SugarCon Day 2: CRM for the Customer and the Employee

SAN FRANCISCO—Mastering the technology is the easy part. After highlighting the power and flexibility of SugarCRM's platform, the conversation at SugarCon turned to how to best use the product and be customer-centric as new technology changes behavior. Multiple analysts spoke to these issues, and CRM interviewed customers about their own experiences implementing SugarCRM.

"We need to solve for the customer journey," advised Denis Pombriant, founder and principal analyst for Beagle Research, in a breakout session. CRM can easily be just a transactional system, but moving beyond that requires a shift in thinking. "Vendors think about transactions. Customers think about processes," Pombriant explained. A vendor might think a six-step process with a 90 percent success rate is excellent, but that means only about half of customers get to the end of the process without encountering a problem. In an era of social media, where the customer has the megaphone, that level isn't acceptable, he said.

The importance of listening to the customer was echoed by Kate Leggett, a principal analyst with Forrester Research, who focuses on customer service. She encouraged "soliciting customer feedback and acting on that feedback," offering the example of New York City's bike share program, for which residents were asked where they wanted their bike docking stations. She also pointed out the link between happy customers and happy agents. Giving agents the tools they need to do their job properly, to actually listen to the customer, pays off in both customer and agent satisfaction.

That's not to say that doing what's best for the employee is always correct. "If you don't have customers, including customer service and customer experience, at the center of your business model, it won't take long for you to forget about the customer," cautioned Brent Leary, founder of CRM Essentials. A classic example is reaching out to a customer for a sale when the quarter is up because a salesperson needs to make his numbers, not because it's the best time to reach out to the customer.

The principles of CRM success are being carried out by customers every day. BancVue provides services to help small banks and credit unions "win the war against megabanks," explained Thomas Shields, vice president and general manager of operations of BancVue. What worked for BancVue, which transitioned from the SugarCRM community edition to a paid implementation several years ago, was starting with "a use case that will best serve your users, and delivering that functionality," Shields said. While the company also had a six-month and12-month vision, starting small was key.

Hilco Valuation Services took the opposite tack, focusing on all the business processes that needed to be overhauled and "finding the right CRM to enable that process," explained CMO Jim Glickman. "SugarCRM has become that vehicle for us, and brought us to this intersection of knowledge and visibility." One employee who used to spend 80 percent of her time on data entry now spends that time calling people about renewals, reducing the churn rate. Another finance person can leave at 5pm instead of 8pm. In Hilco's case, having a particularly inefficient existing system gave the company momentum to change. "From the top of the organization there was a shared need, so we had senior-level engagement. And the process was so broken, the folks doing data entry were calling for something better," Glickman said. That made the large-scale project an easy win. Up next on Glickman's list is an upgrade to Sugar 7 and a focus on bringing mobile CRM into his organization.

The diversity of implementations and underlying philosophies that create a customer-centric view have characterized this year's SugarCon. "I like seeing all the different ways people use Sugar," Shields said of the conference. "That's a neat theme that I haven't seen in years past. The curious part of me likes seeing all the ways you can use it, and how you can pick something that works for you."

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