I had a call this week with Michael Krigsman. Michael is President and CEO of Asuret, Inc. and has chosen to specialise in a interesting niche, IT project failures. He writes a blog on the topic of IT failures for ZDNet and talks with a rare passion for a difficult subject.
One of the things on which we agreed strongly was the assertion that many of the IT failures, that at first appear to be technology related at their core, are in fact people-related. That resonated with me as although I am often quick to criticise technology-centric CRM projects, I have seen many a project where technology is an easy scapegoat for more complex people problems.
I once worked on a CRM project-turnaround where the project team all pointed the finger of blame on the software product that they were using. They pointed to bugs and things not working as they expected. After some quick analysis I found that the implementation team had no previous experience of implementing the package they had chosen, they had no sponsorship from the business, no CRM strategy and only tiny budget set aside for change management. Software was the least of their problems…
My conversation with Michael got me thinking of some previous experiences and anecdotes relating to the importance of people in CRM projects. It’s a complex topic, that deserves far more attention but if you are embarking on a customer-centric transformation these are some of the people-factors you should be considering:
Skills – this refers not only to the technical skills required to operate the CRM system (in some respects, that’s the easy part). Skills, also refers to the soft-skills like listening, making realistic promises, seeing things from the customers point of view, meeting deadlines, negotiating with win-win outcomes in mind. It’s easy to train someone to operate a CRM system, but much harder to enable them to use it properly.
Culture – it’s incredibly difficult to change culture. I once witnessed a call centre agent using a new and recently live CRM system apologising to a customer for her “new slow system”, only to see that she was finishing typing an SMS to a friend (the new software had actually loaded in a sub-second). The best tactic I have come across to changing culture is hiring the right people from the outset. I listened to a Gartner presentation by Ed Thompson recently where Ed reminded me of SouthWest Airline’s recruitment policy of hiring customer service staff who smiled. Simple but effective.
Incentives – often the most ignored aspect to a CRM project. INCENTIVES DRIVE BEHAVIOUR. REPEAT. INCENTIVES DRIVE BEHAVIOUR. If you pay customer service agents solely on average call handle time they will cut off difficult calls or calls in peak periods (not always, but sometimes – believe me I’ve tried mystery shopper call exercises at peak times). If you measure sales reps 100% by quarterly sales revenue, then of course they will do everything they can to bring in deals before the end of each quarter, despite that sometimes damaging future business. I recently heard of a software sales rep threatening to give a customer a licence audit if they didn’t sign $2m worth of new business in the current quarter… a really great tactic to generate short term revenue and ruin long term relationships.
Knowledge – people don’t know what they don’t know. To some extent CRM is all about knowledge; shared knowledge of the customer to ensure everyone is on the same page and in alignment. I’ve worked with many organisations that have split up their sales teams by product or service area, only to find the customer getting bombarded by different, often competing sales teams.
Collaboration – as a term you may love or hate “collaboration”; it’s certainly an overused buzz-word, but I couldn’t really care less about that. If you don’t have collaboration in CRM deployments, they fail. Period. That means IT and the business need to talk, all customer facing teams need to talk, customer facing teams need to talk to enabling functions like product management, logistics, finance… CRM is often accused of breaking down silos in the front office, only to create a silo between the front and back office.
The people issues of CRM deployments are often over-looked. Thanks for Michael Krigsman for reminding me of my passion for the topic and the importance of people in preventing failure!