The phone rang. It was my boss, but it could easily have been a client. “Rick, we aren’t getting the results we expected with that CRM technology implementation we did last year—can you do a quick assessment and let me know what we need to do to get things back on track?” The situation was pretty typical—executive leadership disappointed with results, operations leadership blaming the technology, and the technology supplier demanding additional investment before they even looked at the situation.
We solved some of the problems by applying management basics and solved others with additional investment, but the important point—and the point of this article—is that had we applied four basic principles, we could have prevented all of the issues. Here are those principles:
1. Buy capability—not technology. CRM technology is evolving rapidly. Hosted software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, machine learning and other innovations are leapfrogging legacy solutions and providers. By investing the time to define business needs and survey the market for matching capabilities, you can often identify a more powerful, lower-cost solution. This is especially true for rapidly evolving capabilities like analytics. Suppliers are also using new platforms and technologies to create disruptive “uberization” approaches in other CRM and call center tools.
Here are some guidelines to help you purchase with an eye toward capability:
- Ensure a comprehensive, future facing view of required capabilities by asking your stakeholders to help you define business requirements.
- Take advantage of vendor expertise. Potential suppliers can help you define business cases and options.
- Identify all the costs required to meet the requirement you defined—especially with capabilities that require deep knowledge of your business and a thorough understanding of the supplier’s technology.
2. Make realistic, “motivational” business arrangements. Contracts designed to motivate supplier performance through the life of the relationship protect against the types of issues I was asked to help with. Such motivation can be as simple as the ongoing cash flow from “as a service” monthly payments or as complex as a multitier penalty/incentive arrangement linked to business outcomes.
To ensure ongoing results, keep these two guidelines in mind:
- Keep the contract simple and understandable so that working teams know exactly what to expect and how to measure it. If that isn’t possible, produce a one-page summary of key contract terms.
- Include the real cost of achieving outcomes in the business case and contract. Cutting user support, upgrades and maintenance is tempting – but results in underperformance in the best scenario - and failure in the worst scenario.
3. Implement with rigor and discipline. While a robust and disciplined implementation doesn’t always guarantee ongoing success, a weak or rushed implementation guarantees future issues.
These five actions can form the bedrock of a successful implementation:
- Appoint a sponsor with the right level of organizational “clout” to address challenges and keep all the stakeholders focused.
- Define acceptance criteria upfront, including technical and user acceptance criteria and key implementation milestones.
- Take change management seriously! Optimize engagement and minimize resistance by systematically keeping everyone informed and involved from the beginning;
- Create accountability for results. Dedicate an expert team to manage the end to end implementation. Then assess all contributors on how well the project meets the original objective.
- Ensure seamless stakeholder involvement. Formal hand-offs between implementation phases avoid re-work and misunderstandings.
4. Invest in ongoing governance. Without proactive governance, it is just a question of when, not if, lack of investment will catch up with you. In an effective governance model, leaders need to perform these three critical functions:
- Track a few simple metrics to catch and fix problems early. Tracking a limited number of metrics helped me quickly turn around challenging supplier relationships on more than one occasion. Introducing metrics into governance meetings drives simple, objective, result-oriented discussion.
- Establish periodic review meetings at every level and ensure they are religiously attended. Think of this as a “pay me now or pay me later” situation—a small investment of time now will prevent a crisis later.
- Establish and maintain relationships. Things will go wrong, and when they do, personal relationships allow quick, efficient communication and problem solving. This is critical at every level, including the top executive level. A quick five-minute executive introduction will pay dividends when issues arise.
The same time and cost pressures that make it challenging to implement these common-sense approaches also make it critical to implement them. The best way to ensure implementation is a simple checklist approach—review your existing and future relationships against these principles.
Rick Merson is the global operations director for Atento, a customer management business process outsourcer with over 160,000 employees in 14 countries and $2.3 billion in annual revenue. Merson is a former Accenture partner and his background includes senior consulting, operations and outsourcing leadership roles at Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless, and American Express. Merson was recently a featured speaker at the ENGAGE and CONAREC industry conferences and has contributed articles to Call Center IQ, Tech Target, and ICMI.