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DSC Tech Library

CRM Solutions

CRM Customer Relationship Management This section of our technical library presents information and documentation relating to CRM Solutions and Customer relationship management software and products. Providing customer service is vital to maintaining successful business relationships. Accurate and timely information provided in a professional manner is the key to any business and service operation. Our CRM software application TELEMATION, was developed with this in mind. But the ability to change is just as important in this ever changing business environment. Telemation call center software was designed from the very beginning for this environment. Many call center managers, with unique and changing requirements, have chosen and continue to use our CRM software as their solution of choice. Our contact center CRM solution is ideally suited for call center service bureaus.

Corporate culture vs CRM

By John Lui

On the road to customer management nirvana, something happened: Organisations tend to grow to serve employees, not clients.

The failure rate of customer relationship management software is high—so high that CRM is often held up as an example of all that's wrong with enterprise IT today.

Sky-high promises, huge investments and weak results plagued CRM projects in the 90s.

Yet current numbers show that demand for CRM software is growing, albeit modestly. Analyst IDC estimates that developed Asian markets such as Singapore, South Korea and Australia will see spending on CRM grow between 2 per cent and 8 per cent a year.

Some might argue that the figures show that faith in the much-maligned software is returning. Others might say that analysts are defining the term “CRM software” too broadly, to make the picture look less bleak.

But it can’t be denied that today's customers are getting pickier. As one of the delegates at our Kuala Lumpur round table on CRM said, clients expect call centres to have customer records and call histories on hand within seconds. You can’t get that with cards and a filing cabinet.

The dilemma of CRM

Mohamad Mohar Ibrahim, vice-president of ICT at state-owned conglomerate Kumpulan Darul Ehsan, painted a bleak view, held by many, of the CRM systems in the market.

“Millions of dollars have been spent on CRM systems and many have failed,” he said.

One major problem was the high expectations of senior management about the returns of CRM and how soon those returns would show up on the balance sheet.

Another issue for CIOs: CRM is still a poorly understood idea among many non-IT people.

“Do they really know what they’re talking about? Does everybody know about CRM? Every bank wants to have CRM, and they really don’t know what it is,” said Mohar.

“Everybody wants to have a call centre. The mechanics and the operational aspects of CRM have to be really considered and understood by senior management before they embark on a project or even start thinking about it. It’s a big thing.

“Are we prepared to spend money on training, for example? And how much should we spend, and how do we look at the returns? Those are the kinds of things that we really need to think about when we start.”

Top-down approach

Shyam Prasad Baddepudi L., head of CRM business development for enterprise software firm SAP, shared some of Mohar's feelings: “In the 90s, the frenzy was ‘CRM for everyone’. People were thinking: ‘As a department, I have to do something so I embark on the CRM project.’ But what is changing now is it’s not just a departmental solution, it’s becoming a boardroom topic. So that’s the approach. It’s top-down in terms of looking at CRM as a strategy.”

The well-known failures of CRM were caused by too-high expectations, he went on: “There have been surveys done on CRM failures and a lot of times the failure comes from wrong expectations set at the start of the project. They say: ‘This is a button you press here and everything gets done’, but it’s not the case. A lot of things need to be communicated [within the organisation], to set expectations.”

Users used to complain about CRM vendors selling one-size-fits-all software, then customising on-site. Not any more, he said, and, in addition, the problem of high costs and slow returns is now also being addressed.

“I think most of the vendors realise that the same solution cannot be implemented in all industries, so you need to come out with some industry-specific software,” said Prasad.

“So that out of the box, in six months, you can implement something in a telco. In six months, you can implement in a hotel industry or service industry.

“You can’t take a standard package and then try to build all the requirements in a specific industry because it’s going to be at the cost of the customer.

“As the market matures, you'll have more and more people understanding what they need, which in turn brings down the time and the cost of implementation,” he said.

Faharudin bin M. Hassan, director of the University of Malaya’s Centre for Information Technology, argued that vendors should do more to prove that CRM can pay off quickly.

“People see that this is a tool, this is a system package, and then we must have proof of concept. For example, we don’t have them wanting to buy a total solution,” he said. “We can, for example, focus on the sales module just to see how effective it is. From this, we can straightaway table the proof to top management. They focus on statistics. Figures never tell lies.”

Information selfishness kills CRM

The discussion quickly moved to examine the reasons why CRM has been so tricky to pull off. Quickly, fingers pointed at the double C-word that kills so many IT projects: Corporate culture.

For example, salespeople have come to expect the freedom to be mobile and, in many companies, don't have to give a close accounting of their movements, or to write a report on every customer they meet. They fear that a CRM system will rob them of their freedom—not just of movement, but from accountability.

Zulkepli Hj Hamid, IT division vice president at telco Time dotCom, said: “The salespeople know that when you have a CRM [system], they are being monitored at every single step, every single decision. [With CRM] if they lose a customer, they will be questioned.”

Organisational silos arise out of the human need to protect turf, killing information flows in organisations. And when salespeople refuse to share customer contacts, a key component of CRM—salesforce automation—goes out of the window.

