In this reflective assignment I intend to focus mainly on two sections. Firstly, on some of the areas of our Aluxtel proposal which I think could have been done differently and also the rationale behind some of our main decisions. Secondly, I will be focusing on how we (Eureka Consultants) went about the process of developing the RFP and FIBO - some of the challenges & obstacles faced, how we overcame them, change management within the group, division of work & responsibilities and last but not the least the lessons learnt from this exercise.
It is mentioned that a large number of CRM projects fail to deliver the envisioned business benefits or fail completely (Tafti, 2002; Finnegan and Willcocks, 2007). One of the reasons mentioned for this failure is considering the CRM implementation as a pure technical solution implementation coupled with a wide variety of hardware and software. During the preparation of the response to the RFP we had also fallen into this trap and also focused more on the technical aspects of the CRM implementation. We analysed in depth, from a technical perspective, about Aluxtel's system processes, customer value chains, operating procedures and automated workflows.From the multi-layered model of CRM strategy implementation (Finnegan and Currie, 2009), it can be inferred that there are four key areas which have to be looked into while implementing a CRM solution. In FIBO, we concentrated more on the cultural, people and technological layer and to a lesser extent on the process.
Rigby and Ledingham (2004), in their article, mentions about four pitfalls that every company must avoid during a CRM implementation and one such pitfall mentioned is implementing or rolling out CRM before making the required changes in the organization. For a CRM to succeed it is necessary to study the existing organization, its processes, departmental, product and geographical structures and revamp then if necessary. In case of Aluxtel, I believe that we could have done better had we focused on this issue in detail and asked the relevant questions to the Aluxtel panel during the various meetings. For example, specific information on the organizational structure, how the work is divided, work dynamics within each department, the various rewards and incentive structure which would have provided valuable information on the division of power and responsibilities and in turn explain the power politics within Aluxtel. This information could then be used to customize training programs effectively for the organization as a whole as well for the various departments. It will also help in identifying or pinpointing key employees (leaders) who could then be given the task of managing the change in an effective and efficient manner. In our FIBO, we have mentioned about the training program in general but it could have been effective if tailored for each department and further for each divisions within each department. It could also be taken a step further by ensuring that each staff or employee receives the training customized to his or her job and skill.
The data cleansing and data migration is another area which is important and one of the main constituents of the technology layer. Behavioral data is the lifeblood of CRM and before rolling out the CRM it is necessary to get the data into a unified database, cleanse it to remove multiple or duplicate entries, ensure that the data is accurately distributed to all customer touch points, and the database is standardized so that customer information is presented accurately throughout the entire organization (Beasty, 2005). In the case of Aluxtel, initially we had decided to do the automatic cleansing in-house and outsource the manual cleansing but towards the end we had decided to outsource the complete operation to an external agency. One of the main reasons for outsourcing was that Aluxtel did not have in-house resources or the technical know - how for such a specialized activity and that the setting up of an in-house team for this task could cause delays in the CRM implementation (selecting team members, training and development). It was also argued that there could be the risk of incompatibility between the two systems for automatic cleansing which is done in-house and manual cleansing which is outsourced. Outsourcing ensured that the complete process of data cleansing & migration was the sole responsibility of the outsourced agency and Aluxtel could focus on its core processes. Nowadays, specialised activities are performed by specialised firms in a better, faster and efficient manner and this allows the outsourcing company to focus on its core activities. The secret to success, for companies, in today's world of electronic networks is to unbundle from its non-core activities and to rebundle with a specialized firm offering that service (Hagel & Singer, 1999). However, the shortcoming in our strategy was that it was backed by qualitative and not quantitative data. Since there is a considerable cost associated with outsourcing it was necessary for us to provide quantitative data to back this strategy and its benefits in the long run and thereby convince Aluxtel management that this is the most viable solution.
With regards to the implementation (roll out) process we had advised a staggered approach starting in one of the departments (preferably the sales and marketing which would include the call centre) at one adopter site and then adding other departments and locations. One of the main reasons for this approach, from our discussion, was that in the case of a big bang approach the risk of failure was high and it could affect the entire organization. A big bang approach is likely to cause major disruptions and disrupt the smooth functioning of the entire organization. The most successful CRM projects are those that start in one or two departments and roll out gently (Haigh, 2008). In Aluxtel's case, which is having a huge customer base and is still growing, we argued that it could disrupt the smooth functioning of sales, marketing and call centres, thus, leading to more serious problem in customer handling and as a result loose its customers. The staggered approach, on the other hand, would allow Aluxtel to test, refine and make improvements to the systems as it is being implemented at one site. It would also allow integrating learning into the process and adjusting the training programs accordingly. It would not jeopardize the smooth functioning of the other departments. This adopter site can be considered more as a development/training environment. We were also of the opinion that it is important to ensure that the key stakeholders have access to the system during this part of implementation process so as to familiarize them to the new system and can be used as “change champions” when rolling-out within the rest of the organisation.
