CRM: Do You Know What Your Customers Experience?

Philip Say

Updated · Aug 28, 2001

Before you sign off on that million-dollar customer relationship management (CRM) project, I recommend testing your company's customer experience. I'm referring not to what simply happens through online channels but to the total relationship a customer has with your company.

CRM Litmus Test

Until your organization has a better understanding of its “CR” (customer relationship), it won't have an appropriate way to “M” (manage) the situation.

Do you know what it's like to buy something from your company? Go ahead, try it. Get out, and place an order with your company. Leave the building. Make a phone call. Bring up the Web site. Complain about a problem. Try to track the status of your order. What you find could be very disconcerting.

Where Do Breakdowns Happen?

For many companies breakdowns occur right at the beginning of the relationship cycle — when sales representatives don't respond quickly enough to prospects. This latency translates into opportunity cost and lost sales.

If a customer successfully engages a representative, the next major process breakdown normally occurs when the prospect requests a quote. In most companies sales representatives rely on a number of systems and procedures to develop accurate pricing, gauge inventory, and manage account information using back-office systems.

The third major area of trouble typically comes once the customer accepts a quote and places an order. This is when things can get very ugly. Without integration, order management can involve a number of manual processes in various departments, often resulting in duplicate data entry, wasted effort, and entry errors.

Post-sales activity is another area in which process breakdowns normally occur. Different departments often manage settlement, delivery, support, and follow-on activities. Without integration, companies often fail to have a unified view of post-sale customer activity.

Integration Is the Key

Quite often, customer relationship breakdowns are caused by the limitations of internal systems. Individual systems were designed and deployed to support individual functions without regard to the entire customer relationship cycle. As a result, many of the customer relationship breakdowns can be mapped directly to handoff points between systems.

Of course, it's often impractical for an organization to replace an entire system infrastructure; the challenge revolves around making existing systems work seamlessly together. When it comes to supporting the customer relationship cycle, they should look like one unified system.

Finding the Right Solution

There are a number of approaches to constructing an integrated CRM infrastructure. For companies with established system infrastructures, the typical path involves applying enterprise application integration (EAI) technology to make existing systems work together. Vendors such as TIBCO, Mercator, IBM, Vitria, and webMethods provide technology that links processes between disparate systems. Usually, implementation requires consulting services and some business process design expertise.

If your company is building its CRM infrastructure from the ground up, established enterprise software vendors that provide packaged integration between back-office and front-office operations may offer the right solution for you. PeopleSoft, Oracle, Siebel, and SAP have expanded beyond their traditional boundaries to provide companies end-to-end support for business operations.

Finally, for companies looking to outsource their CRM integration needs, I suggest looking at managed service provider solutions from companies such as Asera, Corio, and USinternetworking that specialize in delivering pre-integrated solutions. There are significant time-to-market and cost advantages with an application service provider (ASP) strategy. However, companies should carefully examine their business requirements and ensure that the providers they are considering can support their needs.

In short, CRM success is all about integration. Get your CRM system to work with the rest of the enterprise, including enterprise resource planning (ERP), Web channels, and other enterprise applications, and you will finally unleash the return you want from your system investments.

Reprinted from ClickZ

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