Abstract Customer relationship management (CRM)

"Abstract Customer relationship management (CRM) is a combination of people, processes and technology that seeks to understand a company's customers."

Understanding customer relationship management (CRM): People, process and technology

Injazz J Chen, Karen Popvich. Business Process Management Journal. Bradford: 2003. Vol. 9

The module "Business System Integration and Consultancy" was one I had been looking forward to ever since I decided to join the course. The prospect of having hands on real time experience of being a consultant and carrying out a project was really appealing.

The first day of the module and we were all dressed up in our business attire eagerly waiting to find out about the days proceedings. We were yet to become a group though we had been put together under the label of"Group 2". The first thing we had to do was to come up with a name for our company and to present ourselves to our class. There were surprisingly creative suggestions that came up and we used the rationale behind opening quote of this essay to christen our organization - ICG, Intech Consulting Group. Intech expanded to INtegrating TECHnology with people, process and environment.

THE PROCESS OF SYSTEM INTEGRATION

The module took us through various stages of system integration starting from the client putting up request for information. If I were to go through the process again, there is a series of changes and improvements I would incorporate into the same. The same has been detailed below.

The Request for Information (RFI)

S Daellenbach and Sally J Davenport in their journal "Establishing trust during the formation of technology alliances" claim that "organizations enter into alliance based on attributes of organization and its representatives rather than the attribute of the future alliance relationship" [Journal of Technology Transfer; Apr 2004;29,2ABI/INFORM Global pg 187]. The RFI stage is the platform to show the clients the credibility and eligibility of the company in taking up the project. It is important to impress the client; show them that you have the capability and also establish trust. For this its essential to show partnership by putting the logo of Aluxtel and ICG together. The presentation would cover the achievements, the strengths, the services offered and relevant experience of ICG in the area of client requirement. It would also showcase the important previous and current partnerships of the company; for this I would use logos of the partner companies. The presentation should not give so much information that the client misses the essential points. ICG initially had 19 slides which were cut down to 14 during the RFI stage. Another aspect I would do differently, was regarding an enquiry by the client about employee turnover ratio. ICG had divulged that information to Aluxtel but I later found out that such details are rarely let out by a company and almost never during RFI stage. Meeting with the client is also a very crucial aspect. Katz and Kahn[1978] suggests that the trust factor between two parties is initially assessed based on the interpersonal interactions. It is therefore important to sign the "psychological contracts" with the client.

The Request for Proposal (RFP)

This stage required us to showcase the plan to address the client's requirement. The crucial aspect to this was information; extracting the right information from the client through the series of meetings we had. The procedure adopted consisted of three steps - analyzing the organization & understanding requirements, formulating implementation strategy and assessing the project implementation.

Process and Technology

Step 1: Analyzing organization & Understanding Requirements

The key to getting information from the clients as pointed by the module leaders is to ask an open ended question which leaves the client to talk more than you. The effective management of information has a crucial role to play in CRM. "Information is critical for product tailoring, service innovation, consolidated views of customers, and calculating customer lifetime value "[Peppard, 2000]. The initial talks were not very fruitful, due to inexperience and nerves. The consequent meetings yielded more information; the last meeting had been more focused in terms of the questions and yielded specific concerns of the client regarding cost reduction and organizational restructuring. This helped ICG modify the plan to meet the client's specific interests. The information was used to carry out analysis using techniques like swot analysis, stakeholder analysis and pest analysis. I would follow this as it greatly helped in analyzing the effect of the project on various aspects of the organization.

Step 2: Implementation Strategy

The strategy should cater to three main aspects namely people, process and technology.

The idea is that a new process is to be designed by incorporating technology to give the company the competitive advantage. The focus however needs to be on the requirements of the company and not technology. Technology should always be the facilitator. This fact is confirmed by Rigby and Ledingham (2004) who say that managers should not be distracted by the CRM software but should focus on what requirements it should cater to.

I firmly adhere to this school of thought and believe that making technology the main driving force behind decisions can cause businesses to lose focus on their core competencies, unless the core competency is technology itself.

The main aspect to be considered in the case of Aluxtel is the presence of silo systems. Migrating the data into a single database would greatly reduce call time and improve customer satisfaction. However this should not affect the normal business operations. Bearing these factors in mind a data migration plan has to be devised. The data migration would also serve as an opportunity to carry out data cleansing. In 2001, Gartner analysts Scott Nelson and Jennifer Kirkby reported that "ignoring data quality is the number one reason for CRM project failures" [Data Quality and MDM; A data quality mind-set increases MDM program success, Dan Power. Information Management. New York: Mar 1, 2009. Vol. 19, Iss. 2; pg. 40]. The data of Aluxtel could be mostly cleansed by automatic methods but required manual cleansing as well. The challenge with manual cleansing is the time it consumes and the human resource required from an already overloaded Aluxtel staff. From the interactions with the module leaders, it was concluded that cent percent clean data is a rarity. Therefore I believe that automatic cleansing would suffice as an immediate requirement. The data from silo systems could be integrated into a separate single database and it can undergo the manual cleansing. This method has its pros and cons. Since the project will be implemented in a phased manner, the above strategy would mean maintaining legacy and new database till the project goes live in all the offices. However it also provides a fall back mechanism to the legacy database in case of any issue. The new system can take a few months to settle, where the staff and the customers become familiar with the system. The IT (information technology) staff on whom the load is lesser than sales/marketing staff can carry out the manual cleansing. [Refer appendix for data migration diagram]

The customer today takes certain services for granted, main being an online service. It tremendously adds to the convenience factor of the customer. Bearing this in mind, a web portal is a necessity. Peppers and Rogers, 2000 describes how websites help in retaining customers by offering services in traditionally impossible ways. The presence of a consolidated database would mean that investment required for this would be minimal. Also, introducing an IVR system with an automated verification service would greatly reduce call time and the inconvenience caused to customers by repeated verification queries.