In the post implementation scenario that is once CRM implementation has been successfully adopted, we had advised moving towards a consolidated model with regards to the sales and call centres at the four locations. We argued that the CRM system would allow operational flexibility, effectiveness, cost savings & provide an enriched customer service but in the long run, as Aluxtel grows its operations, it was naïve to consider that only CRM system was the panacea to all the operational and financial concerns without taking into consideration strategic decisions like restructuring or revamping of the organisation. CRM system (or IT in general) should not be viewed as the only enabler or tool that aids an organisation to achieve its long term strategic goals and objectives. As technology matures, standardizes and becomes part of the general business infrastructure, its losses its power to provide competitive edge (Carr, 2004). We were of the opinion that the top management of Aluxtel should think strategically on the lines of consolidation of the sales and call centres across the four locations once the CRM system was successfully implemented and accepted. The three call centres should be moved in stages to a central location. This should be done in a phased manner as otherwise it will disrupt the smooth functioning of the call centres, thus, leading to a serious problem in customer handling. Proper planning by the HR team in coordination with the concerned departments is also necessary in order to the tackle the employee relocation and related challenges. From the operational and financial perspective, the suggested approach will result in a reduction of costs associated with operations, management and maintenance of the four call centres. From the sales and call centre point of view of operations, consolidation will help to concentrate expertise and experience. It will also standardise and streamline the regular and repeated business process thereby making it more efficient and error free and ultimately enriching the customer experience.
One of the areas I think which was not stressed enough in our proposal was about the benefit realisation. We had provided the general benefits that a CRM system would provide in the long run but not the immediate benefits. The management in any organisation when implementing a project of this scale is interested in knowing what the immediate benefits are and how soon can they be realised. This information in a way allows them to gauge, apart from the other indicators, the implementation process during the first few months of the implementation and take the necessary strategic actions to correct deviations if any. Another area which was also overlooked was planning for disruptions (Beasty, 2005; Director, 2000). It is likely possible that disruption can occur during the CRM implementation such as a particular section of the business closing down, some divisions being merged with another, key stakeholders leaving the organisation and changes in the product line due to changing market environment. It is also possible that delays or disruptions can occur during CRM implementation in areas such as data cleansing and data migration, training and development, compatibility issues which may arise during the integration with databases and various other software modules such as billing, accounting and IVR. In some cases, the time taken for a CRM implementation can overshoot its targeted time period and cause delays and additional cash outflows. Therefore, it becomes very important for us, as consultants, to account for these disruptions and their effects on Aluxtel's operations and to properly plan in order to minimize them.
In the subsequent paragraphs, I will discuss in brief about the process of preparing the response to RFP and FIBO. As mentioned in the introductory paragraph, I would like to focus mainly on the obstacles faced, how we overcame some of them, division of work & responsibilities and the lessons learnt as a result of this exercise.
One of the main challenges I initially faced was the mismatch in thinking process or perspectives between the group, some of whom were fresh out of college and had no prior work experience, and myself. I believe some of the other members who had work experience also felt the same. As a result of this sometimes a simple discussion would get complicated and go out of context. In order to reconcile the differences without hurting the ego of any members, at times we used to go to great lengths to explain the rationale behind it and in other situations when we were taxed for time we used to take a majority view or opinion and then at a later point in time explain why that view was accepted.
Another obstacle faced was the absence of some of the group members during meetings or their late arrivals and group commitment. Now the fallout of this was that there were few members who were doing all the work and was always under constant pressure. As a result these members were not able to do effective brainstorming sessions (because of multi-tasking various tasks) during group discussion and contribute towards new ideas. The same situation was also witnessed when work was segmented among the group members and not everyone completed the work assigned to them. This resulted in delays and tensions in the group. Andrew, who was our group CEO, mentioned that in order to sort out attendance and to persuade members to work harder, we had to have a session where we were brutal but honest about how lack of commitment and lateness were affecting group performance. In an organisational setting there are issues of remuneration, performance appraisal and the risk of getting fired and therefore the managers can exert pressure on his/her subordinates but in our case these factors were absent and so such methods could not be resorted to. Therefore, as a member who was concerned, I preferred to take up the issue with the group but in a different approach. I used to constantly email the group with the problems faced as a lack of commitment along with examples from my work experience and try to motivate them. In change management, one of the main focuses is on educating the target audience about the benefits of a particular action or adoption and then motivating them. Taking cue from this and my past experience, I took the initiative of trying to create that excitement about winning this project, about how it would make us more confident and how it would convey the message that we were better than the rest. In most of my group emails I also made it a point to constantly include inspirational quotes, a practice picked by during work, in order to boost the morale of the group. Although it did not bring about the change I expected but there was some improvement in the overall group dynamics.
With regards to the assignment of work, it was decided that the work would be segmented among groups consisting of three members each. This method was adopted so that some members who were facing difficulties were clubbed with people who were proactive and somewhat fast learners and to ensure that everyone in the sub groups were able to understand and contribute effectively to the tasks assigned. This approach also ensured the work that was assigned was completed and there are no major delays. It also became evident as we progressed with our project work that certain members were skilled in certain areas such as presentations and graphics and therefore work was segmented on this basis as well when we were constrained for time.
Apart from the above mentioned learnings, this consultancy project also taught how to link theory to practise. Reading numbers of articles exposed me to different frameworks and models. Each author analysed the situation through different lenses and so there were different viewpoints. The challenge was in identifying and linking that framework/model or a combination of these to the scenario or the issue at hand and arriving at a conclusion. Another important observation, from consultancy point of view, was attention to detail, being precise and thinking on your feet. This was more prominent during presentations and meetings when information had to be elicited from the panel within a short period of time.
In a nutshell, the five weeks of experimental learning gave me valuable insights into the world of business systems integration and consultancy. It made me think, act and work like a real consultant and in a way, academically, I have started applying some of that learning to the project work in the ongoing module.
Finnegan, D. and Willcocks, L. (2007) Implementing CRM: From technology to knowledge. Wiley Publishing, Chichester.
Finnegan, D. and Currie, W. (2009) A Multi-layered approach to CRM implementation. European Management Journal, doi:10.1016/j.emj.2009.04.010
Tafti, M. H. A. (2002) Analysis of factors affecting implementation of customer relationship management systems, IRMA. Seattle, Idea Group Publishing
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