Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
With oh so good reason this column has discussed in oh so great detail the dastardly deeds of scorched earth software sellers, seemingly ever ready to sell CRM systems before their customers have a clue. And we've just as deservedly digressed to drum on callous consultants who possess but a moment's CRM training, but crouch poised to cash in on CRM "opportunities" at less than a moment's notice. But hey, how about a little balance here? What about the injuries CRM implementers inflict on themselves? And better yet, what about stuff CRM implementers inflict on themselves and blame on software sellers and consultants?
Touchy subject. Especially for a column focused on protecting customers from bad industry practices. But sometimes we do need a little protection from ourselves. Sometimes we need to stand tall, look in that ol' mirror, and say, "We shot off our own foot. Nobody's fault but ours." And that just happens to reflect some feedback I've been getting from some "high-road" software sellers and consultants I respect--folks trying earnestly to do business the right way, but constrained by customers dead set on doing CRM the wrong way. "How do we save companies like these from themselves?" they're asking. Good question. So let's turn this column around and talk to the seller side about their customers. But if you're a customer, you can read, too.
One answer is to say, "You can't save them"--at least not in the majority of cases. Not when CRM implementers put on blindfolds and earmuffs to insulate themselves from the experience of the marketplace. In fact, in many hard-core cases of implementers determined to "do it their way," perhaps the best alternative for vendors and consultants determined to help is to give up and let these customers walk over the nearest cliff. Just flop down in lawn chairs and watch the show. But remember to sit far enough away from the edge so that stones thrown from the bottom can't reach you.
But that's lose-lose. And CRM is about win-win. So maybe we should try to fix this situation rather than poke fun at it. The first approach to saving some implementers from themselves that comes to mind is hauling a few archetypal types in front of that ol' mirror so they can see with their own eyes who really screwed up. And hopefully a whole bunch of onlookers will get the message.
Where do we find candidates? Surprisingly, the first place I'd look is the area of CRM that's supposedly been going better than others--customer service call center implementations (yeah, I know they're called "contact centers" now). Yup, all of a sudden we're hearing growling noises emanating from call center managers and their execs about "not enough ROI," "didn't get what we paid for," "damned consultants" and especially "bad software." Even whispers floating about regarding lawsuits against software vendors. Shades of ERP, eh? But let's not go there.
What's happening? Well, a good bit of the time the implementers themselves are violating most or all of the basic tenets of CRM. Despite all the market learning at their disposal demonstrating beyond dispute that the first three goals of CRM are 1) effectiveness with customers, 2) effectiveness with customers and 3) effectiveness with customers--with operational efficiency finishing a distant fourth--these know-it-alls are plunging ahead with efficiency-based "CRM." Sure, let's "improve" call turn ratios. So what if we whiz off customers by giving them cursory answers to their questions. Sure, let's save money by channeling erstwhile callers to the Web. So what if they don't want to go there. And so what that when they get there the "service" they get outright stinks. Sure, let's script the daylights out of service agents so they channel every incident the way the company wants.
So what if customers cut a new path leading right out the door. Let's haul in a few of these yokels and stick 'em in front of the mirror. Now, please tell me mirror, "Who screwed up?"
Next, let's wander out of the phone booth onto the street--at field sales level. Well, darn if we don't have fancy new sales force automation systems tied to inside sales, tied to inside service and tied to who knows where. Slicker than you-know-what--except the sales guys ain't selling any more or any harder. What's going down? Lots more of the same. Systems designed to create efficiencies. Sure, measure their call count and force it up. So what if that forces sales people to cold call because relationship calls take too long. Sure, measure them on new customer acquisition. So what if you're bleeding customers out your behinds. And a new twist--let's stick the whole system up on the Web. Much more efficient to manage that way. Never mind that reps may not be able to connect to the Web when they need to use their system--and now you've left them unable to work untethered. Hey, you've achieved what you set out to--efficiency.
Let's haul in a few from this set and stick 'em in front of the mirror.
Now, please tell me mirror, "Who screwed up?"
We could come back inside to the computer room where marketing is practicing "CRM" by increasing the efficiency of old-paradigm database marketing. But you don't want me to get that exorcised. Or do you? No matter, we all know what the mirror's gonna say.
You get the pattern. These companies start off implementing CRM in order to gain operational efficiencies. They fall flat on their faces when all they get are minor operational improvements--and somehow those "improvements" don't translate into better customer relationships. Then they blame the consultants--or especially the software vendors--that supposedly screwed things up. Swell.
So, have we saved them yet? Maybe a few. But lots more have an inherent fear of mirrors, so we'd better come up with a few alternative answers.
If you're employed at one of these companies (and you're reading this anyway), you could not try to save things and take my organizational development colleague, Bill Brendler's, advice: "Get another job."
If you're a consultant trying to keep an implementation from heading towards the cliff, throw your body across the tracks--and be sure to send a picture of yourself spread-eagled across the rail bed to the CEO or most involved CXO with a message on the back explaining what you're doing there.
If you're selling software to a cliff dweller, refuse to sell software. The shock value might just rewire some minds--not to mention open some eyes and ears.
Or, regardless of your status, you might just sit down with the person or persons driving the wagon toward disaster and share your experience and learning in CRM in a non-threatening way--especially the part about what your experience and learning in CRM tell you is going to happen to him, her or them personally if they don't turn the wagon around. But, if you want to be non-threatening, you might want to keep this article in your briefcase. Or, maybe not.
So, how do we save these companies? By showing some intestinal fortitude, taking risks with our projected revenue--and refusing to associate our organization with sure losers of CRM implementations. Sounds draconian, but walking away from bad work can do more for your reputation than any investment in marketing and advertising. And based on my experience, when you take a hike, more than a few folks will come chasing after you.