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CRM from the rear-view mirror

Companies that are several years into their CRM project look back at what they did right and what they would have done differently.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Businesses that have survived CRM initiatives and thrived as a result of them have mostly trod a common path to success. Some shared those steps -- and occasional missteps -- at last week's PeopleSoft user conference.

In all cases, companies with successful CRM projects didn't begin by shopping for software, but with a well-defined objective. Farm Credit Canada (FCC), for example, was seeking a 360-degree view of its customers. The financial institution wrote out its CRM mission statement to ensure the entire company was on board with its goal.

FCC's statement called for a "holistic view of [its] customers" to enable "consistent service across multiple channels," according to Derwin Arnstead, the Regina, Saskatchewan-based company's director of market development.

Changing with the project

Companies enjoying the fruits of their CRM labors also didn't underestimate the amount of organizational and business changes involved. In fact, they recognized the necessary shifts as the project was getting off the ground.

For instance, Manukau, a northern New Zealand city of 310,000, realized that CRM in the public sector required changing the way it handled service requests. To track interactions and standardize service, it needed a central call center to handle diverse inquiries -- everything from requests for recycling bins to trees that needed trimming.

Manukau's CRM project also led to merging many of the city departments' separate databases into a consolidated name and address register for citizens.

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"What we were trying to do is replace the emphasis on the silo with an emphasis on the service," said Glenn Teal, Manukau's manager of citizen and customer services.

As AGF Management Ltd., a Toronto-based mutual fund provider, embarked on its CRM project, it realized merging its sales and marketing departments would ensure that budgets were spent more consistently with its overall customer message.

AGF also bit off smaller pieces of CRM instead of a "big bang" deployment. It launched a five-year, $25 million CRM project in 2001.

"It was very important for us to understand this was not a quick solution," said Charles Cameron, AGF's director of project management.

AGF chose its steps wisely. In retrospect, Cameron said he wouldn't have started his project with a portal rollout because it didn't feature enough value to convince users of CRM's benefit.

Starting with service

AGF is more satisfied with its decision to first implement service software. The company realized that the greatest returns might have come with a sales and marketing software rollout, but it wanted users to adopt the project. So it started with a service module installation to 300 call center users who were more likely to embrace new technology.

After experiencing success in service, AGF pushed out the sales and marketing applications one year later. Reps and marketing executives were then able to access the customer data that the call center had collected.

FCC also did a phased deployment and made sure to have a "big win" within each wave of its CRM project. A new loan portfolio snapshot that gives employees a single-page view of a customer's loans eliminated the need to toggle through six different screens for the same information. Users have been so impressed that they're more likely to embrace future CRM initiatives, Arnstead said.

Testing, testing, testing

Testing and training played a larger role in each project's success than the companies anticipated. FCC noticed that users navigated the software differently than project designers had planned, forcing them to revisit how they trained staff. At AGF, customizations to the application slowed performance so significantly that it needed to call a third-party vendor to rev up the software.

All of the companies that undertook CRM recognized from the outset that ROI might not come overnight. Management also understood its commitment and didn't demand fast results.

AGF and FCC realize that quantifiable ROI probably won't come until sales and marketing can increase revenues. And in Manukau, the gains might just be a better way to manage contracted service providers and provide a better way for citizens to deal with government agencies.

"The truth is, the benefits are pretty much qualitative," Teal said.

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