Relationship marketing principles have seldom been applied to the SME. This paper seeks to develop what is a striking link by presenting empirical evidence on the role of Internet technologies in the customer relationship management activities of Irish SMEs. More specifically this is a comparative study investigating e-CRM in international and domestic firms. The nature and role of e-CRM is assessed, the strategies behind e-CRM delineated, and the ensuing benefits and challenges revealed.
The study has an exploratory outlook and a quantitative approach to data collection is adopted to facilitate broad classification in an under researched area. A self-completion questionnaire was distributed to a sample of 1445 SMEs. A response rate of twenty per cent was obtained, providing 286 usable responses. Univariate and bivariate analyses were performed using SPSS.
The findings of this study confirm that SMEs are implementing fundamental e-CRM practices. Those firms serving international markets tend to place greater emphasis on e-CRM and are reaping greater benefits. Benefits range from enhanced customer service, reduced business cost, increased sales and improved profitability. Challenges are few, but centre on a preference for face-to-face relationships and a lack of Government support.
It is hoped that this exploratory research has laid the foundation for further examination of e-CRM in the SME context. Future research will add explanation through in-depth qualitative methods, while the potential exists to replicate the study in other countries. The authors conclude that e-CRM can and must move on to a more strategic and integrated level if SMEs in Ireland are to compete both locally and globally.