry such as healthcare, the stakes are also much higher than other industries, like retail."

At Eskenazi Health, one of the country's largest safety net hospitals, for instance, key stakeholders needed to create new ways to engage patients, while simultaneously eliminating thousands of 'no-show' procedures that cost the network millions of dollars annually. Using healthcare-specific CRM, the organization has decreased its no-show rate by 15 percent and saved millions of dollars annually by implementing a new patient communication strategy and leveraging real-time intelligence to drive decisions. Now the health system also encourages pre-registrations and automates communication flow prior to procedure appointment dates by leveraging personalized text messages.


For many business owners, customer feedback powers improvement and innovation. But, without true engagement, companies fail to gain the insight necessary to drive change. Thus, Gina DiSanto, owner of Pearl Theaters, tested the SurveyMe app in two D.C. locations in an attempt to boost feedback quality. DiSanto opened the traditional lines of communication with patrons by using the feedback forum on the Pearl Theaters website. SurveyMe then allowed the company to improve these lines ofcommunicationby providingreal-time data that's helped expand the way the company conducts business overall. The app enables DiSanto's team to tap into the feedback of patrons currently in or near their theaters and reward them with special discounts to foster loyalty and optimize experience.

"Theabilityto affect positive change on site in thetime it takes a guest to watch a film has given us a real edge," DiSanto notes. "It's amazing how quickly we are able to take a question on a survey and transform it into a better environment to watch and enjoy movies. It's all about listening to what our guests love about our theater. By giving theseindividualsa clear channel to tell us what they think, we're telling them that they'rerespected and valued."

During the initial beta test, DiSanto discovered that, within three hours of getting feedback from guests, she had the opportunity to save $30,000 per year, which she was currently spending to pay the person who updated the Pearl Theaters Facebook page. While she was under the impression that patrons regularly checked the Facebook page for showtimes, she realized that less than 2 percent of guests actually do, confirming the value of real-time feedback. Both managers and marketers can use such data to optimize their strategies and retarget their efforts to focus on where they're needed most.

Community Outreach

Many groups provide valuable services that require strong relationships to flourish. For VetAdvisor, an organization dedicated to providing veteran-centric holistic care for returning military veterans, FitBit integration has become the key to next-level interactions to those they serve daily. VetAdvisor mentors and coaches veterans who are suffering from mental health issues, including PTSD and sleep disorders, to ease their transition back into civilian life. Through the organization's partnership with SugarCRM and its FitBit Opt-In program, coaches can now monitor veterans' physical activity and sleep quality via the wearable device, thereby using this information to guide the 700+ counseling sessions they conduct each month.

"We can look at the case to see the milestones, and the coach can reach out and ask if that person missed their run, or had a bad night, and do they want to talk about it," says Sergeant Major (Ret.) Harry Zeznanski, VetAdvisor's CRM administrator, whose 34 years in the Army spanned the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars.VetAdvisor focuses on high-tech, high-touch coaching to provide care to thousands of veterans. FitBit integration has helped streamline the process so its limited staff can reach more people, while adhering to government privacy and compliance guidelines.

VetAdvisor staff members also receive alerts when veterans aren't wearing their FitBits, which may signal something might be wrong. Coaches can then send text messages of encouragement and concern to get veterans back on track. "That by itself is such a force multiplier," says Jennifer Roseman, vice president for coaching services at VetAdvisor. "We approach our work from a relationship perspective, so someone not wearing their FitBit might signal other issues we want to be aware of." Ultimately, this approach enables VetAdvisor to connect with veterans by collecting data that they can use to inform treatment strategies and engage participants who may be having extreme difficulty returning to civilian life.

Non-Profit Organizations

Despite the fact that non-profit organizations aren't typically perceived as traditional companies, these groups face many of the same challenges that other people-based businesses face, including attempting to differentiate their products by providing great experiences, while also managing relationships with key external stakeholders. CRM allows non-profit organizations to build out their 360-degree view of their various stakeholders-donors, volunteers, etc.-thereby enabling the non-profit to build stronger relationships by capturing key data and insights that become actionable to drive an increase in giving of both time and money. Michael Manfredo,principal for West Monroe Partners' customer experience practice, emphasizes that successful non-profit organizations leverage the same CRM strategies and technologies that conventional businesses should leverage.

For example, having a defined donor-tracking pipeline allows non-profits insight into meeting their fundraising goals, while tracking the number of activities or engagements with a donor before actually receiving a donation. Manfredo explains that this allows the given non-profit to better understand the necessary cost in time and materials to land a donation. "The strategic goals and objectives of CRM for non-profits aren't unlike many other financial institutions that use CRM to manage the experiences for their investors-think private equity, investment management, or wealth management," Manfredo adds. "All of these organizations are managing their pipeline of potential investors, while tracking various relationships and touchpoints to build stronger relationships with the goal of increasing the assets under management."

By supporting and engaging employees with the tools necessary to execute the work that they're passionate about, CRM can deliver automation and insights to build deeper relationships with external stakeholders. Automation has become essential for these organizations, as process standardization through these technologies helps to establish institutional knowledge and remove some of the risk associated with employees that don't work for an organization full-time. More conventional organizations should adopt these same approaches to help increase top-line revenue opportunities and gain work efficiencies, thus creating a stronger bottom line, Manfredo suggests. Ultimately, successful non-profit organizations use sound CRM strategy and technologies to help deliver the brand promise of their organization to their stakeholders, inspiring them to believe in and carry up the cause. This builds loyalty and support within their existing donor bases, Manfredo adds, ensuring additional contributions of money and time, as well as opportunities to build relationships with friends and colleagues.

Leaders who are looking to boost their CRM strategies must first destroy their biases by ignoring what makes their companies different from such examples, and instead focus on what makes them the same. At their core, all organizations simply want to provide customers with great experiences that foster strong, long-term relationships. Once they recognize they all have the same fundamental end goal in mind, leaders can apply these unexpected lessons to their own strategy and bring customer experience full circle.