Tony Wong, IT manager at property firm IGB Corporation, said: “Marketing directors are very precious about their customers. But, on top of that, they ask IT: ‘Can you automate my database?’, for example. And if I do not know their process, then they will tell me only a little bit [of the information I need].”

Deliberately leaving out key information is to be expected from users of a CRM system, he added. He ended by saying that IT is often saddled with having to meet the contradictory needs of senior managers, who demand that knowledge be shared, and middle managers, who want to keep information secret or risk diluting their power.

Politics of information hoarding

Zulkepli and several others agreed, adding that no CRM system will work without killing a few corporate sacred cows first.

“When you want to embark on CRM, you have to change a lot of legacy internal processes,” he said.

“For example, if you want to know certain customers, and other salespeople want to know other customers, maybe not in detail but only to a certain level of permission, that has to be changed.

“This means that everybody in the organisation will have to accept that the whole of the information involved belongs to the company, not to them or their department.”

Badrul Hisham Abdul Hamid, IT chief at Federal Hotels International, said he firmly believed that a CRM system will fail if it is compromised by the politics of information hoarding.

“Information is to be shared,” he stressed. “If I were to have my data, and his data, and everyone else’s data, on this table and it’s not meant to be shared, then I say there is no point in having a CRM [system].

“Of course, there must be a level of security for what we can access, what we can do. But it needs to be shared.”

“Good-enough” v high-end CRM

What’s so great about high-end CRM, asked delegates, several of whom had used off-the-shelf tools to build CRM projects in-house.

Usually, these consisted of data collected in an Excel spreadsheet or simple database, with basic querying and report tools on the end-user’s desk.

Tony Wong of IGB Corporation asked what high-end CRM could do that home-built systems could not.

“I have a SQL database churning out reports. What is so great about CRM compared with what an IT department, or a programmer who knows reports, can do?

“Why should I spend a million?”

The difference, according to SAP’s Prakash, is that high-end products offer inter-division integration.

“The challenge comes when each department has its own system,” he said. “That’s when an integrated system justifies itself.”

Goh Eng Hwa, IT manager at travel firm Mayflower Acme Tours, compared self-built with vendor solutions and questioned if enterprise system suppliers could ever know the end-user’s business well enough.

“If a person comes in and doesn’t know your organisation, and tries to do a CRM [project], it will not work,” he said. “We recently embarked on some ERP projects, which include CRM. We talked to 10 vendors. They all have different ways of doing things and none of them actually fit our requirements.”

Given this gap in understanding, not just between vendors and users, but also between internal divisions like sales and marketing, he said, the best way to get the ball rolling on CRM projects is to use the IT staff as a filter.

“We formed a committee made up of mostly IT staff who understand how the system works,” he went on.

“Our approach to that was that IT will be the first layer. We’ll talk to the vendors, tell them what we want or what we expect from them, and from there we will [go to the] next level.

“We’ll talk to the users, or get them to talk to the users. So at least the gap is closer this way rather than it coming from the top-down.”

Who owns CRM?

Some managers think that the sales and marketing departments are the natural owners of a CRM system. After all, they say, they are the ones who would benefit directly from it. But not everyone agreed with that view.

Mohamad Mohar Ibrahim of Kumpulan Darul Ehsan said: “In my experience, the owner of the CRM is the operations director, because he is very much involved in the totality of the system.

And this person, for example, is very much involved from concept [planning] to operations, procedures, recruitment and training, as well as in all the processes.”

He questioned CRM implementations that are owned by sales and marketing departments, yet fail to empower customer-service representatives to take action.

“For example, if a person calls and there is a dispute about an account and whether the customer-service rep is able to make decisions or not,” he added.

“I mean, if there’s no empowerment, it has defeated the whole purpose of CRM, which is basically to ease and speed up process flows in organisations.”

Sales-driven CRM systems also tend to penalise customer-service reps for taking help calls, he said.

“Many times, there’ll be very little incentive for reps because the [salary] incentive only goes to sales or marketing,” he added.

“We also know that the CRM system can clearly and easily measure all the activities that people have done, so there is a disincentive for answering customer calls.

“Normally, people get upset when they’re talking to a customer-service person about a complaint they have.

“But what is important is the philosophy, the business goals and the readiness of the organisation.

“That is, they [must] really know what they want. Don’t talk about CRM as a fad, something nice to have. It’s really something to improve your organisation’s processes and profitability.”

Consultants: friends or foes?

When asked if external consultants were the right people to turn to for CRM system implementations, many delegates expressed deep scepticism.

Mostly, it had to do with the inexperienced staff that consulting firms tend to attach to Malaysian firms. All these people do is refer to a global best practices handbook, they said.

Or if they are experienced, they tend to be stretched too thinly among the consulting firm's clients.

Said Azlan Rashid, senior vice president of IT at Affin Bank: “I’ve worked with all of the consultants, including one who was like the senior guy, but was new to the marketing [field], and then there’s a second guy who really knows the stuff works, but he works in 500 other places!”