I recently presented the “Conference Room Pilot” (sometimes reduced to the inauspicious acronym ‘CRP’) for a system we are implementing. In essence, a CRP is a review of the system before it is put through user acceptance testing (UAT), or more generally into production. The audience was about fifty people, from all levels of the organisation, many of which were unaware a new system was coming or why it was needed.
My job was to show them their new stakeholder management system but also put it into context and convince them this was not just another piece of technology coming in, to be replaced in 18 months. I needed to make the system relevant and generate a sense of urgency and excitement within the crowd. This got me thinking why we need CRM systems in the first place. What is it about the way we work that makes a CRM system indispensible? I had previously written about the ‘what’ but only touched on the ‘why’.
This is what I came with.
The Eternal Conflict
There is a battle waging in many organizations. The battle is between the end users and management. The end users come to work every day to do a good job. They sell the products and provide the services. They know the problems of the organisation, where the waste is and where attention needs to be focussed.
Management want to do everything in their power to make the end users and, by extension, the organization successful. Usually their success is directly linked to it. They are not as close to the clients as the end users, or the products and services the organization provides, so they rely on feedback from their various systems to guide the business.
This is where the problem often lies. The end users, deprived of the resources they need to service their customers, do the best they can. Time poor, they do not have the time to dot the internal ‘i’s and cross the internal ‘t’s. Information systems, when they exist, are filled in poorly or, worse, circumvented. Management, with limited and incomplete information make the best guess they can as to the issues within the business and where the resources should be best deployed. And so the cycle repeats.
Aligning People, Processes and Technology
The idea of aligning people, process and technology is a topic I have touched on in the past. The solution here is to consider all three elements and how they can work together to improve communication between the end users and management. Starting with the technology,the information systems must be simple to use (so they do not get in the way of the end users), aligned to the business process (and vice versa) so they do not hinder efficiency, and capture the essential information required to deliver great service to the clients and communicate with management the health of the business. For example, knowing how long a service call takes and the waiting times for callers is irrelevant to addressing a client’s immediate problem but is essential in setting appropriate staff levels.
Where practical, the system should be a ‘one-stop shop’ for a given end user. There is no value in having an end user jump from system to system when servicing a client or when they are ticking the internal boxes. It is inevitable that multiple systems are used within a business (for example, CRM systems make for lousy ERP systems) but as long as each end user uses as few systems as possible to do their job, this will minimise the frustration of constantly jumping from one system to the next.
Finally our system needs to have reporting tools so that, assuming it is aligned to the business’ processes and it is not getting in the way of the end users, management can extract insights into the business and deploy resources accordingly. For example, if support consistently answer questions on a specific topic, perhaps this topic should be covered on the business’ FAQ, or if a particular product consistently shows a specific defect, this can be the focus of future research and development.
The Right System For The Job
The system I am describing is, of course, a CRM system. While traditionally focused on managing sales processes, CRM systems have come a long way and are consistently used to manage all manner of processes within a business. In the case of Dynamics CRM, the tight integration with Outlook, reporting tools, and a workflow engine to automate repetitive tasks and manage escalations make it ideal for the system I am describing.
With the right people in place, efficient business process and a CRM system to help them do their job and capture the key ‘levers’ of the business, it is then the responsibility of the end users to use CRM appropriately. When they do so, management can use the reporting tools to better understand the business and their clients, and they can then deploy resources appropriately to further improve operations. The end users get the resources and system to help them do their job and the business thrives.
The Circle of ‘Business’ Life
If we now revisit our diagram, it takes on a new paradigm. Rather than describing conflict in the business, it describes a self-reinforcing process for improvement, with all elements of the business working together, rather than against one another.
A common complaint with CRM systems is that they increase end user workload or that they are ‘Big Brother’. While CRM systems do require effort to use and are a monitoring tool for the business, these criticisms need to be considered in a larger context. With centralised, consolidated information, visibility of the business is gained and the system, rather than keeping end users and management apart, bring them together and aligns them so they both work together for the business and, most importantly for the clients. This is the reason CRM systems are so important and are essential if a business is to succeed.