ERP Data Visibility: The Overlooked Secret to Customer Satisfaction

Customer data is valuable, so it’s no surprise that organizations guard it zealously. Key details – including customer contact information, order history, specifications, pricing, discounting, and payment practices – require secure and confidential management. But here’s the conundrum. While this information must be protected, it must also be available to many different parts of the organization, for a variety of different purposes. If some teams are making decisions that affect the customer without seeing the complete picture, how can the organization deliver a high degree of customer satisfaction?

The primary inhibitor to information flow across the organization is not data protection policies, however, but data silos caused by legacy technology. All too often, data is locked away in different parts of an enterprise’s outdated systems. Technology limitations can make it slow and costly to access critical customer data – and it can be difficult and time-consuming to organize, clean, and export information from ERP systems to data warehouses for reporting.

Often, line-of-business applications have been used to extend ERP systems. These software products have confined proprietary data that can be difficult to constantly share across the broader ERP, usually due to licensing issues. Systems such as CRM, engineering, or logistics software are generally licensed and configured to meet the particular requirements of specific departments. Other staff members who need access to information stored in these systems cannot do so without customization, integration, or additional products to aggregate data.

For every company – from startups to established firms with multinational operations – access to all data is critical in order to meet service, growth, profitability, and operational goals. Only with a modern, open cloud ERP can organizations gain the enterprise data visibility they need to boost customer satisfaction. 

Challenges with information silos to data visibility

Every midsize company or large enterprise has at least one business management system, such as ERP (enterprise resource management), CRM (customer relationship management), FSM (field service management), or PLM (product lifecycle management). Often, these are legacy, stand-alone systems. Unfortunately, it is costly and time-consuming to manage the individual software products and to maintain integrations between them. Valuable information is often trapped in information silos, limiting the speed of operations and preventing companies from taking advantage of opportunities that require real-time response.

For example, customer data entered at the sales stage might not be available to teams managing post-sales activities. Sales data might not be integrated with business data from other systems, such as estimates, quotes, sales orders, production schedules, credit limits, delivery status, and more. The lack of complete information creates delays and causes errors, making it hard for companies to properly service their customers.

However, newer cloud ERP systems contain all of the functionality that businesses need to manage their operations – all in one place, leveraging data in a central database.

Newer cloud ERP systems contain all of the functionality that businesses need to manage their operations – all in one place, leveraging data in a central database.

Benefits of an integrated ERP system

Today’s ERP system includes integrated supply chain, customer service, and financial information needed to keep your sales force, services, operations, and financial teams updated and effective. A modern cloud ERP can be tailored for industry best practices and unique business processes, supporting language, currency, and localization requirements. It also provides the security and data privacy demanded by regulators and needed for sharing information with trusted third parties, such as distributors and dealers.

A single, advanced technology platform tracks every step in the customer experience. It provides alerts, dashboards, transactions, reports, documents, and intelligence, all running in memory. It provides a single source of truth for the entire team, allowing users to access the same ERP data in real time, from any device.

In many cases, artificial intelligence and machine learning can streamline time-consuming, repetitive tasks, improving customer satisfaction and creating competitive opportunities. These capabilities must be available in the cloud.

In summary, cloud ERP software systems improve data visibility and customer satisfaction by:

Integrating processes and customer data across the business

Businesses must always be on the lookout for changing customer expectations. A market shift – whether spurred by a competitor move or by external events – can quickly make a perennially successful product undesirable. Competitors are then in a position to pounce, adjusting pricing, delivery, and service to gain market share.

To strengthen and deepen customer relationships, businesses must take full advantage of all customer data insights and deliver consistently across every touchpoint. Below are some examples of opportunities across the organization.

Improving the sales process

Sales management leads much of the customer satisfaction effort. Sales teams typically have a large amount of data on customers’ buying activities, but they also need real-time access to the order-to-cash process, starting with estimates and quotations. An integrated cloud ERP system provides this information, as well as important service, supply chain, and financial details. Armed with this additional insight, the sales team can pursue renewals, upgrades, and cross-selling opportunities. At the same time, visibility into customer problems – past or present – provides the context that sales professionals need to manage their interactions.

Sales teams need reliable product and service costing so that they can price and discount accurately. When they are quoting deliveries, they need real-time available-to-promise (ATP) information, available in a modern cloud ERP, to provide solid ship dates.

Sales managers also have a wide variety of information that is helpful to other parts of the business such as:

Delivering a better customer experience

In some markets, delivering an innovative customer experience is essential just to compete. As competitors up the ante, customer demands rise in tandem. For example, the combination of e-commerce and retail services – for shopping, showrooms, services, returns, and repairs – was once a new idea, but is now expected.

