Avoid Unintended Consequences of CRM-Driven Process Improvement


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This is the third of several articles focusing on findings in Customers Say What Companies Don’t Want To Hear, a study by Dick Lee and David J. Mangen, Ph.D.

Stuff happens. Especially when it’s not supposed to happen. Worse yet, when you do good things, bad things can result. Never shall a good deed go unpunished, eh?

It’s almost axiomatic in the business process world that when you change something for the better, you inadvertently and unexpectedly change something else for the worse. And making changes to bring companies into alignment with customers exacerbates this problem, because "becoming customer-centric" doesn’t rival cost-cutting or increasing throughput as a corporate imperative, which weakens the justification for change for many of those potentially affected.

Companies that consider customer-centricity a low priority are naturally skittish about CRM-induced change—fearful that something unanticipated might happen and screw up who knows what. However, "freezing" your organization and business model during a time of turbulent customer change, as we’re currently experiencing, is asking for a slow, painful death.

The worst time to play catch up is when things are moving the fastest—and customers and markets today are moving faster than we’ve seen in memory (even my memory, which extends back further than I care to admit).

Think back on your own customer behavior 10 years ago, even five years ago. Then reflect on how customers prioritized different buying influences in my and David J. Mangen’s research study, Customers Say What Companies Don’t Want To Hear (May 2006):

Figure 1

Except for product quality, the remaining six customer focus behaviors would have been off the customer radar screen 10 years ago—and barely would have registered until five years ago. But the recession of 2001 accelerated the transition from a decades-old sellers’ market to a buyers’ market in developed economies. And increasingly, newly empowered customers are demanding much more than good products at competitive prices. And even though product quality topped the list of factors motivating purchase, customers said loud and clear that product quality without the other customer-friendly factors wasn’t enough to drive purchase selection.

That’s not change. That’s CHANGE. And when customers change so much, companies have to change with them, or risk holding the door open so more customer-centric competitors can steal their customers.

Avoiding crashes
From a rational perspective, changing business processes and underlying policies to keep up with customers should be a business imperative—but companies are no more rational than individuals, and it’s often not. And when it’s not, if companies encounter unanticipated and unexpected consequences as a result of CRM-driven business process change, it’s usually means more than hitting a speed bump. It can be the change management equivalent of driving into a brick wall.

What’s the best way to keep your CRM implementation from deploying its air bags? Avoidance, pure and simple. And the most important aspect of avoidance is anticipation. Something I’ve observed over the years is that most companies that suffer from unanticipated consequences of implementing CRM aren’t anticipating. Which is rather dumb, but that’s another story. So how do you anticipate? I’ll share a very effective technique with you.

First, you have to carefully map your current business processes, called the "as is." Next, design and map what your business process should look like to support customer-centricity, called the "to be." And then, perform a gap analysis that tells you what must change to go from "as is" to "to be." Now comes the magic. For every individual change you’ve identified, build a table as shown below to assess the components of that change.

Figure 2

Is this method foolproof? Sorry, but it’s not. Here are some examples of change-related events that are hard or impossible to predict:

    Management promotions. At my company, High-Yield Methods, we had a recent experience where two client middle managers participating in a CRM implementation were promoted to senior management positions. Unfortunately, they both decided to demonstrate their newly bestowed authority by changing numerous parts of the implementation they had signed off on earlier. And boy, did they make a mess. CRM will never do what it could have done for this outfit. We had warned the client from the get-go about changing internal management of the implementation. Unfortunately, our recommendation fell on deaf ears.

    New hires. A client lost its IT director most of the way through a recent implementation. They hired a more senior person as the replacement—someone with more than a streak of megalomania. The new director hijacked and redefined the whole change initiative. What had been a smooth running implementation with IT deficiencies became a total mess, aided by top management being unable to control the new hire.

    Disaffected managers banding together. On several occasions, we’ve seen very change-averse employees band together across functional lines and try to disrupt implementations. Effective senior management leadership can overcome such issues, but where leadership is lacking, it’s not fun.

    Unveiling deep, dark corporate secrets. Several years ago, a top-performing fundraiser at a major charitable organization turned on a dime from CRM supporter to throwing her body across the tracks to impede the implementation. The reason? Management hadn’t disclosed to anyone (including us) that she was on a special incentive compensation plan available to no one else—a plan, she suddenly realized, the implementation would have undercut.

So, for as many years as we’ve been at this, we still don’t have 20-20 foresight. But by using the technique described, we can and do anticipate most issues significant enough to interfere with CRM implementation.

Hey, be careful out there.


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