I’ve been in the technology arena for about 17 years. In that time, I’ve seen innumerable technology success stories, but I have also witnessed and experienced technology failures firsthand. One of the most baffling things I see is the detrimental cycle of adopting technology without a strategy and without formally identifying and validating business requirements. Such requirements must be customer-focused whether the customer is internal, external or both. The positive effect on the customer and other collateral benefits must also be plainly quantifiable. Surprisingly, such basic justifications are missing from many technology initiatives. Worse, when a particular technology is adopted that doesn’t live up to its potential, it gets cast aside in favor of the next savior technology?and the cycle continues. This is like playing technology bingo. If by chance all the technologies finally align, someone yells bingo! and declares success.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Effectively adopting any technology should not be a random activity. In the many engagements that involve helping clients select, implement and optimize technology, one thing is certain: There is no magic wand for achieving success. You can, however, mitigate much of the risk and maximize the benefits by using some fundamentals.
Steps to Success
The first step is the most basic: Align your technology strategy with your business strategy. If you don’t have both, stop and address those critical strategic issues before you do anything else.
Then, it’s necessary to take stock by looking at your previous technology implementations. Which ones went well and why? Which ones crashed and burned, and why?
Next, find out the practical capabilities and limitations of the technology you are considering; its specifications may be one thing, but its real-world applications may be something less.
Once you know the capabilities of the technology, it’s necessary to understand and quantify the effect the technology will have on your business processes. What will improve and by how much? What must change (processes, systems integration issues, regulatory matters, even facilities considerations) as a result of implementing the technology? Who will design and implement those changes?
Develop a solid implementation plan with granular accountability. Both the technology owners and the business owners should have responsibility for incremental and overall successes.
On a related note, it helps to establish a revision framework before the system goes live. Even exhaustive testing won’t uncover every exceptional scenario, so be prepared to mainstream minor tweaks in near real-time.
After implementation, continuously measure and report the effectiveness of the technology. If it isn’t delivering on its promise, drill down and find out why. Even subtle changes after implementation can make a big difference.
Implementing technology successfully is never just about technology. The effective integration of people, processes and technology will result in a measurable and sustainable, and thus successful, implementation. While bingo is fun, it’s not a game that should be applied to technology.
Rod Travers is senior vice president of technology at the Robert E. Nolan Co., a Dallas-based management consultancy that serves the banking, health-care and insurance industries.
By Jeremy Burton
To make it in today’s e-business economy, companies must adopt a new model. It’s not just about adjusting the business plan or setting up a Web store, because the fundamental rules have changed. Companies need to deploy a new means of attack to compete and win in the e-business economy.
Don’t Think Department. Think Company.
Assuming you know everything about your customer is a mistake. Most companies still house their customer information in separate silos. By default, this data is not exchanged across separate lines of business?from marketing, sales and customer service to accounts payable, HR, manufacturing and other back-office operations. To promote the idea of a single customer view and gain a three-dimensional, enterprisewide understanding of their customers, companies need to get beyond the confines of siloed departments. Marketing, sales and customer service departments must work as a team. After all, customer service has a significant relationship with customers. Wouldn’t it be ideal if sales was privy to the information collected by the customer service department? Otherwise, a potential sale could be thwarted by an existing service problem that is not properly addressed.
While businesses may have a history of customer transactions, that is not enough. To truly understand their customers, businesses need to see the whole customer picture, including feedback, problems and purchasing patterns. Only when companies see the whole picture can they build one-on-one relationships with their customers. Then, customer service can be leveraged to sell, up-sell and cross-sell when based on trust and personal relationships. The better a company serves its customers, the more trust it garners. The end result: Better relationships mean better sales.
Providing personalized service is key to finding and retaining those customers who will make your e-business efforts successful.
With a complete view of their customers, businesses can also add value to promotions, share knowledge and build communities.
Don’t Think Strategy. Think Tactics.
Strategy setting shouldn’t be a process that takes many months and many minds. To stay ahead of the changing market, the customers and the competition, companies need to spend less time planning the overall strategy and more time executing, testing and evaluating a marketing campaign. Companies should strive to easily change the course of any campaign based on customer feedback. The Web is one tool for doing so.
In this model, companies will realize that failure is an option, and that’s not a bad thing. Failure becomes an opportunity to gather data and feedback, and further evolve tactics.
Don’t Think Web-Only. Think Web in Addition.
The Web is important, but strategy can’t be Web-only. Companies need to be everywhere customers buy. After all, the competition offers many choices and venues. As a result, companies need to integrate and synchronize all their channels, including the phone, Web, fax, stores and so forth. Every touch point must also provide a consistent level of service.
The new e-business economy does offer tremendous advantages for those companies that are able to rethink their traditional business methods. Those that revamp will enjoy e-business success. Those that don’t won’t be around tomorrow. n
Jeremy Burton is senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Oracle in Redwood Shores, Calif.
The R in CRM
By Brian Mulconrey
“I’m sorry sir, we have no record of your order. You’ll have to call our sales department and have them call us so that we can process your request.” That apology comes from a conversation I had the other day with a Southwestern Bell service representative. I had already received my new phone, but the company didn’t have a record of the order, so the service rep couldn’t process my request.
When I hung up, Southwestern Bell effectively lost all memory of this interaction except for a few disjointed call notes and perhaps a call recording?for training purposes?that’s unlikely to reach those who need to hear it most. But instead of calling the sales department?after all, I didn’t really have to call them?my wife and I went out for the evening. We went to see the movie Memento, the story of Leonard, a man who has lost the ability to form new long-term memories. Fifteen minutes after meeting people for the first time, he loses all memory of them except for a ragged collection of notes and photographs, which he often has a lot of trouble interpreting.
My wife and I did not enjoy the movie. But thanks to Southwestern Bell, I couldn’t forget it. There was a nagging connection between my phone conversation with the service rep and the movie’s main character. Memento wasn’t entertaining because I never felt a connection with the characters. To help me share the experience of the inability to create new memories, the film presents the story in reverse order, beginning with the last scene and ending with the opening scene.
The result: I struggle right along with Leonard to make sense out of the experience of meeting someone whom he has met many times before. I carefully read his notes and studied his photographs. But it wasn’t enough. The interactions between Leonard and the other characters in the movie aren’t relationships because they have no shared story.
From this vantage point, I picked up a new insight in my 15-year struggle with the challenges of implementing effective CRM systems. The Southwestern Bell service experience illustrates why companies are motivated to invest in CRM. But the movie Memento vividly shows how creating relationships is about a whole lot more than compiling lists of related information?no matter how many millions of dollars you might spend in the process.
More Than Memories
Your data may be information with respect to transactions and events, but that doesn’t go far enough. Relationships demand that we arrange experiences in patterns that tell a story about our shared past and suggest a positive road into the future. These patterns aren’t just something that can be done with CRM; these patterns are the heart of the customer relationship.
Companies that think implementing CRM systems will solve their service woes are likely to be disappointed. Creating relationships means investing in software and highly customized service initiatives that transform isolated memories into a shared story that links you and your customer. Without the context provided by these shared stories, you’ll have trouble finding any R in your CRM?or in your ROI.
Brian Mulconrey is a CRM consultant based in Austin, Texas.