Companies that ignore the culture change required for any CRM initiative to succeed do so at their peril. Here's how culture relationship management facilitates CRM.
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When the State of Washington implemented CRM it was met with unwavering internal support. It was an ideal situation--and one that rarely ever happens.
As with most government offices, there was a time when the State of Washington was only open for business 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Citizens with after-hours questions or forms requests were out of luck. Then in 1998 the state started an email help service--an inefficient system that had one or two department of information services (DIS) employees answering the same questions over and over, in the thousands.
By 2001 the state had launched a 24x7 call center to answer questions. Call volume was incredibly high, leading the state to buy and implement Jeeves Solutions' Ask George, a database query tool that would generate answers to the common questions asked of various agencies over the year. By splicing and dicing the customer request data the system has been able to answer users' discrete needs in fairly accurate detail.
The system was met throughout the state with total support. DIS employees saw their roles as enhanced, as they managed system data and support. Consumers are thrilled with the extensive customer service the state provides. No one is threatened by the systems and everyone is happy. New agencies are coming on board every day.
As with the State of Washington, any CRM implementation is geared toward improving workflow and customer service. After all, no one incurs the cost of a major software launch to harm business, right?
Yet, often those who will benefit from CRM on the job are less than happy about the new technology. Sometimes the promise of a new CRM system is not only unwelcome, but is perceived as a downright threat. That misery can be translated into customer interactions, and the results can be costly, because as CRM packages remain unused or not fully implemented customer bases dwindle, thanks to ongoing corporate inefficiency. The fact is, managing the culture issues around a CRM implementation is more than an HR question. It may mean the difference between business success and failure.
Engineering Culture Change
Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has been a hallmark of engineering quality, providing nonprofit safety testing to industry for more than 100 years. But for customers dealing with the venerable giant it was no picnic.
For years UL's primary method for handling customer requests was to have the same engineers who were testing product also answering customer calls, tracking invoices, and even routing new clients to the appropriate tester--a process that sometimes took three to four calls.
So when UL's then-new CEO Loring Knoblauch decided in 2001 to implement Oracle's CRM software to manage leads, quotes, workflow, customer information, and more, all with a 400-person call center, the engineers should have been jumping for joy. Right?
"A good portion of our engineers were concerned about how the customer would be handled," says Peter Serrate, UL's director of customer service. Serrate was brought in to create a customer service culture at the company from the ground up. "Over the course of many years the engineers had developed what they saw as a good relationship with customers, and they were concerned about the lack of personal service."
Another major issue among UL's engineers was that nontechnical customer service representatives would take technical calls and give customers misinformation. "We assured the engineers that highly technical questions would be routed back to them, but it took a lot more than that to build confidence in the change," Serrate says. "We had to develop talking points and scripts demonstrating how the call center would work. The goal was to convince the engineers that by reducing their administrative workload they could do an even better job for the customers on what was most important--product testing."
Still, even these persuasive arguments didn't hold sway with some engineers, and some adoption issues persisted. So Serrate took another tack.
"One way to manage culture change is by letting people internally know market share and business information," Serrate says. "Because our company is nonprofit, the real issue to employees was fierce devotion to independent testing for the public good, yet to pursue that mission we have to hold on to our market share. It became important to let employees know the real state of that market share as a way to achieve support for the CRM system."
And the real state of that market share was somewhat grim, because for-profit competitors began edging into what had thus far been a one-company game. Clients were leaving UL, because they were more satisfied with competitors' customer service. But how was the company to get that message across to the anti--CRM engineers?
"We identified clients who had expressed unhappiness with the old system and asked them to do video statements for UL, stating exactly how they felt about the company's customer service," Serrate says. "When those customers said on tape how much they liked UL's work, but hated working with UL because of the frustrating lack of customer service, the engineers were shocked. Up to that point they had been sheltered about how miserable the customers really were."
Today, UL's CRM implementation is nearly complete, with almost all of six national offices linked to the system. The company has undergone a major cultural renaissance--even down to redecorating its corporate headquarters and providing an in-house gym and summer concert series to keep up morale.
Serrate admits there were some in UL's old guard that never did get on board with the change. "Sadly, there are always going to be some naysayers that never adapt," he says. "For them, finding an opportunity elsewhere has often been the best thing."
Like it or Lump it?
To Tom Flooden, ushering out employees who didn't want to adopt his company's Primus package seemed, at first, like sound reasoning.
However, the vice president and general manager of worldwide customer support for Mentor Graphics soon realized that a more gentle approach might be needed. In the past few years the electronic design automation company has had a dearth of qualified labor, so losing workers due to a CRM implementation that was undertaken to make things better was not an option.
