CRM is a technology, not a solution

I hate calling 'customer service numbers' on the telephone. The principal reason is that for that hatred is that I've been taught through some bad experience to fear call centers and the technology within them.

Perhaps on some planet, in another reality, it does make sense for banks to close branches and lay off local staff (many of whom have years of experience in the bank's products and established relationships with the bank's customers) to replace them with a call center full of cubicals that are filled with inexperienced, hourly paid temporary workers. But this doesn't make sense in our reality.

Part of the problem of call centers can be blamed on Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software and the way that it has been sold to users. If one was to believe half the claims, he or she would realistically think that all that's required to get a call center up and running is to pop the CRM CD-ROM into the server and 'hey presto'.

CRM does not solve the problem of relating to your customers, though it does provide a set of tools that can help with the process. But like all silver bullets, there is nothing to stop you shooting yourself in the foot.

In fact I would venture that CRM is one of the hardest things to get right because it requires companies to properly align the business strategy with the technology strategy. The really tricky thing is to remember, and constantly remind others, that this alignment doesn't happen automatically once you've re-booted the server.

To improve the chances that a CRM 'solution' will actually do what it says on the box, business and IT managers must be clear on a number of things:

  • First, is the aim simply to cut costs, or to improve revenues as well?
  • Second, is there a true understanding of the integration work required?
  • Third, is the solution the right one for all customers, or should a different tack be taken with certain segments?
  • And finally, no CRM system can contain all the 'scripts' and canned processes your customers will need, so make sure that you build in enough flexibility, and human expertise, to deal with the exceptions—it's frequently the exceptions that make you the most money.
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About the Author

Gary Barnett is IT research director at Ovum Ltd., a United Kingdom-based consulting firm.