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CRM Falls Prey To Sea Monkey Syndrome

By Tracey E. Schelmetic
Editorial Director, Customer Inter@ction Solutions



The call center industry now seems to be in the midst of a grand 'forgiveness' toward CRM. Though many still think that the implementations-that-shall-not-be-named back in the late 1990s were entirely the fault of the CRM products, they're magnanimously willing to give CRM another go. But be warned, CRM, you're under notice. None of that funny stuff. Next time I flip the CRM switch to 'on,' I expect you'll work miracles for my business. Why else would I have bought you?

Why else indeed. As we enter the next phase of CRM implementations (I would accept arguments that we're entering either the second phase of CRM or the third phase of CRM'I can think of supporting details for both positions), I can see that CRM still suffers from something I call 'Sea Monkey Syndrome.'

Were you ever given a package of Sea Monkeys to 'grow' as a child? (If not, then this editorial will mean very little to you, and I suggest you go reorganize your spice cabinet now'remember, marjoram and oregano can be used interchangeably, but marjoram's better on fish.)

If you recall, Sea Monkeys always came in a wonderful package. The photos showed families of huge, smiling sea creatures wearing hats and cute outfits. Some of the monkeys were engaged in activities like bike riding and watching TV. When I got my first package of Sea Monkeys, I just KNEW that this was going to be the coolest present anyone had ever given to me.

Then I added water and 'hatched' them. What I got was a couple of really ugly-looking small shrimp thingies with lots of fluttery bits and googly-eyes. They scared the hell out of me. No Sea Monkey circus, no Mom and Dad and Billy and Suzie Sea Monkey lounging in front of an underwater castle, no bikes, no ballerinas. Just creatures that, had I found them in my room without knowing where they'd come from, I'd have run screaming to my mother.

CRM still falls prey to the kind of expectations that I and other kids (at least I hope it affected other kids, or I'm publicly owning up to some embarrassing childhood revelations) had about Sea Monkeys, until we tried growing them. Our expectations were sky high, and we were sold a romantic fabrication. Sound familiar?

CRM won't fix your business if it's broken. CRM won't help you keep customers if you don't give them a substantive reason to stay. CRM won't improve your product or your marketing, and it probably won't lower your cholesterol level, despite what the brochures say. It also won't improve the attitudes of your call center workers unless those attitudes are directly caused by frustration resulting from not having the right tools and information to serve customers better.

CRM solutions can only ever be as good as the sources from which they draw data. Do you keep all your customer information in an Excel spreadsheet prepared by a high school-aged temp in 1994? Alas'brace yourself, I have some news for you.

What CRM will do is create a solid bridge between all your customer, product and partner data and your call center workforce, as long as the information, both structured and unstructured, is intact and accessible and your call center agents have the incentive to do a good job and use the information the CRM solution provides them to cultivate and improve customer relationships. If your company management understands what to reasonably expect from CRM, then they'll be wowed.

CRM works.

If your company management STILL expects that after it authorizes the purchase of a CRM solution, it can sit back and wait for the record profits to pour in, you may be in trouble. (Particularly if you're the one who urged the purchase of the software. I truly believe that there is a group of itinerant former IT executives sitting in ragged clothes by a roadside somewhere, holding signs that say, 'Talked The Boss Into Buying CRM Software In 1999.')

If your company has ever said, 'Well, the call center is ready for CRM, but the back-office people, accounting, warehousing, the outside sales team and several of our suppliers are not,' proceed no further. CRM can only work if the initiative stretches across, and is embraced by, nearly every company department, from the top down.

To be fair, the first generation of CRM solutions were frequently 'one-size-fits-all,' which makes even less sense than implementing CRM to just half the company. Every business is different, and CRM without the ability to not only customize the solution but also keep the functionality you need and discard the features you don't is fairly pointless. Perhaps the entry of (and, more important, the success of) hosted/on-demand CRM in phase two, and now open-source CRM in phase three, have taught a much needed lesson to the enterprise business community as well.

If you don't know what CRM is going to improve in the first place, how do you know when you've succeeded? And more important, if you can't understand and serve your own company's needs, how are you going to serve your customers'?

The author, who still makes a wide detour around the tank in the pet store where brine shrimp are kept, may be contacted at [email protected].

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