You Can’t CRM Your Problems Away

You Can’t CRM Your Problems Away

/ Technology, Omnichannel
You Can’t CRM Your Problems Away

Today’s CRM is not a cure-all for productivity and customer service challenges.

I got that catchy title during a recent conversation with Mike Garner, chief customer officer at Cicero. His evaluation of customer relationship management (CRM) software brought back a lot of memories of the salad days of CRM in the late 1990s and early 2000s. That was when CRM seemed to take on a life of its own.

I started my business, Saddletree Research, in 1999. My initial plan was to jump on the bandwagon and be a CRM analyst. I quickly discovered that wasn’t a feasible plan. Not only was Saddletree an unknown entity with a lot of work to do to build brand recognition, I also discovered that the competition was formidable to say the least.

One unnamed analyst firm (Gartner) had about 35 analysts covering one aspect of CRM or another. Yankee Group had at least four analysts that I knew of covering CRM. A bunch of other analyst firms, most of which have been acquired and absorbed by Gartner over the past decade or so, had dozens more CRM analysts. The industry was lousy with CRM analysts.

I can’t blame the analyst firms for being top-heavy with CRM analysts. They were just following the money. The contact center industry was just as crazy for CRM as the analyst firms were. Just about every company in the business wanted to be called a CRM company. Companies that couldn’t even spell “CRM” were calling themselves CRM companies.

Trade shows were equally over the top. I remember going to one of the call center shows in Chicago in the early 2000s and it was nothing but CRM as far as the eye could see. CRM companies dominated the show floor landscape. There were so many CRM analysts at the show that they were bumping into each other like a bunch of little Pac-Man characters. If you tripped and fell while hurrying from one CRM company trade show booth to another you were in serious danger of being trampled by an unruly pack of wild CRM analysts.

I took refuge from the madness by hiding out in the trade show booth of a company that had a big sign on their stand advertising their CRM headsets. Seriously. CRM headsets. I asked one of the reps manning the booth what a CRM headset was and he showed me headsets in four different colors, like “Blueberry Blue” and “Cherry Red.” All the members of a CRM team could have the same color headset so they would know to which CRM team they belonged. Brilliant!

CRM was the contact center equivalent of snake oil in the early 2000s. Cicero’s Mike Garner refers to it as CRM 1.0—the “Siebel-ization” of everything. Many vendors and lots of users believed CRM was the answer to any and all of their productivity, service and profitability problems. Throw enough CRM at anything and it would be fixed. Lots of CRM vendors got rich riding that wave.

Today, we know that CRM wasn’t the cure-all it was touted to be back in those heady days. The first clue I got about the gradual demise of CRM mania was the calendar quarter during which more CRM software was installed than was shipped. How could that happen? Shelf-ware. Lots of CRM disciples bought lots of CRM software then didn’t know what to do with it. Consequently, there was lots of CRM software sitting on lots of shelves and I guess people in those companies, probably from the finance side, noticed the software sitting dormant on the shelf and decided they should install it and try to get their money’s worth. That’s how you get more software installed than was shipped in a given period of time.

Today, CRM has taken a less frenzied and decidedly more dignified position in the contact center industry. The popularity of cloud-based CRM, however, has spurned what Cicero’s Garner terms CRM 2.0. While the CRM of today is definitely superior to the CRM of 15 years ago, it still doesn’t solve all of a contact center’s problems. There are productivity gaps that you just can’t CRM away.

According to Garner, “Contact center agents still have to work with three, five, 10 or more servicing apps, including an on-premise or cloud CRM system. There are still too many possible points of failure for agents, where steps or even whole tasks span multiple applications. We should be focusing on how work is performed within and across all applications, how it impacts customer service, and then focus on making the right type of improvement.”

The agent desktop or workstation is a center of customer service activity that has been garnering increased interest by the industry over the past year or two. According to the results of the most recent survey of end-users conducted by Saddletree Research in conjunction with the National Association of Call Centers (NACC) at The University of Southern Mississippi, 19% of respondents intend to replace their existing agent desktop software or evaluate desktop software for initial purchase during 2015. Another 4% of respondents have already funded desktop software for purchase in 2015. In terms of real numbers, that’s over 16,000 U.S. contact centers that have decided to invest in the agent desktop this year. This is what we CRM analysts, past and present, call a trend.

“No one has three years to wait for a productivity lift based on hoped-for APIs or enhancements to the CRM or knowledge base applications sitting on the agent desktop,” Garner added. “If you can truly collect empirical data about how work happens, you can make the right choices about your agent desktops such as improving training, changing technologies and automating processes.”

As much as I, and the thousands of other CRM analysts in the industry 15 years ago, loved CRM software, we know now that it was not the cure-all for productivity and customer service challenges. You couldn’t then, and you can’t now, CRM your problems away. There are, however, areas of past neglect that are starting to get the attention they deserve. The agent workstation is a good example. Now, if only we could get agent workstations in Blueberry Blue and Cherry Red the contact center world would be perfect.

Paul Stockford

Paul Stockford

Paul Stockford served as Chief Analyst at Saddletree Research, which specialized in contact centers & customer service, from 1999-2022.
Twitter: @PaulStockford

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