Throwing money at a problem is the wrong thing to do and CRM software is no exception to the rule.
By now, most major IT organizations have experimented with CRM software with mixed results. The typical scenario by which the CRM project came about usually involved an overpriced consultant convincing senior managers that adopting CRM software would result in increased profits through better customer service.
On paper this is a lovely concept, but because no battle plan ever survives the first five minutes of contact with the enemy, most CRM software projects go awry. This is because the enemy in the case of CRM software has very little to do with the software and technology being applied. Most companies apply an arcane business process to customer management that no amount of software is going to fix.
Case in point is SBC Communications Inc., my home DSL service provider. Two months ago, my service began to time out, and it took about 20 hours of customer interaction with their help desk to restore service. The sad thing about this experience is that the last customer support person I talked to fixed the problem in 30 minutes, once it was finally escalated to his level. The resolution was to simply reconfigure the router service, so he didn't understand why the frontline support people couldn't figure out that the problem was on their end.
The reason they couldn't figure this out was because they have a script to follow, which meant they were not allowed to think for themselves. The script assumes that the problem lies with the customer and not with the company. This flawed approach replicates itself throughout corporate America and no amount of investment in software is going to change inherently flawed processes.
This is not to say that CRM is a bad idea, but taking a top-down approach to it almost always is. Instead, organizations should take a piecemeal approach where individual successes can have the most impact. For instance, self-service software that makes it easier for customers to resolve their own problems online is almost always a slam dunk. Following that comes a more ambitious investment in SFA (sales-force automation) software to allow sales representatives to know more about the customer. Just don't forget to integrate that capability with other systems in your organization because a sales-force application that is not linked to other applications containing information about the client will prove worthless. Next, make sure the back-end supply chain and distribution channel can provide a single view of the customer.
The call center is the last piece of the puzzle. Once you have an infrastructure in place to support it, automating the call center makes a lot of sense. Because without that level of support, CRM turns into an expensive boondoggle for consultants that will likely cost senior IT people their jobs when the company starts looking for somebody to blame for the millions of misspent dollars.
So even though its April 1, don't be fooled by CRM.
Michael Vizard is editor in chief of InfoWorld and InfoWorld.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.