Applying the Right Technology Will Be Critical to the Success of Your CRM Program
(Originally published in the September/October 2004 issue of AFSMI's Sbusiness.)
By William K. Pollock
Technology isn't new - it's what makes things new. It's like that old BASF television commercial - "we don't make the products you buy; we make the products you buy better". Well, for CRM in general, and the services industry in particular, technology is the primary thing that makes the services you sell better - and more profitable, too.
One of the greatest opportunities we have in the services sector is the ability to use technology as an enabler to make our offerings better. R&D is used all the time to make products better; but for most product manufacturers, R&D typically takes years, costs tons of money, and involves a great deal of rebranding and market re-positioning. The advantage we have in the services sector is that we generally have a much faster turnaround, and it's far easier to improve our existing service offerings than it is to, say, reengineer a whole product line.
However, one of the greatest fallacies in the services business is that if you simply embed technology, you'll be in a better position just for the sake of having done so - that you'll automatically be able to make your customers happier, and you'll make more money. But that isn't always true. If all you've got is an old, archaic services delivery model, and you apply the newest technology to it, you'll just end up with a quicker, more automated, archaic system - but not necessarily a better one. What we have found is that only by applying the right technology, to the right functions and applications, will you be able to provide your customers with exactly what they want, when they want it, and all the while reducing your internal costs, and ultimately keeping both your customers - and your CFO - happy!
There have been some stunning examples of the misapplication of CRM technology over the years involving businesses that have implemented "brand name" technology just for the sake of implementing technology. They have built some enormous infrastructures - state-of-the-art - but as impressive as they may have initially appeared on paper, they generally end up being only anecdotal to what the real mission of the business is in the marketplace. Even with all the technology they have put into place, they're still running blind! They didn't "get it" before they implemented the new technology, and they still don't "get it" - they're just more automated than they were before.
The sad thing is - what should have been a tremendous business transformation opportunity for them, generally turns out - instead - to be nothing more than an expensive technology implementation with no real value-add to either the organization's business operations - or its competitive market position. And, this is sad, because, in most cases, they've spent a great deal of time - and money - for the technology, but without any plan for how to actually use it. So all of their time and money spent ends up going for naught. That's why technology without a purpose is just an expensive - and disruptive - toy. But technology - with a plan - will undoubtedly yield some positive results for those who know what to do with it.
But technology is not the only thing that a services organization needs in order to succeed - and thrive. There are many other things that are also needed to make it strong - and successful - in the marketplace. It certainly needs people, because without people, it has no "face" to show its customers.
However, in recent years, an organization's "face" may no longer be merely visual. In fact, what has historically been the service provider's "face" is increasingly being transformed into a "voice" - and that voice doesn't only have to be located right here in the United States. It can - and is increasingly being - distributed all over the world, regardless of where the organization's customers are actually located themselves. People will always be important to services organizations; but where they're located - and who signs their checks - may be quite different tomorrow than they are today.
Services organizations also need customers. It's a fact of life - without customers, they've got no one to sell their products and services to - no one to complete the transaction. However, the days are long since gone for when manufacturers would only support those customers that had purchased their products. Today, not only do most services providers support multi-vendor products, but they also find themselves selling services to completely different types of customers, such as consortiums, group purchasing organizations, and other "new" types of buyers.
Services organizations also need infrastructure - both in terms of organization and operations - in order to ensure that the transactions between their people and their customers are executed and managed effectively. To run their operations efficiently, services organizations must also have the right mix of business processes, policies, and procedures to provide the levels of support that are required - and expected - by customers.
Each and every one of these needs - at first blush - may look to be standalone, independent elements that all organizations face; but, there is a common thread that runs between and among all of them - and that is technology. Technology is the great facilitator - the great expediter that ties everything together: the people, the customers, the infrastructure, and the processes - and it is the one element that most directly impacts all of the others.
It impacts the people, because it empowers them to do things that they would not otherwise be able to do on their own - that is, without the latest IT systems, communications, or software applications. It impacts the customer, because it allows the services providers to deliver the levels of support that are required - in the timeframe they are required, and with the management and accountability that go along with it. It impacts the infrastructure, because it ties together all of the otherwise separate and distinct components of the business that now need to "communicate" with one another - generally on a "real-time" basis.
However, technology, in and of itself, has no value. If it isn't being used effectively, it adds no real value to the organization. But, if it is being used effectively, it can be the single greatest empowering tool that any organization can have - empowering people, supporting customers, and facilitating the infrastructure to get the job done.
Technology also enables us to do things we never dreamed we could do. Services providers can now resolve equipment problems either remotely, on-site, by phone, over the Web, or through any combination thereof. They can wait to hear from the customer before initiating the "fix", or they can fix the problem before the customer even knows there is a problem. They can fix the problem themselves, or they can partner with others to get the job done. Services providers have many alternatives to accommodate their customers' needs, and the only questions that typically remain are "how quickly do we need to fix it?" and "how much is it going to cost - both for us, and for them"?
It is the technology that empowers services organizations with the ability to deliver the levels of service and support that their customers require, demand, and expect. And it is the same technology that enables customers to make the right choices for how they want their service and support to be delivered.
Technology, as it existed 25 years ago, was just that: technology - plain and simple! But even last year's technology may just not cut it anymore in today's business environment - certainly not in a segment that is as demanding as the services industry. The technology that abounds today runs circles around yesterday's technology - and it is almost frightening to think about what tomorrow's technology will bring to the table. But what's even more frightening, is where your organization will be if it doesn't also evolve along with the times - and the demands - of the marketplace.
William K. Pollock is president of Strategies For GrowthSM (SFGSM), the Westtown, Pennsylvania-based services consulting firm specializing in strategic business planning, services marketing, CRM consulting, market/survey research, and customer satisfaction measurement and tracking programs. Bill may be reached at 610-399-9717 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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