At a recent roundtable of Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
specialists, a journalist tabled this question: "If I'm a company that is
very traditionally Asian, with a strict hierarchical structure, family-owned
and small to medium in size, would I have huge barriers (to overcome) before
I can even start talking about CRM?"
Neil McMurchy, Gartner's regional services director for Asia Pacific shot
back: "You've certainly got significant challenges, absolutely."
Although there is a strong tradition of treating the customer well in the
region, that alone is not enough, McMurchy said.
According to him, Asian organizations are saddled with command-and-control
type management that reserves decision-making for the higher-ups. That makes
for poor customer service culture, as decisions often have to be made at the
point where the organization meets its customers.
"What happens much too often in the countries in the region, is that, too
often, the person you speak to can't solve the problem," he observed. "They
have to refer back up the hierarchy, and that results in a less-than-happy
customer service experience."
Even the customers in Asia are different from those in the West, said
consulting company PricewaterhouseCooper's Craig Ower, a director of
management consulting services.
"You can't just look at the organizations (in Asia) and say you're not
providing good customer service," said Ower, "it's very difficult to bring a
lot of the CRM concepts that have worked in the US and Europe here because
the customers will reject them."
Asians generally still prefer traditional channels of person-to-person
contact even though those channels may be less efficient for them, he noted.
"If you go to a bank at anytime of the day here, you'll see a larger number
of people queuing up because people (in Asia) still want the knowledge and
security of handing the money to the bank and getting the receipt," said
Ower. "They are willing to stand in line for that personal security."
The key lies in a generational shift in the region, where younger Asians are
beginning to turn toward the electronic medium and technological means to
interact with business organizations, he added.
"You're starting to see people who are 35 or younger completely bypassing
(physical channels) now," said Ower. "They are moving much more toward the
direct channels which is driving a lot of the new CRM technology in the
direct interaction and personalized stuff."
CRM, a technological solution aimed at enhancing a business organization's
ability to deal with customers by organizing and presenting customer
information more efficiently, has enjoyed huge gains in the US and--a little
later--in Europe, since making its appearance in 1996-1997.
Despite the introduction of the technology by telcos and large consumer
product manufacturers in the region, the market for CRM solutions in Asia
continues to lag behind US and Europe.
A recent report by research company Ovum forecast that the region's eCRM
market growth would continue to lag behind US and Europe through to the year
2005, reaching revenues of US$1 billion, compared with the US$6 billion
projected for the US market and US$4.4 billion for Europe.
Henri Barenholz, PeopleSoft's CRM director for Asia, attributes the lag to
the relatively newness of the technology to the region, as well as Asian
firms' tight-fisted approach to technology.
"Companies in Asia are very scrupulous about their technological spending,"
said Barenholz. "When they invest in something, they want to see the value
immediately, whereas in the US and Europe, companies are more likely to buy
into CRM solutions full-scale."