The CRM market has seen its share of hype, disappointment and recovery.
And its failure rates have long been a topic of discussion. Four years ago, a presenter at a Gartner conference suggested that lengthy list of factors that can jeopardize CRM initiatives – for example, poor methodology, lack of established success metrics, and too much IT involvement.
The "F" word has surfaced again in recent weeks as vendors trying to capitalize on a maturing market have offered their visions for the next phase of CRM's evolution.
"There was a trend where people lost sight of the fact that CRM is about your customers," Angela Bandlow, vice president of CRM strategy and communication at SAP, said at the company's recent Sapphire user conference in Orlando. "We're seeing companies that had point solutions … having difficulty integrating those to [be able to] look at the entire solution."
"I think the line between sales, service and marketing will disappear," said Greg Gianforte, CEO of RightNow. "CRM failed because it focused too much on internal process improvement. There's a shift in power from companies to consumers. You can't manage a relationship."
That sentiment jives with the assessments of Dick Lee, who believes CRM as a concept has failed because it focused on the technology and internal processes rather than the needs of the customer. And he has some research to back it up.
"We have a split that has developed between customer centricity and CRM," said Lee, founder and principal of High Yield Methods, a St. Paul, Minn.-based consultancy. "The promise was [CRM] would lead to customer centricity. What we have now is, the basic components of CRM as it's practiced today -- people, process, technology -- are not delivering on customer centricity."
In a survey conducted in conjunction with David Mangen, of Mangen Research Associates, entitled "Customers Say What Companies Don't Want to Hear," Lee found that a company's level of customer focus was most important. When 547 customers were asked what company behavior most influenced buying decisions, 60.3% said customer focus. Consumers said empowered employees (71%) ranked nearly as high as quality products (76%) when it came to how they evaluated companies.
"The study outcomes clearly indicate that CRM is not fulfilling the original promise of CRM," Lee said. "From the get-go, this was going to be about how we improve relationships with customers, how we could improve customer loyalty through delivering value to customers. All the lofty ambitions seem to have been lost."
Historically, companies have focused their CRM efforts and investments on cutting internal costs with tools such as online self-service or interactive voice response (IVR). These technologies help decrease workloads and theoretically reduce costs, but they haven't necessarily been used to understand customers and foster loyalty.
"When we look at what motivates customer buying decisions, CRM is not supporting the principal motivators," Lee said. "In that sense, from a customer standpoint, CRM is somewhat irrelevant, which is not what was supposed to happen."
What does matter to customers is companies that have empowered their employees. Amazon.com, for example, the company rated highest in the study for customer centricity, empowers its agents to correct company mistakes without a lengthy escalation process, Lee said.
For too long, companies have tried to persuade customers to do what's right for the company, but now customers want the company to do what's right for them. And companies that can adopt this philosophy stand to gain real competitive advantage -- particularly those companies in commoditized, price-competitive industries where cutting operating costs is difficult, according to the report.
Yet the market for CRM technology continues to thrive. According to a recent report from Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., the worldwide market for CRM software grew 14% in 2005 to $5.7 billion.