A CRM effort very often crosses the entire enterprise, setting a course for a new company direction. This usually requires a radical change to mindsets, processes, technology and in many cases, personnel. Firms must rethink how employees interact with customers, how products and services are positioned both externally and internally, and how employees are compensated. If an organization expects to succeed with such a comprehensive redesign, it must have a clear and well-developed change-management plan that supplements its CRM strategy.

Why? Unlike other technology-driven corporate initiatives, a successful CRM implementation relies on input throughout the firm to maintain up-to-date customer data and enable one-to-one communications. Almost every employee in every department needs access to the system -- sales, call center, marketing, finance, production, logistics, etc. As a result, getting people to enthusiastically comply with new system requirements is more critical for CRM-driven changes than for other types of change.

Take, for example, one financial-services firm's journey toward a customer-focused call-center plan. Employees were enthusiastic about the new approach to customer management, but several cultural hurdles held them back.

In its call center, firefighting tactics ruled the day, so it was difficult for management and agents to understand where high-level customer strategy fit in. To counter this, the managers themselves conducted training, because they understood the strategic and tactical consequences of the project, and could teach how to balance the two. Also, while the focus previously was on daily tactical metrics, the company now plans to measure overall performance, such as budget and customer-service scores that illustrate how to maximize resources to deliver the highest quality customer experience. By following these steps, the company is now implementing its CRM strategy alongside a change-management plan, though admittedly it has been a slow process.

Enrollment and workforce transition

Technology makes CRM possible, but it won't get the job done by itself. Employees in every department deal with both customer data and the customers themselves, so they may need to realign their work habits to be more customer-centric. "Enrollment" describes the process of changing the attitudes of the people who implement or support the CRM strategy -- in effect, generating employee buy-in across the entire enterprise. This is crucial, because if employees don't embrace your customer vision, they won't facilitate it.

"Workforce transition" involves analyzing and modifying the processes that make it possible for people to do their jobs effectively. To evaluate the effectiveness of a company's existing processes and structure, executives must deal with at least three important issues:

  • Organizational integration: Does the organization create silos so deep that people cannot see outside their own work group, and if so, what steps are needed to integrate those silos?
  • Compensation and incentives: Are people rewarded for behaviors that are counterproductive to the strategy, and how can they be compensated to help the company achieve its CRM goals?
  • Skill levels: Do employees have the skills necessary to execute the strategy and if not, what steps need to be taken to assess their abilities and provide them with the skills they need?

A CRM initiative working alongside a change-management strategy gives a firm a solid foundation from which to successfully implement a customer-focused plan, though successful execution depends upon the combined efforts of process changes, technology changes and organization strategy.

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