The majority of new product launches fail – they simply do not attract enough customers to be commercially viable. Similarly, my experience suggests that the major of CRM systems fail – the people who are expected to use these systems do not do so at the level of scale necessary to generate business benefits. Therefore, one of the most critical challenges in realising value from a new CRM system is that of cultivating-fostering trail and adoption. Such that use of the CRM system becomes a way of life.
One of the most meaningful ways that I have found to think of CRM systems is to think of them as tools. What shows up, as clues to fostering adoption, if we choose to view a new CRM system as a tool? I cannot tell you what to do as failure is common and success is rare in CRM. So allow me to point out the land-mines that blow up CRM dreams.
If I am not aware that a tool exists, what jobs it does, and the promised benefits then it is guaranteed that I will not be try out the tool. Which explains the importance of advertising: generating awareness-interest and encouraging trial.
In my experience, most managers, most organisations, do not give adequate consideration to the challenge that lies in this area. Too many think a dull email or Powerpoint presentation is all that is necessary to facilitate the trial and adoption of a CRM system. Behind this complacency-arrogance lies the ‘master-slave’ stance towards employees. We are the masters, the employees are slaves, and they will use the CRM system because we tell them to and because of the threat of the whip for disobedience.
Imagine turning up to store and finding that the store is out of stock for the tool that you are after. Or imagine that you can see the tool in your workshop : it is locked away and you do not have the keys. The lack of access, of availability, is a big issue for frontline people who are often out of the office. This is the key reason that I stay away from SaaS offerings when I am travelling and have important work to get done. Instead I rely on desktop applications (which do not need to be connected to the cloud) and pen/paper.
Accessibility/Availability continues to be significant issue for CRM systems when it comes to the folks out in the field talking with customers.
If a tool is to be used then it must show up as being usable. What does that mean? It means that I must be able to pick it up and use it without having to read a 30 page document which shows up as gibberish. It means that the tool must not be too heavy or too light. It must not be too high or too low. It must not be too long or too short. It must not be too bright nor too dark. It must not be too fast nor too slow. It must show up as just right rather like the iPad does – even for the two/three year olds.
Just about every CRM system I have come across fails the usability test: CRM systems do not show up as being easy to use. It occurs to me that CRM systems are firmly rooted in the early days of mobile phones whereas the people who are expected to use them are living in the iPad era. I cannot help but feel the busyness-clutteredness-ugliness of user interface in CRM systems. How much commerce would take place if this quality of user interface was exposed to customers?
For a tool to be used it has to be more than accessible and usable. It has to be useful. Which is to say it must either make my life simpler – make it easier/quicker to do an existing job. And/or open up new possibilities, enabling me to do that which I was not able to do, and thus making my life richer.
Many CRM systems do not show up as useful to those who are expected to use them: the sales people, the call centre people, and the marketing people. In theory, the CRM system should be the ‘one stop shop’ for all things customer. The reality is very different: sales folks, marketing folks, customer service folks have to use a multiplicity of systems to get the jobs that need to be done, done. Often, the new CRM system becomes one more system in a bundle of systems: complicating life rather than making it easier/simpler; increasing inefficiency through double keying, having to log into multiple systems etc rather than increasing productivity.
Tools change the balance of power. The introduction of the iPod and iTunes changed the balance of power between Apple and the music labels. The introduction of the iPhone changed the balance of power between Apple, the handset manufacturers, and the mobile networks. The introduction-adoption of the iPad changed the balance of power between Apple and PC makers. You get the idea.
CRM systems change the balance of power: they increase the power of those in management positions and decrease the power of those who have to feed the CRM beast: those interacting with customers.
CRM systems are resisted, in a multiplicity of ways, by those who find themselves managed (Bottoms). Many of the managed often feel vulnerable, to some extent naked, as a result of CRM systems. They are left feeling that the already small space of freedom, of autonomy, of power is being taken away by management. Often it is.
Everything that exists, exists in relationship. What does this have to do with CRM systems? Put simply, ecology matters!
Of what use is a locomotive without the right train track? Of what use are railways without trains? Of what use are trains and railways without train stations? Of what use are trains, railways and train stations without skilled personnel to drive-maintain-operate the railway network? Of what use is the railway network without passengers willing to travel by rail? Hopefully you get the critical importance of the interlocking of the ‘parts’ to co-create the ‘whole’: the system.
Many CRM systems fail to be adopted because they simply do not fit into the existing way of ‘doing things around here’. And the willingness to shift the ‘way we do things around here’ is absent. Please note that the ‘way we do things around here’ is more than process and culture. It includes everything: the leadership style; the management style, organisational structure; the people who constitute the organisation; the relationships between groups of people; practices – what people do; processes; technology infrastructure; performance management framework ……
I once found myself telling a client “CRM is not about data and technology. Yes, it involves data and technology. No, its not a data and technology project. Yes, CRM involves business process. No, it is not about business process. CRM is about shifting the ‘way we do things around here.'”
Please note: all of these ‘pieces of the puzzle’ have to be addressed simply to get enough people in the organisation to use the CRM system. Whether the CRM system generates business benefits or not is a different question. Put differently adoption does not necessarily imply stronger customer relationships nor competitive advantage.