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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

No Immediate Gratification

In pondering why the NAB's CRM efforts have succeeded so comprehensively where others have failed, Crouch believes some organisations have weakened their efforts by expecting instant success. "I think one of the lessons learned is that you don't look for quick results," he says. "I don't think you get quick payback, so if you do it because you think you're doing it for quick financial returns, you're probably better off saving your money."

He also thinks the strategy has worked because the early, prerequisite work on customer information files, data cleansing and building of data warehouses was kept comparatively low-key, with very limited visibility across the bank.

"We haven't gone in with the big announcements: 'We're going to put in CRM, and it's going to have all these wonderful results', and all those sorts of things," he says. "So I think we've gone into it [CRM] quite pragmatically, knowing that we were in for the journey and that we have to do this. Technology is going to underpin our relationship banking strategy, so success is really not optional for us. That makes it a bit easier."

And he says senior executive buy-in has been crucial to success, first under Don Argus as CEO and then under his successor, Cicutto. "If you don't have the CEO right behind it - and in our case the bank has - and the management team behind it, it's easy to start off down the trail and then lose heart," Crouch says. "I think you also get many competing things that are going on - competing for investments, and in many cases a lot of those investment decisions are made on short-term financial returns. So you've got to have a strategic view and stick to it."

These days, he says, any request for new investments is considered in the light of how it aligns with the strategy of the group, so to that extent most IT investments at the NAB are made in the context of the CRM strategy. "I think what's happened within the bank is that this focus on relationships and relationship banking as it was always referred to back in the 90s has always been a cornerstone of what the bank's about," he says. "It's become a cultural thing.

"Even when we go back and have our strategic discussion, the cornerstone is always our relationships with our customers. And I've never heard it challenged or people say: 'That's not the right thing to do', or whatever. It's always: 'That's a given. That's what we're doing; now what are the other things we need to do?' So it's certainly a strategic thrust and very much embedded in the culture of the bank."

The Whole World in Its CRM

The NAB is now starting to push CRM into New Zealand, and Crouch says it is starting down a track to deploy it in their geographies around the world. That means all that work will need to be replicated in other corners of the globe.

"You've got all the same challenges," he says. "You've got to go through and build the data warehouses, and build all the technology that underpins it. You have to go through building the national leads component of it, the data warehousing. We haven't deployed Siebel in some of those other places. Now that's part of the next three- to five-year program that we're working on.

"And I think that's part of us maturing as a group. We're making some of these investments in Australia, and building skills and learning, and then deploying those in the other countries. But the incremental cost of deploying now in other countries is comparatively small. You've made the big investment in Australia. So achieving scale out of our investment is a common theme within the group, and that's something probably reasonably unique to NAB."

The NAB is still working on delivering the real-time enterprise in response to changing customer expectations. Crouch acknowledges that continues to be a major technological and cultural challenge, and not just for his organisation. "I don't think we're unique in that one. Maybe we're a bit further down the track, and maybe we're a little better advantaged on that one.

"But [our CRM] is a real success story for the group, and for technology. I think for Australia it demonstrates that we can really have some of the leading thinking and we can then develop relationships where there are vendors that put us right at the leading edge," he says.

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