CRM: service for a bygone era


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Things get better with time.

Photo by Anthony from Pexels

It can be said for whiskey, cheese, and spaghetti sauce, and other examples abound. Home entertainment has gone from waiting in line at Blockbuster to rent an overplayed, scratchy VHS tape to fully digital streaming services. Ridesharing services offer summoning a ride to your exact location instead of searching out a taxi.

How companies interact with their customers has also come a long way. While the telephone retains some prevalence, chat, email, and social media have all become more popular communication channels. Chatbots powered by machine learning are also becoming common.

When fundamental technology first arrived in customer service, teams documented customer interactions in a basic manner. Call tracking systems started as nothing more than customized, off-the-shelf databases used to collect customer details and record their issue–and this was only if a company bothered at all. Out of this “wild west,” Customer Relationship Management (CRM) was born in the late 1980’s. With it, customer-facing teams–sales, service, and marketing–no longer struggled to work with data siloed in these disconnected databases. CRM ushered in the concept of a single view of customer sales and service history, which in turn could drive new insights and actions.

The notion was a step forward at the time. Today, however, the limitations of CRM are now abundantly clear. It does little beyond providing basic engagement. Sales, service, and marketing continue to have their views to customer data, but actually solving the underlying issues that cause customers’ problems is no easier. And by not addressing those issues, the customer experience can never improve.

It’s time for a different approach, one that takes the interactions occurring in customer service to drive improvements in customer experience. That new method is here, and the secret to it all is workflow.

Engage other departments

The central concept behind CRM is to consolidate customer data in a single repository. The result is greater visibility into customers, their activity, and history across marketing, sales, and service. While this benefits the company’s ongoing marketing and sales efforts, it does little to improve service and customer experience.

Workflow changes all this. It makes it possible to solve customer problems faster and easier. Capturing customer information and identifying, documenting, and classifying their problems is still an important part of customer service. By adding workflow into the mix, customer service can easily share issues and trends they are encountering with other departments. A customer service platform powered by workflow connects everyone, providing departments outside customer service with greater visibility into customer issues and the impact they have on the customer experience when problems occur. 

Assign work with accountability

Providing the entire company with awareness of customer service issues is only the start. As issues are identified, customer service uses workflow to assign problems to other departments–think billing errors going to finance or product issues routed to engineering. Customer service continues to use workflow to collaborate with these other teams as problems are investigated and resolved. Unlike emails and spreadsheets, workflow ensures the problem is never delayed, detoured, or lost. Progress is tracked from discovery to resolution. 

While CRM doesn’t necessarily limit the ability of customer service to engage with other parts of the organization to solve customer problems, it also doesn’t make it nearly as easy. CRM is a tool of engagement. In customer service, it stores customer information and interactions and that’s it. To share customer issues with other departments, the process is typically manual: export the data from the CRM system, email it to the responsible department, and wait and hope for a response and resolution. This method lacks the same level of visibility and collaboration a workflow-powered customer service platform offers. This means affected customers have no timeframe for a solution, and the customer experience suffers. 

Deliver proactive service

The ease of collaboration across teams with workflow offers an additional benefit: the fastest path to permanent issue resolution. By working with other departments, the root cause of an issue can be identified and fixed.

When the root cause is addressed, existing customers with the same problem receive a lasting solution and not just a temporary workaround. An extra benefit: future customers will also never encounter the issue, either. In addition to sending proactive email notifications, a customer service platform integrated with the self-service options customers prefer (like knowledge base articles, chatbots, and automated solutions) simplifies the delivery of solutions to affected customers.

Drive a better customer experience

In 2020, customer experience sits at a crossroad according to Forrester–and for those working to improve it, CRM for customer service just won’t cut it. The time has come for a better approach, one that does more than just take down the customer’s details. 

With customer service connected to other departments, problems can be assigned directly to the teams who can affect a permanent solution. When this happens, current customers’ problems are resolved, and subsequent customers will never encounter the issue. CRM might still benefit marketing and sales, but to increase customer satisfaction and drive improvements to customer experience, bringing workflow to customer service is the key.

Paul Selby
I am a product marketing consultant for Aventi Group. Aventi Group is the first product marketing agency solely dedicated to high-tech clients. We’re here to supplement your team and bring our expertise to bear on your top priorities, so you achieve high-quality results, fast.


  1. CRM is dead, long live the CRM!
    I fully agree that “old” CRMs that are just glorified spreadsheets are dead.
    I disagree that you should throw the baby with the bath’s water (pardon my French).

    Modern CRM can surface insights more than data. Guide users in processes either rigidly (compliance) or more proactively (sales, intelligent knowledge bases for customer care). Remind a sales person that he/she has to call a customer that he had no recent interaction with. Warn a manager that a KPI is different from last quarter or that the upcoming weather forecast should trigger more sales.

    Modern CRMs *should* do that and already can, at least the “big” one. Companies merely have to trust their integration partners beyond getting the product off the shelf.


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