Users point to CRM hurdles, ultimate payoffs

BALTIMORE (03/18/2004) - Despite skepticism about the efficacy of expensive CRM applications, some users are finding a payoff by boosting sales, improving efficiency and in general just making customers happier -- if the apps are installed right.

That was the view offered by a half-dozen users in varying stages of implementation at the Gartner Spring CRM Summit in Baltimore this week.

At FedEx Corp., one of the keys to success for its Amdocs Ltd. ClarifyCRM call center application rollout was the close work between IT workers and the business unit that was actually going to use the application, said Scot Struminger, vice president of IT. For example, during a rollout that started in 2001, FedEx had to change the way it defined customers, something that had been done previously at the account level. Now, customers are defined on the basis of individual transactions.

In addition, when migrating from its older homegrown legacy systems, the company got rid of the old "FedEx lingo," which included abbreviations for things such as a package pickup. By eliminating those definitions, it was easier to train call center employees who didn't need to learn the acronyms.

Partially because of the CRM rollout, the dropout rate from the training classes dropped from nearly half to almost none.

By pushing customers to the company Web site, and slashing the need for follow-up calls by faster problem resolution, FedEx cut the number of incoming calls a day by 89,000, to 600,000.

Although software vendors often push their applications based on the ability to more rapidly process calls or to upsell and cross-sell customers, that is not a good priority, according to Struminger. "It's not all about the (shorter) handle time," he said. "The customer is hard to acquire, and you should treat them the way they want to be treated. The software is a tool, but CRM is a whole culture."

Another key to making such a system work is to demand that users take responsibility for its success, said Cyndie Beckwith, vice president of customer experience at the California State Automobile Association in San Francisco. Her organization in 1998 launched a campaign management and analytical CRM application from E.piphany Inc. It offers tools that can consolidate customer information from the organization's various databases and deliver relevant information onto a single screen.

When the company went live with the software, users were held accountable for success rates of the campaigns, which mostly involved direct mail. The users had to be shown how to use the tools, too. When one particular marketing campaign had a low response rate, the association temporarily stopped it to give reps a new script to use and made it more successful.

Other CRM users weighed in, advising that when software packages are implemented, companies should try to make it as vanilla as possible and make sure they have commitment at the CEO level, said David Zink, CIO at health care provider Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island. "Don't change the system if you can help it," he said. "You have to have direction from the top."

He reported to the provider's chief operating officer during the installation of a call center application from Pegasystems Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass. The system, which replaced homegrown applications and went live in December, can help the organization's 680,000 members check on the status of claims or even find out about the availability of a fitness program.

The system can also tailor specific messages to members based on their profiles, and has helped boost customer satisfaction to 98 percent, Zink said.

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