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Long Time Coming

Long Time Coming

Developing a successful CRM program is a journey, not a destination — and no organisation knows that better than the National Australia Bank

In any other area of life, such dismal success rates would be considered recklessly unsustainable. Conduct elective cosmetic surgery with the probability of 80 per cent fatality and you might find yourself sued for malpractice. Launch a space shuttle knowing it had just a 20 per cent chance of completing its mission and you would expect to be drummed out of NASA. Launch a war knowing you were three times as likely to be wiped out as to win and you might expect to face impeachment . . . And yet businesses keep plugging away at CRM projects despite warnings from analysts of failure rates in some areas up around the 75-80 per cent mark.

Obviously under today's new economic realities, organisations without a definitive customer relationship management blueprint for success are doomed to suffer harsh consequences. But CRM is not for the faint-hearted. Clearly, it requires much management and money.

As Gartner analyst Scott Nelson maintains, many multimillion dollar initiatives have quietly stalled or failed as executives search for business benefits, and salespeople shy away from technology they say will not help them. This makes scrutiny of arguably the most advanced and effective broad-scale customer relationship platform among the leading retail financial services providers in Australia worthwhile - because customer relationship management has become the keystone of the National Australia Bank's business strategy.

But as CIO Ian Crouch explains, it has been a long time coming.

The National Australia Bank (NAB) has been working on CRM for more than 10 years - longer by seven years or so than CRM as a marketing term has had currency. "Way back then, a group of far-sighted NAB executives could see that the future for organisations continuing to build their business around products was limited," Crouch says. "The management team wanted to move away from a product orientation to a customer orientation. Customer information files were seen as a major vehicle to the transformation."

The CRM system which evolved from that nascent strategy has taken those 10 years or more to put in place, and the bank now has more than 200 consultants and technical staff developing the platform across the group's business units. The lesson is that there is no instant path to CRM nirvana; but the patient, steady approach has paid enormous dividends for NAB.

While Crouch only joined the bank last year, he says in his "previous lives" working with most of the leading banks he had not seen any bank that was as far down the track as the National Australia Bank is. "It is a credit to the people who have really worked on this for the last decade - and it hasn't been just one person, it's been a team effort - and the vision of the management at the time," he says. "There is no doubt in my mind that it really is leading edge, and that is what some of the recent awards that were won are simply recognising." Those awards include: Best CRM Strategy in the Financial Innovation Awards (sponsored by the Institute of Financial Services UK and British Telecom), November 2001; and Best Use of Technology 2002 in The Banker Awards, (Financial Times, UK).

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