CRM Helping Hand – Or abusive practice?

For long time, customer relationship management software and associated CRM business strategies have been touted as good thing – but for whom? The benefits to business efficiency and profitability have been shouted from the rooftops, and there’s now enough evidence to suggest that’s fair enough: CRM strategy properly planned, strategised and backed up with well-suited software can deliver for the business. But what about the customer? Business efficiency and profitability aside, is the customer any happier as result of CRM?
In her new book, Talk to the Hand: the Utter Bloody Rudeness of Everyday Life, British author Lynn Truss argues customer-facing CRM systems seem to exist purely for the benefit of the business.
“In common with many people today, I seem to spend my whole life wrestling resentfully with automated switchboards, waiting resentfully at home all day for deliveries that don’t arrive… and generally wondering resentfully, ‘Isn’t this transaction of mutual benefit to both sides? So why am I not being met halfway here?’” writes Truss.
Of course CRM systems and processes are supposed to do more than meet the customer halfway; they are supposed to delight the customer, who hopefully isn’t even aware that complex CRM strategy and software system is delivering that delight. While Truss’ comments relate more to self-service CRM tools – think websites that allow you to pay your own bills or automated telephony systems – and CRM is wider process than that, CRM software vendors are prepared to admit Truss has point. And they’re not being overly generous – if the customer ends up steaming it’s probably not the fault of the CRM software, but the processes and philosophies behind how they are being used.
John Biggs, CEO for CRM implementer Complete Solutions, says approaches to CRM planning differ widely between companies, and while the desire to get closer to customers is “universal business requirement” how businesses go about it, and how well they understand what customers want, is the make or break of any CRM project.
“Like any application, people ask for CRM because they have been told it is something they should do. [As consultants] we bring lot to the table by explaining that CRM is actually business process with steps that need to be followed,” says Biggs.
He says CRM is essentially about getting access to the right customer information at the right time (whether the customer does it or the business) and about ensuring every customer interaction is straightforward and positive experience. Businesses need an overview of the customer and of their own interactions with each one, says Biggs.
“The minute you have CRM is the minute you have the potential to keep your customer and [internal staff] better informed; the downside is that CRM communications can end up looking like mass mail to the customer,” says Biggs.
Or at least lot of work, which Truss insists should not be the responsibility of the customer.
“Everywhere we turn for bit of help, we are politely instructed in ways we can navigate system to find the solution for ourselves – and I think this is driving us mad,” she writes.
The challenge for businesses then, is to ensure CRM system generated information is personal, accurate and relevant for the customer – but this is easier said than done. If telephony system thanks someone “for their patience” this is neither personal nor sincere since few people are prepared to be patient and have no interest in being placated; or as Truss puts it: “Traffic cops may ask you politely to get out of the car, but that doesn’t mean you have choice.” If customer wants to call and speak to live person it doesn’t matter that they can get the information they need from website. The point is they may not want to.
Ben Green, business solutions marketing manager for Microsoft New Zealand, says there is bottom line impact to be made by increasing customer satisfaction. If the web or telephony self-service delivers that, then fantastic, but self-service isn’t always the answer, he says.
“The CRM experience tends to reflect business culture – if the interaction is positive, meaningful, relevant, warm, then that is the company culture. If it is cold, distant, and cost driven, that is also company culture,” says Green.
Ian Black, managing director for SAP New Zealand – which develops enterprise CRM software and BusinessOne, small business ERP suite with CRM components – says some customers are CRM-wary after attempting to apply strategies and technologies in the past without significant result.
“Such failures are partly to do with the difficulty of integrating CRM with other business systems, which is why SAP’s message is around integrated systems, but it is also because CRM is essentially about what works for the customer and businesses need to take consultative approach towards that. Research what customers want and know how they would like to interact with the organisation,” says Black.
Alex Morcom, partner alliances manager for SAP, says small business-focused ERP systems deliver single version of the truth which is “beautiful” for small business manager. However, the biggest challenges can be migrating legacy customer and financial data from older systems into new CRM system, and ensuring salespeople and other internal stakeholders are prepared to change the way they work, says Morcom.
“It’s not hard sell to demonstrate the advantages of one-view system, but beyond that people do need change man-agement,” he says.

CASE STUDY #1: Parkland Products
Terrain products and services
Employees: 40
CRM software: Microsoft
Implementation partner: Complete Solutions
Main impact of CRM: We are now the leader in key market segments and believe CRM has delivered us that market share. There are small internal process savings in using CRM and efficiencies are up. – Chris Todd, managing director.

Parkland Products has been interested in the benefits of CRM since 1989. The company initially started collecting customer information on DOS database, moved to contact management software Goldmine, then onto Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM software.
Managing director Chris Todd says because Parkland Products deals in niche market, maintaining customer and supplier relationships has always been critical to success. While early customer contact software was quite primitive the workflow capabilities of modern CRM systems are impressive, says Todd.
“We have [evolved] from accumulating customer information to using systems with sales and campaign management facilities built in and the ability to reach customers via SMS and email. With traditional products you could write to someone and that was about it,” he says.
While Parkland Products will soon offer customers web self-service option, Todd is under no illusions that some customers won’t want to use it.
“We definitely have customers who would rather just talk. In the past we implemented CRM strategies and quickly discovered we were delivering what our customers didn’t want. You really have to think about it,” says Todd.
He says CRM is definitely philosophy, and suited to businesses that are relationship-based, rather than transaction-based. And customers don’t necessarily want all the information business can throw at them, says Todd.
“You have to be selective about the information you deliver and CRM tools can help you do that,” he says.
Todd says for CRM success, senior managers need to demonstrate there is benefit to collecting customer information and show, rather than tell, internal staff.

CASE STUDY #2: Rakon
Quartz and crystal component production
Employees: 475
CRM software: SAP
Implementation partner: Intelligroup
Main impact of CRM: The main benefit is our ability to capture huge amounts of business we were [previously] missing. CRM provides net to capture information and report out of i

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