Let’s face it: the business world is more competitive now than it ever has been before, and that means you have to have more than just a great idea to keep your company ahead of the pack. It doesn’t matter how awesome your product is – if your customers don’t like you, then you can’t possibly hope to win this race.

See, you’re EXPECTED to offer great products and solutions. What is (sadly) UNEXPECTED these days is a brand-to-customer relationship that inspires loyalty. People don’t expect to have a relationship of any kind with you beyond basic transactions, which is why when they DO find themselves connecting with you in positive ways, they are delighted. Chances are, you’ll have a fan and advocate for life if you take the time to manage your interactions with customers. It’s a high-investment business element that can give you the edge you need over the competition.

Why is CRM especially important today? In the past, it was pretty hard for people to have a more personal relationship with certain brand-based businesses. More often than not, their only interactions with companies are through advertisements, their products (as they are being sold in department stores), and impersonal customer hotlines. Sometimes, they get promotional letters and the like. All in all, it was largely hands-off and standardized.

Then the Internet happened, and all of a sudden, people have a place where they can say whatever they want – and a lot of people will be able to hear them. While advertisement is still important, "word-of-mouth" has gained new and relevant momentum. A business’ ability to control how it is perceived is diminished. Today, you can no longer expect your customers to come to you with little effort on your part – you have to go to them and know exactly how to interact with them as individuals. The better their personal experience is with you, the better your chances of making a genuine connection.

How It’s Manifesting All of a sudden, a virtual PBX phone system that forwards customer concerns to relevant departments is not enough. Using social networks effectively for customer relationship management is practically a must if you want to compete, according to this post on the RingCentral blog. And this is true – if you look at Facebook and Twitter, you’ll find lots of brand pages engaging conversations with customers.

CRM really is a hot topic, with companies like Microsoft releasing mobile and flexible customer relationship management tools, it’s easy to see just how seriously businesses are taking this. To find success, you need to be just as good at managing your relationships with customers as you are at producing great products and solutions.