I’m embarrassed to admit this:  last December my wife and I received a fruit basket from our local Japanese restaurant.

That’s right, a fruit basket. Have you ever received a holiday gift from your local Japanese restaurant? Any local restaurant?  Yeah, I thought not.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, we’re big customers.  We get takeout from this restaurant every Friday. For about 15 years.  We sit in front of the TV, eat our sushi, drink a glass (or five) of wine and relax. The Japanese restaurant knows this. They appreciate us.  They realize that we’re great customers.  And they are experts at CRM.

A Japanese restaurant?  Experts at Customer Relationship Management?  You bet they are. They use an inexpensive program called ACT!.  I’m sure you’ve heard of it – it’s been around for years. There are other great CRM applications out there to choose from too from Salesforce.com to Microsoft Dynamics to Zoho, Insightly, GoldMine and SugarCRM.  The key is that you get one.  Any one. They’re all good. They’re all mature.  And then you use it. Because you need one. Every business needs a CRM system, no matter how small, no matter what you do.  Why?  For 3 reasons.

Nothing ever falls through the cracks.

Whenever a customer comes in your store or business you’ve put them in your CRM database. You can ask them a few questions about what they like and don’t like. You can track the things they buy (or would like to buy). When a customer calls you can log what you talked about. You can set reminders to follow-up with customers on quotes, specials or other deals.  You can segment your database to quickly send out emails to groups of customers depending on their interests and past purchases. That’s why I’m getting fruit baskets at Christmas, special offers each month and a birthday card every February….from my Japanese restaurant!The goal is to keep your customers coming back by being proactive, by reaching out, by thinking of them before they think of you. A CRM system will help you do that.

No one looks like a dope.

When I call my Japanese restaurant every Friday they know who I am before they pick up the phones (their CRM system is integrated with their phone system, a very easy thing nowadays, so that my record popups up when the call is received). And they know what I always order.  That way I can just say “same as last week” and the order is done.  I love those guys, but sometimes the language barrier can be tough! They know me. I get the feeling of being recognized, being appreciated. Don’t you wish some larger companies would do the same?  The restaurant has notes in their system about me. Sometimes they even make suggestions for new items to order based on what I ordered in the past (there are various kinds of ways to prepare shrimp, don’t you know). There are half a dozen sushi places within a five mile radius of my house. This is how my Japanese restaurant stands out. They use their CRM system to make relationships.

They build value.

With the right culture and discipline a company’s CRM database can be a very, very valuable intangible asset. Say the owners of my Japanese restaurant want to (gasp, no!) sell to someone.  Along with the equipment and lease would also come a great database of….customers!  People who have eaten there before, what they’ve eaten, how often they come, who they’re related to.  What a great way to be off and running for the new owners. A good CRM database can be an important part of any business transaction and will result in a higher price if you ever do want to exit from the business some day.

So yes, that’s’ what we do on Fridays. We don’t socialize. We don’t go out with friends. We sit and watch Jimmy Fallon and drink wine and eat our sushi. Now you know. Of course, our Japanese restaurant has known that for years. It’s in their CRM system. Wonder what we’re getting from them for Christmas this year?

Gene Marks

About the Author

Gene Marks is a Philadelphia small business owner and a business management speaker, author, and regular columnist for The New York Times, Forbes, The Huffington Post and Philadelphia Magazine. You can find out more about Gene at GeneMarks.com.