Filling the Void in CRM Application Support

Many CRM users find that their investments in CRM systems are not providing the benefits originally promised by their service providers. While service providers are quick to advertise the revenue-enhancement potential of the products they offer, a lack of responsiveness, an absence of client knowledge, and high costs often keep clients from recognizing these benefits. Support models are a primary contributor to this situation--solutions from the application vendor or a third party simply do not support the kind of cost-effective and time-sensitive needs required to keep a CRM environment running efficiently. A void is rapidly growing between clients' desired levels of service and traditional vendor service offerings for CRM application support, and very few options exist to address it. Essentially, this leaves companies looking to bridge the gap. High service levels can always be acquired for a price, but how can companies looking for CRM help address this problem cost-effectively? They're forced to choose among prohibitively expensive vendor support, slow consulting engagements, and cheap offshore assistance--all choices that ultimately provide little relief and more grief. High costs and slow response time force many companies to find a solution offshore, but results from this approach are often lest than stellar. While companies may have access to 24/7 support, their outsourcing provider typically has a staff of unnamed resources that have no insight into the client's environment and can only respond to predictable, low-involvement issues. A lack of implementation experience and questionable certification levels can complicate matters further, and language barriers often keep service providers from building close relationships with their clients. This imperfect relationship leads to a limited understanding of the clients' CRM strategies, and requires additional resources to develop and expand CRM efforts. Service quality ultimately suffers--something that is sacrificed for a lower contract cost from an offshore supplier. Most companies with large investments in CRM packages such as Siebel, SAP, or Salesforce.com attempt to raise service levels and keep costs in check with a mix of internal resources and support staff offered by their application providers. When users escalate a problem outside of their level of expertise, they must route their issue through the application provider's account manager--who generally just acts as a conduit to product engineers. These engineers need to service multiple clients, and prioritization of the issues coming from a multitude of clients may not match the needs or timing expectations of any individual client. Subsequently, low response times lead to increased costs and lost sales that offset any potential savings gained from employing a joint support solution. One way to avoid these recurring problems is to demand a bundled onshore support and development package from consulting partners. A holistic approach with a long-term view that integrates best practices from traditional offerings can build consistency around release cycles, enhancements, patches, and any other support issues that need to be addressed. Furthermore, combining strategy, process, support, and development work can ensure alignment across all parts of the CRM support chain, and will lead to lower costs, quicker response times, and better problem resolution. New cost-effective, onshore solutions for companies seeking more-flexible CRM help are beginning to emerge. New models based on a Center of Excellence allow for process issues to be escalated to the appropriate support personnel without long fulfillment times or premium pricing by partnering clients with third-party vendors to the client. This model ensures that dedicated, expert-level professionals coordinate with the client to ensure that dedicated, expert-level resources with extensive implementation, support, and CRM strategy experience are readily available to address specific needs in a timely manner. By using the same resources to conduct strategy sessions, perform upgrades, and handle bug fixes, the entire support process is streamlined and allows clients to keep their environments current and fully functional. This method eases the cost and time burden for the client, and also fosters knowledge transfer; furthermore, a more-intimate client-vendor relationship improves internal expertise. It's time for clients to take control of their CRM environment back from their CRM vendors. The inefficient methods for supporting a CRM environment are costing clients millions of dollars, and using multiple vendors for development and strategy work just adds to the bill. New models can apply a consistent and proactive strategy across your SFA, contact center, or marketing applications that can go a long way to realizing the potential of your CRM systems. About the Author Jim Anzivino is vice president of CRM services for Extraprise, a CRM consulting and database marketing firm. Jim has spent a majority of his 15-year career focused on CRM application implementation services and is currently responsible for the delivery of client CRM initiatives for Extraprise.
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