Five years after the recession that shook markets across the globe, businesses in the UK, Europe and beyond are still facing an unprecedented productivity crisis as they struggle to recover in a lacklustre economy, according to Mike Richardson, managing director EMEA for Maximizer Software, who here looks at the one unlikely tool that could tackle the problem head on: the humble CRM system. This article is copyright 2013 The Best Customer Guide.

Research recently commissioned by the company found that productivity in the UK and wider Europe has remained stagnant since the height of the recession, with the Eurostat Labour Productivity Index revealing that worker output has failed to experience any real recovery since the 2008 drop that saw worker output fall 3.7% below its pre-downturn peak.

Rather than waiting for governments to offer a solution to the productivity problem, many businesses are taking the matter into their own hands and looking at ways to boost output themselves. One popular way of doing this, it has emerged, is implementing CRM systems or upgrading existing platforms. This has seen the CRM market experience spectacular growth - in fact, a recent Gartner report highlighted that the worldwide CRM market grew by 12% on 2012, three times the average for all enterprise software categories.

This research also revealed that in addition to moving into new markets and widening geographical scope, businesses are also hiring new customer-facing staff in sales, marketing and customer service in an attempt to maintain revenues despite ongoing economic challenges. All of these areas can improve efficiency at a relatively low cost by implementing or upgrading CRM capabilities.

For companies looking to up productivity levels of the sales side of their business, the fast access to detailed customer data, improved lead intelligence, streamlining of operations and a comprehensive view of the sales pipeline that a CRM system provides, are invaluable. By generating in-depth customer data, automating otherwise time-consuming administrative tasks and facilitating complex business reporting, the right CRM system can free up sales reps' time, allowing them to concentrate on the customer-facing activities that drive revenues.

And with productivity comes profits - by providing improved intelligence on both leads and existing customers, CRM gives both marketing and sales the information they need to communicate with the prospect and customer effectively through targeted collateral and better-informed conversation, improving cross-selling, up-selling and sales to new customers. In fact, 2007 research from AMI Partners showed that companies with CRM systems generated revenues that were over 260% higher overall, and over 140% higher per employee, than those without.

A CRM can also further boost a sales teams' productivity if it can be accessed by the team wherever they happen to be. Ensuring that a CRM integrates with the latest technology and can be accessed on-the-go via smartphones and tablets for staff members who often travel, hot desk or work from home is crucial to a businesses' productivity levels. A CRM system that can be accessed remotely, for example, allows the sales team to tap into, update and use real-time information to prepare for a last -minute meeting and respond to customer queries immediately wherever they are. In fact¸ a 2012 survey by Nucleus Research found the companies saw an average productivity gain of 14.6% when they used a CRM system with mobile capabilities.

The reach and impact of marketing activities can also be transformed with the help of the right CRM system. Segmentation, for example - the ultimate weapon in the arsenal of any marketing department - is all but impossible without a good CRM system. By presenting to users historical customer data like purchase history and past responses to promotions, CRM allows businesses to identify which existing customers are most likely to buy a new product and when, thereby providing more efficient support for upselling and cross-selling efforts. This then enables marketing departments to send automated emails triggered by purchases like seasonal offers, renewal notices and event invitations, further enhancing the sales effort.

What's more, effective segmentation can also be used to create profiles to identify a company's best customers, enabling it to target 'lookalike' prospects and capture better-qualified leads more likely to make a purchase. A CRM platform also allows marketing departments to easily monitor campaigns and measure their effectiveness - with the ensuing fine-tuning improving return on investment.

In today's tough economic climate, retaining existing customers has become central to keeping ahead of competitors, and the sophisticated, targeted communications that a well-implemented CRM system enables a company to deliver give businesses a helping hand in addressing this challenge. By channelling targeted, relevant messages and offers from various streams of data, CRM vastly improves the resources a marketing department or sales team has to work with, and keeps the customer on side by facilitating the building of relationships that acknowledge and respond to the customer.

Whilst having the right CRM with appropriate additional features can be a boon to marketing and sales, it can also bolster customer service tremendously - ensuring that staff in this area have access to real-time customer information, arming them to deal effectively with any interaction, whether a query or problem. This makes it easier for these employees to make sure their time is as fully devoted as possible to ensuring customer satisfaction.

By making actionable, accurate and comprehensive data accessible to all customer-facing staff, CRM systems can boost employee productivity across the board. Choosing a system with features and functions that a business actually needs in order to achieve its goals is key to this. In addition to sales and marketing automation, features such as mobile access and social media integration should be top of the list for managers looking to boost a team's output and gain a competitive edge. By opting for a CRM system with functions that will cut down on time-consuming administrative tasks and make work easier for individual employees, any organisation can improve productivity.