Why the Last Mile of CRM Implementation Is the Hardest

In broadband networking, the last-mile problem is getting from the big pipes to the end user at a reasonable cost. The last mile in CRM is getting data from users' favorite application -- email -- into the CRM system without disrupting their beloved workflows.

By David Taber
Wed, September 11, 2013

CIO — Customer relationship management systems have functionality to burn — there are features for so many different use cases — but those features don't make a difference to your company unless users are happy enough to fill the system with data. It falls on IT to bridge the gap between user habits and system feature sets. That's the "last mile" problem for CRM.

The first order of business is avoiding user overload. One of the first tasks in CRM optimization is de-cluttering the pages:

  • Get rid of fields that are used less than 5 percent of the time.
  • Get rid of pages and buttons that are irrelevant to users.
  • Create page layouts optimized for each major role or use case of the system.
  • Use reports, views, and related lists to highlight summary information and hide less important details.

More: Why CRM Security Is Always a 'Role'-Your-Own Project

(Most readers should look at this list and say, "Duh." For those to whom this comes as a surprise, the appropriate response is "D'oh!")

While this de-cluttering list can take a surprising amount of effort depending on which CRM system you use, it all falls into the category of "necessary, but not sufficient."

Why? All the streamlining in the world doesn't get you across that last mile to the user. Many CRM users don't want to log in to the CRM in the first place; they really live in email.

Users May Like CRM, But They Love Email

I've used email in business for 30 years now. My hatred of it as a communication medium only grows over time. But there's no denying that email is the standard way to communicate internally, with customers and with your supply chain. As chaotic and unstructured as email may be, it will remain the standard for inter-company written communication for the rest of the decade.

The first step is to provide ways to semi-automatically capture email conversations in your CRM. This is most easily done by embedding the email in a task or meeting note that's attached to each person on the To: and CC: line of the mail.

Most CRM systems offer something along these lines, sometimes leveraging plug-ins for Microsoft Outlook. The long-term prognosis for the Outlook plug-in strategy isn't that great, however:

  • The plug-ins have fallen victim to a notoriously unstable Outlook code base, leading to some beautiful symphonies of .pst file corruption.
  • An increasing amount of email is read and responded to on mobile devices, where a completely different, sometimes difficult plug-in strategy is required.
  • There are almost no plug-ins for Mac or Gmail users, which can be very vocal communities.

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