CRM: Throwing out the hype, concentrating on the basics

By Matt Kramer, Syntegra (USA)

Customer relationship management (CRM) is an interesting combination of real technology, promising business solutions, and absurd expectations. Sound harsh? When the Gartner Group estimates that over 80 percent of CRM implementations fail to achieve their full objectives, any rational person should ask why.

Few CRM implementations fail because of technical reasons. In fact, while technology costs can grow quickly, it’s the rare solution that doesn’t accomplish what it sets out to do, technologically speaking.

Most implementations fail because of internal business issues. More specifically, they fail because of a lack of shared perspective. Departments end up competing with each other, and both the company and its customers lose.

A shared perspective is key when examining CRM solutions. The customer cares little for internal business distinctions.

Customers want information. They want resolution of problems. And they want new services. That different units in a company respond to those three requests means little to them.

Utilities understand this problem all too well. Do call center operators know when they are talking to one of their most important corporate customers? Are they able to scan through an entire trouble-ticket, telling the customer when the problem will be corrected and scheduling ongoing reports back to the customer as information flows in from the field? Most customer service systems, billing applications, trouble-ticket, and dispatch systems are separate, making it impossible to generate one unified view that responds to the customer’s needs.

There are two very straightforward tasks that can dramatically change the approach to CRM and put a utility business on the track to success.

  • Task one: Audit customer interaction-not only the call center, but every aspect of the organization that touches customers: customer service to billing, marketing to sales, field crews to demand planners. Audits should address not only what information each organization collects and distributes, but via what channels. Are they primarily phone-based? Is there an Internet component? Is it accurate? Is it consistent?

Just as critical, determine how the interaction is measured. Are call center operators rewarded on the basis of time spent on each call, or are they rewarded on the basis of the value a given customer represents? In one scenario, one would like to get customers off the phone as soon as possible; in the other, one wants them to stay until they are completely satisfied.

  • Task two: Experience what customers must go through, and systematically ask customers what they want from your company.

This isn’t call monitoring, or a review of customer satisfaction data. That information, invaluable as it is, speaks to the here and now. To truly rethink customer interaction strategy, one must have a customer’s perspective on the future, not just the present.

Learn what applications customers have today, and what they plan for tomorrow. Discover what demand management systems seem likely to end up in customer environments. Could their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems interact directly with a service request application? What security issues are customers grappling with that would preclude or enable more direct contact? Find out if customers are exploring telecommunications strategies that will ensure broadband accessibility via the Web, or if they will be limited in the degree of bandwidth that their networks will support.

Ask the same questions of corporate customers and residential customers. Users are becoming ever more sophisticated, and their expectations are growing accordingly.

When one has completed both tasks, results should be nothing less than a total review of one’s present operations. Remember that true costs are not in technology acquisition, but in the acceptance and operation of solutions by staff. This is a key point, and one that is repeatedly ignored in CRM propaganda: Technology does not produce results-staff does. Without the support of people and complete organizational alignment (the “shared perspective”), a solution simply will not deliver the expected corporate-wide results.

For CRM to provide corporate-wide benefits, a company must provide a complete corporate perspective in its customer interaction audit and CRM program. Don’t be lulled into accepting department-by-department initiatives. Also note that good planning will generate incremental improvements all along the line. Expect cost savings and a greater degree of departmental buy-in as a result.

Finally, and perhaps more importantly, remember that a company controls its own destiny. By reviewing operations first, and leveraging objectives across all interactions, a company can selectively evaluate and purchase technology that meets organizational goals, not just department objectives.

Kramer, Vice President, manages Syntegra’s North American Utility Industry Vertical, concentrating on solutions that maximize interaction value between customers and providers. For more information, visit www.us.syntegra.com/energy, or contact Kramer directly at 651-415-4060 or Matt.Kramer@syntegra.com.

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