• January 1, 2015
  • By Denis Pombriant, founder and managing principal, Beagle Research Group

What CRM Automation Doesn't Offer, Process Does

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What do customers want? We put so much emphasis on trying to figure out the answer to this very simple question, but I think the answer is simple as well—customers want competent and timely business processes. That's it. We don't want to be buddies with our vendors or to go out for a beer with them, except maybe once a year at the user conference.

If you study customer sentiment in general and sentiment sites on the Internet, you can't help but notice how many complaints are not about products or even services. Rather, the complaints cluster around a failure by the vendor to provide adequate coverage in a customer's critical moment of truth, by which I mean the vendor fails in conducting a business process that happens to mean a lot to the customer.

Before we had so much automation, we could reliably expect to see, or at least speak with, a vendor's representative to get a situation fixed. But today, more often than not, we're dealing with automated systems. Now, there's nothing wrong with automated systems—to a large degree, that's what our industry is all about. However, too often the automation in question is simply a knowledge base with a browser front end and a search engine.

Those systems can tell you what's already known and often that's enough. But they can't replace a knowledgeable person on the other end of the line who gets it, meaning he can take your problem and synthesize a solution based on his superior knowledge of the company and its processes.

There is good news in all of this. A revolution is taking place throughout CRM that is helping to retire those automated systems, replacing them with more intelligence. Modern CRM, which uses analytics and a decent model of customer behavior, can spot exceptions, and this is where the fun starts. Managing by exception gives a vendor the ability to zero in on customers who really need help and at the same time helps manage scarce resources.

Throughout the industry, CRM vendors are integrating things like workflow and journey mapping tools into their apps to enable their users to literally map out their customers' moments of truth. As a result, these vendors can ensure that they have a reasonable response for what their customers send their way. And on the off chance that the vendor hasn't figured out all of the journey, a well-designed workflow is designed to send the customer to a service agent rather than aggravating the customer, as is too often the case.

Ironically, in my experience, CRM users are not big fans of process. They're more about freelancing for transactions and accelerating them. However, the power of a process orientation is that it leads naturally to the coveted transaction, but in an orderly way that keeps the customer involved and prevents skipping steps that can later come back to haunt—especially in a sales situation. That's why I say that customers want processes—and vendors should too. This is also why it is so critical for vendors to both understand this and to replace their simple automated systems with modern, analytics-driven, process-driven systems.

As luck would have it, this is the direction that CRM is moving in, though it seems many vendors are reluctant to put the pieces together into a unified process-centric suite. So far, CRM vendors are putting a lot of technology into the market and letting their customers determine how process-centric to become. This is a reasonable thing, because while a vendor might know what a best practice is, trying to impose one on a customer can backfire. It's also the way many solutions develop.

Nevertheless, some enterprises are picking up on the idea faster than others and will likely reap greater rewards than their laggard cousins. Which camp does your business fall into?

Denis Pombriant is the founder and managing principal of Beagle Research Group and the Bullpen Group. He is a widely published CRM analyst in the U.S. and Europe, and his latest research spans all areas of social CRM, cloud, and mobile computing. His latest book, The Subscription Economy, is available on Amazon.com.

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