Business customers often want access to secure Web sites with current information about their product and service configurations, specifications, contracts, pricing, discounting, orders, and shipments. This information must also be available to your sales, customer service, and management teams – all relying on a single source of the truth.

When all the members of your organization have access to customer information, there is improved teamwork and service levels. Customers do not have to repeat the details of an issue as it goes through departments with siloed systems since the details are captured, recorded, and available company wide. With full information, your staff can also add value by helping customers get the most value from your products and services.

Supporting project, product, and supply management

Today, many customers undertake large, complex projects. When estimating and managing those efforts, access to inventory, purchasing, manufacturing, and service information simplifies project management and improves service.

On a strategic basis, a “big picture” view of customer needs and competition helps identify product and service improvements. Companies can use customer feedback for developing additional service packages, kitting, and packaging, or even designing major engineering upgrades.

For forecasting and demand planning, visibility across multiple lines of business and locations is essential. Companies must balance supply and demand if they are to prevent stock shortages that damage customer relationships, without carrying expensive inventory surpluses.

Providing more responsive customer service

Customer support, call center, and other departments track metrics on their operations as well as products, services, deliveries, returns, warranty claims, and service history. These are critical to understanding overall customer satisfaction, and they provide important details beyond high-level trends such as net promoter scores.

In many cases, legacy systems limit access to this information. With a modern cloud ERP system, the information becomes readily accessible for prioritizing customer needs, responding immediately in specific cases, recognizing trends in product and service field use, and capturing a wide range of business metrics. For example, an engineering department can gain insights for improving product design and usability.

Facilitating two-way information sharing with field services

Many firms deploy service teams in the field for consulting, repair, warranty, and other tasks. These teams can often resolve customer and product issues before they escalate into company problems.

These teams may work on a residential air conditioning system, for example, or they may provide a range of services for a large office complex. When they go on-site, they must be armed with customer history and a variety of other details. Conversely, when a field engineering team goes to a customer site to evaluate a new project, they might learn of equipment issues that had not been previously identified. Intelligence from the field is highly valuable, and that data is also stored in a modern cloud ERP system where it is made available to other departments.  

Empowering strategic management

Data visibility is key to the strategic management of a business. When executives are planning, they need to see high-level opportunities and changes – as well as the details behind them.

An integrated ERP system provides dashboards and KPIs, with the ability to drill down to transactions, contracts, product specifications, and customer sales and service information. A single business intelligence and analytics system can support enterprise-wide planning requirements and can also incorporate data from external sources.

With insights in hand, management can identify business areas that need repair. They can launch digital transformation initiatives that might allow them to leapfrog ahead of even their most innovative competitors. And they can harness the power of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, which capitalize on ERP data.

ERP in concert with other business applications

While a cloud ERP contains all the core functionality that is needed for business operations, many organizations also run other applications, such as CRM. This is not a problem as long as there is a consistent and shared code base delivered by the underlying technology platform. Today’s software systems are designed for easy integration between systems from the same vendor, and they often include preconfigured capabilities for robust add-ons. Integration with software from other vendors is also significantly easier than in the past, with built-in application programming interfaces (APIs).

The key consideration for businesses is the sophistication level of the ERP system. In today’s real-time business environment, only integrated cloud ERP systems that take advantage of the latest technologies can deliver a competitive edge.

Take the next step

Maximize data visibility across sales, service, operations, and finance with a modern, integrated cloud ERP – SAP S/4HANA.

ERP customer data visibility FAQs

Customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) are both important business systems for all sizes of companies, but they are very different.

CRM is a process-based system that automates and reports on the status of activities or documents. Originally designed for tracking sales leads and opportunities, it has been expanded into other areas including marketing and post-sales support.

ERP, the other hand, is a transaction system based around the general ledger. All other company activities – such as sales orders, accounts receivable, inventory management, and purchase orders – automatically update information in the general ledger for proper financial management. ERP has expanded beyond finance and accounting to include many planning and business processes. Most ERP systems have parts of a CRM system already in their architecture and available for use with the ERP business applications.

A data silo is information that is stored in a database that is isolated from a company’s overall business management system. Data silos often occur as a business grows and adds different types of applications to meet specific business needs. In many cases, a very small application can lead to unanticipated complications, including the high cost to integrate and maintain the connection to core business systems.

In the early days of computing, data integration was the passing of flat files between computers. In today’s environment, data integration is a complicated process that combines exponentially larger volumes of data from dissimilar sources (different application databases, data lakes, and data warehouses). This Big Data is made up of different data types, including unstructured data such as social media. IT tasks now include importing the data, cleansing it, ETL (extract, transform, load) mapping, and transformation (from one format to another) to get a unified view of the data.