CRM Process Design for 2005: The End of Amateur Hour


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CRM has survived one boatload of bad software. It’s survived putrid software sales practices that make the technology smell good. It’s even survived so many technology-first, “ready, fire aim” CRM implementations that strategic CRM became an oxymoron. Yet CRM is still around. Still on the cusp. Still a high-wire act teetering between fomenting a business revolution—or falling all the way down to footnote-level importance.

So what’s holding CRM back, especially considering that, at long last, the aforementioned messes are getting mopped up and sanitized?

Several restraints are still lurking around, doing bad stuff. Lack of customer-centric strategic planning skills. Executive-level fear of change. Continued corporate emphasis on cost-reduction rather than profit generation.

Rank amateurs

But what’s ailing CRM most today is the rank amateur work being pawned off on CRM implementers as “business process redesign”—including ill-advised attempts to graft manufacturing-based process improvement methods onto front office and service business operations. Sort of like grafting a rosebush onto a grape vine stalk (although maybe not a bad way to get white zinfandel).

My snideness aside, botched business process design in the CRM space is what we might call a “category killer.” Why? Because business process management (BPM)—in sales, customer service, the front office, the back office, wherever it impacts the customer—is the lynchpin between customer-centric strategies (the intent) and effective execution of these strategies (the delivery). Without the process piece, the intent stays intent with no delivery to customers. Just as a powerful car engine is worthless without a transmission to deliver power to the wheels. Or as my IT colleague’s beanie is just a hat—without a rubber band to power the propeller.

To drive home this point, picture a trailer hitch—specifically the piece with the ball that’s mounted on a short steel shaft that slides snugly into that square steel tube you see under the rear bumpers of SUVs. The shaft is held in place by a big mother, chrome cotter pin that passes through the tube and shaft.

Now picture Sven and Olie on their annual fishing trip. Sven backs up his SUV to the trailer, Olie attaches the trailer to the ball and off they go. At the lake, Sven wheels around to back the trailer down the launch ramp. Olie hops out to grab the boat rope. Then Olie yelps, “Ufda, there’s no boat, Sven.” No trailer, either.

The right resource
Here’s a list of questions to ask an internal or external candidate:

Q: What’s the difference between “workflow” and “work process?”

Hopefully you’ll hear that workflow is how work moves from function to function (or department to department or station to station), and that work process is how individuals perform their work. If not, feign sudden gastronomic illness.

Q: What’s the relationship between workflow and information flow in the front office and in service organizations and functions?

You’re looking for anything like “hand-in-glove,” “parallel,” “synonymous”—which is not necessarily the case in manufacturing environments.

Q: How do you know when you’ve drilled down “far enough” when reengineering work process?

Listen for any expression of “far enough to properly configure supporting application software.” On the manufacturing side, the link between work process reengineering and technology tends to be weak at best.

Q: How can you lessen resistance to change during the redesign process?

The key is working in highly participative, cross-functional team environments. Everything else is secondary.

Q: Will the CEO be able to readily understand your process maps? Will a shipping clerk?

If not, you’re going to have a difficult time betting buy-in for change from either management or line staff.

Q: Have you read the article entitled, CRM Process Design for 2005: The End of Amateur Hour?

If the answer if yes, go to “Plan B” (and I don’t mean the saloon).

—Dick Lee

Turns out, Olie couldn’t find the big chrome cotter pin, so he had substituted a little dinky one that broke off before Sven could peel out of his driveway. So there’s the boat. In the driveway. And there are Sven and Olie. Stranded with no ability to execute their plan (except for Plan B, which was to hit the saloon). And all because of a missing link.

You absolutely don’t want to use a “hairpin” weight process lynchpin to link your strategy to your execution. But that’s precisely what many CRM implementers do.

So how are we going to fix this? As importantly, why are we going to fix it now?

The “now” question is relatively easy to answer. That’s because a whole bunch of companies badly want CRM to live up to its potential—so they can leverage CRM to leapfrog over competitors.

Answering the “how” question is a tad more difficult. But we can get there by recognizing some basic truths about business process in CRM:

  • Redesigning a company’s business processes to enable delivery of customer-centric strategies requires process training and experience—a heap more than just sales training and selling process knowledge.

  • To be effective, process redesign has to encompass all areas of the company—front office and back—that directly or indirectly impact relationships with customers. In a service or custom manufacturing organization, that means redesigning process throughout the entire organization.

  • Successfully analyzing and redesigning process in the front office or in a service business requires uncoupling workflow (how work moves among functions) from work process (how individuals work)—and focusing on the former, where most misalignments with customer-centric strategies (and most quality defects) occur.

  • Front office and service management and staffs are nowhere nearly as compliant as their manufacturing counterparts with requests to change the way they work, so proportionally more emphasis on change management is required in front office and service settings.

  • Using six sigma or lean sigma principles to redesign process in highly variable front office and service environments is the equivalent of trying to pound a square peg into the round cotter pin hole on the trailer hitch.

  • Adopting lean business “demand control” principles in a CRM environment runs counter to the major business trend of the day: the increasing power of customers to set the terms of engagement. Not even Sven and Olie would try that.

To say this more succinctly: To successfully redesign your business processes so they’ll effectively deliver your CRM business strategies, make sure you engage a business process professional—it could be someone in your company—with the requisite experience in redesigning workflow and work process in highly variable, unpredictable environments where measuring statistical variances in performance is next to irrelevant. This person must understand and apply effective change management principles, because each and every change action has the potential to generate an equal and opposite employee reaction.

I may be making all this sound harder than it is. But I cannot over-emphasize the importance of getting the business process piece of CRM right—and the fundamental truth that redesigning an organization’s workflow, information flow and work process is not “process play-time,” as it’s been treated so often. Some good news here is that the pool of trained, experienced process professionals skilled in designing front office and service organization business process is rapidly growing. You still may have to turn over a few rocks (and a few web sites) to find bona fide candidates, but more and more are out there—and they’re going to be needed to fulfill growing demand from companies that want to deliver on their commitment to forge closer and stronger relationships to customers.

Ya sure. And you betcha.


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