The management and coordination of service has been the subject of a great deal of attention over the past 20 years as customer and field service has moved from its traditional role as a cost center to its current position as a profit center or full line of business. We now see service in its strategic role--providing the customer with full services over the life cycle; a concept sometimes referred to as strategic service or service management. This view was typically interpreted as focusing on service at and after the sale; it tended to ignore the need for full management of all the customer interaction, covering presales, sales, and order processing. This broader strategic services concept covering both pre- and postsales is now known as Customer Relationship Management (CRM). CRM demands full management of the total relationship between the vendor and the customer. In essence, the CRM technology concept calls for a seamless interface between the buyer and seller, implemented through advanced e-business and system technologies.
This new CRM concept creates both a paradigm and an opportunity for the service executive to strengthen the total service management and delivery capability of his or her organization. It could also cause problems due to the failure to fully recognize all of the CRM implications.
In the typical business, traditionally sales and service were combined in one organization, with service acting in a subordinate role, often as a cost center. In the high-tech field, service has been moved out from under sales as a separately managed business. The move into CRM will require some reintegration of, at least, the systems infrastructure of both sales and service, with postsales services given an equal, rather than subordinate role to presales functions and support.
CRM requires a full integration of all pre- and postsales services systems operating from a common database, using a variety of voice, data, and image communication links (wireless, Internet, etc.). Operationally this should be designed to create a seamless interface for the customer, as perceived by the customer, and with a full focus on the present and potential customers' service needs and requirements, as perceived by the vendor. The whole array of field force automation technology supports this infrastructure as well as other sales automation technology, such as data mining, data warehousing, sales planning, and scheduling.
If we examine the array of new technologies, software, and systems, such as data warehousing, data mining, call management, logistics management, and integrated wireless field force support, it would appear that much of the required technology and infrastructure is at least currently available, if not fully tested and integrated.
What, then, is the critical issue in the creation, implementation, and roll out of a full CRM system? To a large extent, the problem is in the need for a fully articulated, customer-oriented service and interaction, and in the need for overcoming the political, behavioral, and organizational issues and differences between sales and service.
These differentiators are most critical in the management of product businesses versus service businesses. Products can be stockpiled and inventoried, but services cannot. CRM applied to service businesses can have an even higher payoff than the CRM applied to product businesses. This is particularly true because the service business salesperson is often "selling from an empty store," and thus needs to have a full understanding of all customer requirements and relationships in real time to add value to the customer.
Thus, the more the salesperson (selling service) can understand the customers' real needs and requirements for service--the time criticality, the value of the service to the customer, and the willingness to pay--the greater can be the profit margin in the sale. However, most sales personnel tend to view service as a necessary evil or as a cost of doing business. They have difficulty in seeing services as having real value and often, particularly in product businesses, tend to want to give away the service to sell the product. CRM forces sales personnel (selling service) to fully understand the true service needs of the present or potential customer. However, if the CRM program lacks a full strategy and plan, there is a tendency for sales and marketing to dominate and give less than complete attention to the postsales service and support needs.
Technology to create the full CRM model, systems infrastructure, and interface is now available. The critical issue is to overcome the political, administrative, and organizational barriers to a full strategic reintegration of sales, service, and support, through a seamless infrastructure and support system. To a large extent, the basic CRM concepts are already embedded in the integrated field service management systems available, but primarily with respect to the service side of the equation. Sales force automation packages tend to focus only on the sales side of the CRM equation, ignoring or minimizing support for the after-sales functions. Only a few systems are now becoming available that fully embrace both sales and service fully. It is therefore important to avoid rushing to solutions and technology that sub-optimize one role with respect to another in the attempt to fully roll out CRM concepts rapidly. The integrated plan for CRM is a necessary first step in a full and cost-effective implementation.
About the Author
Donald Blumberg is the founder and CEO of D.F. Blumberg Associates, a Fort Washington, PA, management consultancy firm specializing in field service (www.dfba.com). He is the author of the recently published book Managing High-Tech Services Using a CRM Strategy. Blumberg can be reached at email@example.com.