CRM’s Last Gasp: Why Service and Support is CRM’s Last Chance for Success

If I were asked for a list of things I wanted to believe in, but had to admit were pure fantasy, the top three would be Santa Claus, world peace, and the “360 degree view of the customer.” Over the years I have heard a million presentations tout the promise of CRM, including a lot of abstract concepts about improving the customer experience that simply don’t jive with most company’s CRM reality. When SSPA, TPSA and AFSMI members talk about CRM, there is usually a bit of contempt in their voice, and in most cases CRM is something IT selected–and to some degree shoved down their throats–with little or no business user input.

We all know that CRM covers the disciplines of marketing, sales and service, but a dozen years into the CRM revolution, there remain few examples of cross-enterprise CRM implementations. Sales, and SFA (sales force automation), was the first priority for many companies when it came to CRM, and this SFA focus drove success for Siebel, Salesforce.com and other SFA-centric CRM vendors. Marketing has certainly had its CRM time in the sun, with CRM vendors buying analytic platforms and data warehouses in the last 2 years to better enable demographic analysis and accurate upsell/cross-sell. But what about service?

If anyone can understand the value of the 360 degree view, it is the service and support organization, with goals and incentives largely built not around revenue and profitability, but customer satisfaction. Support has a vested interest in understanding the 360 degree view of the customer–it helps them diagnose and resolve problems much faster if they have the whole universe of the customer (products purchased, implementation dates, versions, patches downloaded, self-service attempts, service history, etc.) at their disposal.

These thoughts had been bouncing around in my head for a while, but they became top of mind after a recent conversation with Michael Tarbet, Vice President of Americas Sales for Consona CRM. We were talking about Consona’s acquisition of the SupportSoft assets (including remote support and self-healing), and how adding this technology to the Consona CRM suite, which includes full CRM capabilities from Onyx, and best-of-breed knowledgebase, search and community tools from Knova; created the industries first truly “service centric” CRM suite.  In fact, in my recent Web Collaboration market overview (“Ten Distinct Modules Comprise this Popular Support Technology“), Consona CRM was one of only two vendors (the other was Alcatel-Lucent’s Genesys) to offer all ten functional modules.

With the majority of legacy CRM implementations becoming more infrastructure than applications, companies look to their existing CRM system for basic incident tracking and entitlement/service contracts. But not much else.  It is exciting to think about implementing a service-centric CRM suite that includes best-of-breed tools for all areas of service and multi-channel support, including value added service tools like proactive monitoring and remote fixes. I’m pleased to see a CRM vendor put a lot of effort into improving the service side of their suites…which have gone largely unchanged since the first Web-based UIs were introduced in 2001 or so. And I’m also happy to see a CRM vendor specifically investing in tools for high tech firms, since the telco and financial services industries have received the bulk of CRM vendor attention for the last decade.

I look forward to Consona CRM’s roadmap becoming a reality as the latest acquisitions are merged into the enterprise platform. Can a service-centric CRM suite change the minds of technology buyers to invest in CRM once again? Will support take the lead and create the 360 degree view so it finally goes from fantasy to reality? My fingers are crossed.

Thanks for reading!

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6 Comments on “CRM’s Last Gasp: Why Service and Support is CRM’s Last Chance for Success”

  1. Esteban Kolsky Says:

    John,

    Interesting post.

    Here is my take. Much as ERP was over-hyped at the beginning, so was CRM. The whole 360-degree view thing has never happened, nor will it ever. I am among the lot that bought into the potential for that vision, only to see it evaporate as we moved from transactional to analytical to (now) social CRM. And the many iterations in between (remember RealTime CRM? e-CRM?).

    That is not to say that no good came out of implementing CRM. Sure, some implementations were costly (I think we have the most expensive one around 50MM), and lengthy (some of them are going on 6-7 years plus) with limited results (at least as compared to initial expectations). But the results are not impressive when compared to the “promise” or “potential”.

    However, something good did come out of it. We now have a basic, integrated, and (mostly) accessible architecture for front-office operations. Just as we did with ERP and back-office operations. We can now deploy most anything we want (remote support, tied with customer data, social-CRM tied to existing data, etc.) and tie it with existing modules and data. Unlike before, where we had to do it on a case-by-case basis (remember the spaghetti networks we used to have?) and common data models, integration points, and business rules were non-existent.

    So, the value you get out of these past 18 years (Siebel claims to have invented CRM in 1991 in their S-1 filing)? a reliable platform that connects the enterprise and its data to the world via a cloud, for just about anything you want to do. If you wait some years (10-15) you will actually see the 360-degree view of the customer — but not just for the organization, but across the world.

  2. jragsdale Says:

    Hi Esteban;
    I didn’t know if I would be lauded or laughed at for this post, so thanks for not being hostile!😉

    I have to say that the majority of companies I speak to would not agree that they have “a reliable platform” or anything close to it. What they usually have is a 10 year old version of something, ridiculously customized, that they are told by IT can’t be upgraded for 7-10 years. Green screens are not unheard of. Those old systems won’t be linking to social CRM anytime soon; some of those old CRM versions only have single-treaded APIs for integration!

    –John

  3. yadu tekale Says:

    John, Esteban,

    interesting article and comments.

    i come from a background of implementing giant ERP suites with a vision to change the world.

    by and large ERP has sold itself today since the need for having one (or as close to one), transactional system as backbone is pretty obvious.

    CRM that enables multiple and often disparate processes to be conducted with/on one customer database is also here to stay.

    I am not sure a 360 degree view of a customer exists or should exist. I dont think even SCRM will enable that. As of now I remain sceptical of SCRM’s ability to radically change the way business interacts with customers since I think the volume of data generated by SCRM will be too large and/or granular for businesses to act on.

    • jragsdale Says:

      That’s really an excellent point about a true 360 view being data overload. I’d be happy with some basic improvements, for example, to allow the email agents to see previous phone calls from the customer, and to allow the phone agents to see previous emails from the customer. That isn’t even happening in many large companies.

      I just did a quick Google search and am sad to see the “360 view” continues to a top level message from most CRM and CS vendors. We continue to set unrealistic expectations for CRM buyers.

      –J

  4. @piplzchoice Says:

    Unrealistic expectations is what encourages corporate management to invest into “silver bullets”. To Esteban’s point, all these ERP and CRM investments spearheaded and technically enabled a lot of operational optimization of business processes, even though they felt short delivering promised returns. The real culprit, in my opinion, is the viewing these projects as technology driven – not as organizational transformation initiatives. Perhaps the reason for that is a weakness of corporate leadership, that risks the success of multimillion dollar investment by “outsourcing” such a critical responsibility to IT management which does not have mandate or is not best equipped to handle it.


  5. I agree firmly with the opportunity to provide a 360 degree view for the service and support organization. Vendors must rise up from offering a set of unconnected point products, to deliver a more compelling vision of how to help optimize customer care. Strengths in workflow design and seamless integration will be key differentators to help make this vision reality.

    I am interested in which industry verticals, and maybe some customer examples where you see this 360 degree “fantasy” being adopted first.

    – Mark Cheshire


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