Another moving experience

commentary I seem to be a magnet for annoying customer service interactions, and expensive CRM systems don't seem to be helping. Can small businesses learn from bigger businesses' mistakes?

commentary I seem to be a magnet for annoying customer service interactions, and expensive CRM systems don't seem to be helping. Can small businesses learn from bigger businesses' mistakes?

The last time I moved house, I complained that the relatively simple idea of changing my address details online was beyond the capabilities of most companies or government agencies, despite their million-dollar-plus CRM implementations. Well, I've moved again and I'm still complaining. Nearly two years later, there's still the page on the online banking Web site that says "change your address" and lists a phone number for you to call. There's still the health insurance company that has an online form for you to fill out, print, and fax to them. There's still the mobile phone vendor's interactive voice response system that asks for your phone number, then when you get through the menus and speak to a human being, the first thing they ask for is your phone number.

It doesn't make sense. Surely it costs the company less for me to type in my own new address than to pay someone to enter it in for me (and make more mistakes than I do). And it actually makes me a lot happier too. What, exactly, is the problem? I'd be really interested to find out.

Microsoft's new CRM product is expected to get a great deal of the market according to Gartner, especially in the small business sector where CRM packages are thinner on the ground. For instance, of those companies using Microsoft's (acquired) Great Plains and Navision software, around 80 percent don't have any CRM software in place. But IDC analyst Bharati Poorabia reckons CRM vendors will have more than a wee bit of trouble adapting their products and sales tactics to the complexities of the small business market.

Is it possible that having seen the cock-ups most large businesses have made of their CRM systems (the above gripes being some of the more obvious examples), small businesses can't quite see the point of spending all that money for no apparent benefit?

What it comes down to--and what we keep hearing from vendors, analysts, consultants, and companies who have successfully implemented big software projects--is that the technology is not as important as having the processes mapped out and adhered to. Whether your customer service request is on a scrap of paper next to someone's desk, in an e-mail inbox, or in a CRM system, it's just as easy to lose if you don't have the processes in place that make sure such requests are followed up or responded to within 24 hours, or a week (just ask my ISP when I tried to get my broadband connection moved with me). You probably don't even need the technology that much if you get the processes right.

But technology can help too, there's no question. For example, these days lots of people (myself included) use e-mail as a repository of important documents and figures. But getting those documents or figures out again can be hell. Although Outlook 2003 offers some very impressive new productivity features--if you can afford and justify the cost of the upgrade--it really needs a search function that takes perhaps a bit less than half an hour to find something in your inbox.

A few months ago I came across a solution I'm really impressed with: locally developed It simply indexes every word in every e-mail in your mailbox (including archives). When you need to find something, type in the search term and it brings it up in about a second, literally. Especially in the context of a customer service interaction, by the time someone's finished saying "about that e-mail I sent you three weeks ago", you're already looking at it. Microsoft take note.

Where does this leave us? I guess the point is, you need the processes and  the technology to get it right. So what's so hard about that? Tell us your opinion.

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