Instead Flooden sought internal support. "Ultimately we created a core of superusers who were folks that were either the most vocal or most respected in their respective group," Flooden says. "They became the employee advocates and the supporters of the new project. We even instituted a requirement that implementation couldn't happen without the superusers' OK."
Flooden also went so far as to create a Lunch and Learn program to which he regularly invited a rotation of 10 employees to his office to have lunch and chat. "I deliberately chose employees who were outspoken against the program and those who were for it, and led the conversation to the Primus implementation," he says. "Those against it immediately started airing complaints, but those for it set about convincing them why it was a good thing. That peer-level interaction helped to ease the process along greatly."
Interaction rather than punishment is key, says Sharon-Drew Morgen, a business decision facilitation trainer. "Saying to an employee, 'If you don't like the situation you can leave' is not productive to anyone," she says. "It's important to engage employees in such a way that the human element remains."
Morgen suggests asking employees how the change is working for them and creating discussion groups much like those at Mentor Graphics to hash out what the CRM change will personally bring each employee as it goes forward. In that way fears about job loss and professional devaluation can come out into the open and be dealt with.
Practice What You Preach
Another technique Mentor Graphics used was a reward system for those who were logging in to and making use of the Primus system. In this case the more questions and answers an account engineer put into a knowledge bank for customers' use online, the more chips he got. The chips could be traded in for rewards.
According to Flooden, the system worked very well simply for the thrill of acquisition, since most employees didn't bother to cash in their chips. It is also a system that other companies use.
Laura Petersen, an associate partner leading journey management for clients at CRM provider Accenture, says such incentives can be very popular. "We implemented a system for a large agricultural chemical company and the program manager sprinkled incentives for inputting leads or account status throughout the system," she says. "They were in the form of restaurant gift certificates and were random, so there was excitement in trying to get one. Plus it was a personal perk to be enjoyed outside or at work, and that was a big motivator too."
Such perks can be effective tools, but some experts warn that they will not work alone. "Gifts and perks are short-terms measures," says Theresa Scott, an executive coach with Collaborative Leadership Institute, who teaches business leaders how to collaborate most effectively with employees. "The leader has to be able to inspire trust in the change that comes with CRM, and also convince employees that their environment will remain safe while change is going on," she says.
The management team at Land's End implementing Unica's Affinium software learned that early on. (For more on this implementation see "Secret of My Success," page 58). In the early stages of the implementation Land's End hired a consultant from Deloitte & Touche to teach managers about the change process.
Using the skills they learned Steph Mohlmann, director of marketing operations, and Cindy Kephart, IT project manager, charted out what they thought would be employee issues. "We spent a lot of time identifying players whom we thought would be resistant and did a mapping out of who we thought would be the flag wavers as well," Mohlmann says. "As the implementation went along, however, we found that what we thought wasn't always true. It taught us, as project leaders, that we needed to be as adaptable as we wanted our employees to be."
The Do's and Don'ts of Culture Relationship Management
Do tell those who will be most affected as soon as you are even considering a new CRM project, says Accenture's Laura Petersen. That way they don't feel disenfranchised and antiproject from the get-go.
Don't think perks and incentives will create lasting, prochange elements. Although they may be good initial motivators, a successful implementation only comes from true employee support.
Do get employee support by clearly delineating business value that comes with the CRM project. At Underwriter's Laboratories, demonstrating how the Oracle system would resolve unhappiness among an established client base made all the difference.
Do create discussion groups, preferably led by a department outsider, says trainer Sharon-Drew Morgen. That person might be an outside consultant or someone from HR. If the leader is an objective observer, there is more likelihood that people will openly discuss their issues.
Do have clear, consistent messages in support of the project from managers and executives.
Don't just give lip service to listening to employees' change needs. Learn how to become an attentive and genuine listener. According to executive coach Theresa Scott, employees will "read" even nonverbal cues that their managers are not really interested in their concerns.
Don't stop listening at go-live. Communication, incentives, and focus have to continue well into the time after implementation, Petersen says. Keep training, learning, and discussion groups up for at least six months postlaunch.
Do hire a CRM company with a compatible culture to your own--it will make interfirm communication much smoother.
Do consider a leadership or change management coach to ease the process.
Don't be afraid to let go of employees who, despite all efforts to bring them aboard, simply can't embrace the change. Identify when an employee's reluctance can become harmful to workflow and overall morale.
Ramin Ganeshram is a New York--based freelance writer.
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