One Tough Customer

One Tough Customer

Coping with customer relationship mayhem

A few weeks ago the Boss requested some customer information and my inability to find it for her using my time-honoured, traditional system in a timely fashion - or at all, as it turned out - was quite embarrassing. My system used BSAM (Bruce Sequential Access Method), which involved rifling through all the papers on my desk, then the pile on the floor, the stack in the cupboard and finally looking in the bin.

Clearly I needed a CRM system.

I'm a bit of an expert on CRM, having served on an evaluation panel for a large company, which, after implementing our recommendation, spent $20 million on the CRM pilot before abandoning it. I remembered all the mistakes we made then, and was certain I could faithfully repeat them.

I short-listed four contenders. Microsoft is currently spruiking CRM version 3, and that's historically their version number where things work. SAP has MySAP, which is a nice friendly name. SugarCRM sounds sweetly appealing and is open source, which makes it better - or so I'm told. Salesforce will host the CRM app for me, and given my aforementioned CRM history that could be handy. Oracle is a short-list on its own, with Oracle CRM, PeopleSoft, JD Edwards and now Siebel, so I'll let the Oracle folk figure out their best product before considering them.

My first hurdle was discovering that I didn't understand what CRM does. I thought it was having all my customer information accessible in one place. Not so, say the CRM experts. I was interrogated at length (all billable hours, too) about my business processes, with my advisers stressing that, once I discovered what they were, if my business processes didn't match the CRM software design I must change them. But it didn't stop there. You won't believe the number of people who now intimately know my workflows. I was asked what my business will look like in the future. In the future? I don't know what my business looks like now!

Each vendor told me their CRM system would be ideal for my business - after customization. Customization is the CRM equivalent of from, as in "Digital Cameras from $99". That $99 price is usually a fifth of what you end up spending. The benefit of the extensive customization work was that the Boss and I were so busy tailoring the system that no one saw any customers thus no records changed, avoiding the need for a data freeze period. Now each time I pay for an upgrade, I also pay services people to customize the customizations. I read that all CRM vendors are moving towards Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). That should read services oriented.

Finally, our CRM was ready. The processes were defined, the workflows programmed and the data imported. It was at this point the acronym GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) came to mind. The system did nothing to improve the quality of my data. So rather than manage my customer relationships, I manage my customer relationship system - verifying data, removing duplicates and adding new fields, which led to new workflows. To keep it current, every time I interact with a customer, I have to update the system. It's OK for e-mails, which the system tracks automatically, but I just can't get my telephone to record the time of call, the caller's name and the topic of conversation into the CRM. I've realized what I really need isn't a CRM, but a yet-to-be invented package called "Completely Organized with No Effort".

I'm just thankful I took the hosted CRM option, as it should be cheaper when I pack it all in and go back to my BSAM system.

The benefit of planning to fail is at least that's guaranteed to succeed.

Bruce Kirkham is a veteran IT professional specializing in leading-edge technologies and scepticism, who views the IT industry not so much as "dot com" as "dot comedy"

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