So, How Are We Doing?

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If you need someone to help conduct a CRM needs assessment, evaluate packages and/or implement a solution, you don't have to look far these days. Countless consultancies specialize in tackling such tasks and, for the most part, they're good at what they do. Recently, though, a consulting firm caught my attention because of its ability to assess and add value after the implementation. Using an assessment methodology called "SCORE," this firm--the North Highland Company--has helped organizations such as The American Cancer Society, Bellsouth, Coca-Cola and Turner Broadcasting address issues that have plagued SFA/CRM users for years.

How effective is the SCORE assessment? "Very," asserts Jack storey, director of IT support services for the ACS. To date, storey's organization has used SCORE twice: First, prior to developing and implementing a technical support solution for more than 6,000 employees, and two years later, to evaluate the system's success and identify weak spots. "Both times, we learned a lot," he says. "If you have weaknesses in any given area, SCORE quickly makes them evident. Then you're given a battle plan for tackling those weaknesses and for incorporating the plan into your existing processes and technology." storey is so impressed with SCORE that he recommends using it every couple of years. Doing so, he believes, can help companies ensure that they're making the most of their technology solutions and of their customer relationship efforts.

SCORE: An Overview
SCORE--or Support Center Opportunity and Risk Evaluation--was developed in 1996 by Renaissance Partners (later acquired by Atlanta-based North Highland) to assist companies in building and improving their support operations. It proved to be so effective that The Help Desk Institute soon adopted it as the foundation for its Customer Support Site Certification Program, and because of this success--coupled with client demand for coverage in other areas--North Highland recently began expanding the assessment to include CRM and a self-assessment product for contact centers.

In a nutshell, SCORE evaluates and measures corporate initiatives based on six key strategic areas (see Figure 2). While it covers these areas in depth, what I find most interesting is how it enables CRM solution users to answer questions objectively that have gone long unanswered. For instance: Once we've implemented a solution, how do we qualitatively determine its effectiveness? What measurable benefits can we attribute to our CRM initiative? How can we better maximize our return on investment and use the solution to its fullest potential? How do we justify an upgrade?

These are just a few questions addressed by the very detailed assessment, which is conducted in the following manner: First, North Highland representatives meet with the client company and orient employees as to how the SCORE process works. The client then completes "pre work" that includes, among other things, a self-audit which is used as the basis for conducting a series of face-to-face interviews with employees, top executives and customers. From the combination of the audit and interview results and observations, North Highland rates the company on a 0 to 5 scale to indicate where it stands in terms of best practices for each of the six key areas. Clients are then informed, via a comprehensive report and an accompanying presentation, of their strengths and weaknesses, and they receive recommendations that span the six areas covered. From start to finish, the process takes two weeks.

The American Cancer Society SCOREs Big
The American Cancer Society first used SCORE in 1997 with the goal of better understanding employees' perceived needs prior to building a nationwide support system. "From this assessment," recalls storey, "we determined the fundamental things that we needed to do, for instance, creating a way for employees to track problems, making sure we met our own service-level agreements and so forth. We designed our system around North Highland's recommendations."

Two years later, things were running smoothly at ACS. The support system was in place, and the general sense was that all was well. "still," explains storey, "we wanted proof. We decided to go back to SCORE because it could give us an effective standard to gauge against." The second go-round with SCORE exposed a number of more subtle weak points. For instance, while ACS was doing many things right, those things hadn't been incorporated into processes. "Our efforts at achieving employee satisfaction constituted one such area," storey notes. "Satisfaction was high, but we weren't doing anything to ensure that it stayed that way." Based on North Highland's recommendations, ACS built incentive programs that automatically recognized and rewarded employees. These programs helped to contribute to a remarkably low, 30 percent turnover rate among ACS's support group during a two-and-a-half-year period, and about half of the people were promoted internally.

Additionally, there have been unanticipated perks from using SCORE, including rave feedback from customers. "We completely didn't expect this," says storey, "but clients praised us for putting ourselves out on a limb, taking this initiative and involving so many people. From their perspectives, our effort really spoke of our commitment toward fostering long-term relationships."

Typical Problems on the CRM Front
For companies that have implemented CRM solutions, where does North Highland typically see problems? According to Richard White, the consulting firm's CRM manager, the issues tend to revolve around business alignment and service culture. He notes that while CRM vendors are good at putting tools and technology in place, they're not as effective at taking people/process issues into account. As a result, a year after a company implements a solution, the software does what the vendor claimed, but it often doesn't satisfy the client's needs.

"A company will be using technology tools and getting some capability," explains White, "but the solution won't have improved the organization's overall effectiveness. For instance, maybe salespeople can track sales leads better, but they haven't increased the average sale size. On the service side, perhaps employees can now document all calls, but they've failed to improve bottom-line customer satisfaction." He adds that most businesses tend to be more tactical than strategic with their CRM initiatives, leaving plenty of room for improved use of their systems.

ACS Gets Certified
ACS has been extremely pleased with SCORE. In large part, the assessment was key in its recently receiving a Site Certification based on numerous, very stringent criteria from The Help Desk Institute. "SCORE is a good process," concludes storey. "It's very adaptable to other situations and areas in the company, and we will definitely come back to it in the future."

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