The next aspect of the strategy is to look at cost reduction and organizational restructuring. For a setup that involves customer calling in for queries, it is rather unnecessary to have four different offices for call centers. Integrating them would greatly reduce administration and maintenance costs. I would stick to the recommendation made to merge Milton Keynes office with Birmingham office. There have been cases of companies Virgin, Bata etc shifting headquarters without affecting their business. The cost reduction it would bring greatly justifies this move.

An aspect I would like to bring about if I do this project again is involving customers in deciding other changes to be brought about since CRM is a customer centric project. Random calls could be made to the customers enquiring about the changes they would like to see in the process. "Optimizing customer relationships requires a complete understanding of all customers; profitable as well as non-profitable, and then to organize business processes to treat customers individually based on their needs and their values" [Renner, 2000]. This reinforces the advantages to be gained by using the customer profiling.

One point that was missed out, as pointed out by Mr Gary was the risk analysis. "Possible risks such as project failure, inadequate return on investment, unplanned project budget revisions, unhappy customers, loss of employee confidence, and diversion of key management time and resources must be well thought out "[Schweigert, 2000]. Identifying the risks involved and consequently mapping the ways to mitigate these risks would be a great assurance to the client and will also ensure better chances of preventing a project failure.

Step 3: Assessment and Control

Argyris and Schon describe the gap between 'intent' and realization as the major challenge in strategic management theory. It is important that the project is constantly reviewed and assessed to make sure its on the right course and it adheres to the plan set out. The measures taken by ICG were very good in meeting this requirement. A steering committee and a follow up committee would ensure that project stuck to its plan. The project had a phase "controlling" as well for the purpose.

People

"Implementation of enterprise technology, such as CRM and ERP, requires changes to organizational culture" [Al-Mashari and Zairi, 2000]. It is therefore important to prepare the people involved for the change and make sure they are motivated to embrace the change. "Most problems in CRM implementation are not technical". [Implementing CRM: From technology to Knowledge, David Jesse Finnigan and Leslie P Willcocks, Pg3]. [Schwartz et al,2002] identifies organizational change as a major challenge for CRM implementations. Analyzing the implementation strategy, it is clear that the change is immense and there is a very valid requirement to look into the people aspect.

The first thing to do would be to involve the senior management in the process of preparing the staff for the change. Cap Gemini and IDC found that top management and marketing and sales management are generally the initiators of a corporate CRM project (1999)[ Understanding customer relationship management (CRM): People, process and technology

Injazz J Chen, Karen Popvich. Business Process Management Journal. Bradford: 2003. Vol. 9]

Also training sessions will be conducted to make them realize the benefits of the new system and to also ensure their acceptance. Their feedbacks at various stages can ensure that the project is on track and these steps would also ensure their ownership in the project.

A major issue to be considered is the relocation of people in Milton Keynes to Birmingham and also from the different call centres to the integrated call centre. There is likely to be resistance in this regard. This issue was not discussed properly in ICG's proposal. I believe that a small hike in salary is justified to motivate people for the change. This wouldn't be a burden on the company considering the effective expenditure cut. Also a promotion would be a big psychological motivation for the staff even if the salary rise associated with the promotion is minimal.

Personal Learning

The module helped in understanding the concepts of consultancy and how to be professional in the work that you do. It familiarized me with the various stages involved in a project and how to tackle each of them. It is most important to have a holistic view considering all possible aspects. Initially, the focus had only been on designing a CRM system. But as the course progressed, I learned to look at the opportunities for organizational restructuring and probe for ways to instill process optimization and cost reduction. The experience of working with time constraints in a very competitive environment has made me confident to take on the world of consulting.

As for the soft skills, I was a part of all the meetings with the client and also handled the RFI presentation and the final presentation. It made me confident to speak in front of esteemed individuals. The meetings helped me understand the subtle nuances of building a rapport by conversation and gestures. I was also introduced to the art of asking the right kind of questions to extract details from the client.

The process of working in a group also was a very fulfilling experience. The work was generally divided among the members and each member came prepared with the topic. This was followed by discussions and brain storming about the various topics. This ensured proper analysis of all the topics and deep understanding about the same. It also made sure that everyone in the group was aware of all the aspects of our proposal. This was highlighted by the fact that during the review session by the panel after our final presentation, all the members answered to the queries.

Bibliography

  • Implementing CRM: From technology to Knowledge, David Jesse Finnigan and Leslie P Willcocks
  • Establishing trust during the formation of technology alliances, Urs S. Daellenbach; Sally J. Davenport Journal of Technology Transfer; Apr 2004; 29, 2; ABI/INFORM Global pg. 187
  • Understanding customer relationship management (CRM): People, process and technology, Injazz J Chen, Karen Popvich. Business Process Management Journal. Bradford: 2003. Vol. 9

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