Have you ever been part of an organization or team where a vision of "what could be" was fully embraced and eventually became reality? Many companies want to embrace a vision where one unified customer view is available throughout the enterprise – where customers remain loyal because they feel the company listens to them and meets their needs better than any other company. Customer relationship management (CRM) attempts to make this vision a reality. Unfortunately, in our attempts to enhance customer touch- points with cutting- edge technology, we often focus our attention only on those areas visible to our customers. We fail to institutionalize the importance of customer relationships for employees who do not have direct contact with external customers. In many cases, internal support employees, such as application support personnel, application developers and application trainers, have not yet realized the important role they play in serving external customers through the management of "internal" customer relationships.

What exactly is an internal customer for a CRM application team? Account managers are good examples of internal customers. In many companies, account managers rely on the systems developed by a CRM application development team to track customer contacts and review purchases for potential cross-selling opportunities. In a sense, they are customers serviced by the application development team. The inability of the development team to know or support its customers – in this case, the account managers – may eventually ripple all the way to the company's external customers. The impact this ripple effect can have on a company's external CRM initiative can range from gross inefficiencies in managing customer requests to a complete failure in servicing customers.

It is not uncommon to come in contact with employees and consultants directly responsible for implementing and supporting CRM applications who take www.despair.com's "demotivator" product line to heart. This site sells a variety of demotivator products. One product which often mirrors a common attitude toward internal customers is a poster which reads, "Apathy – If we don't take care of the customer, maybe they'll stop bugging us." Obviously, not all employees take this approach; some application development teams offer excellent support and often make the difference between CRM applications which have a significant impact on the company and those that do not meet expectations. No project manager intentionally plans for the team to offer poor internal support. Instead, a tendency to focus on the technological challenges of implementing a CRM solution often causes teams to overlook the people they must support. This article presents several strategies which can help turn the focus back to the internal customer and lead to CRM solutions that permeate the entire organization from the inside out.

Big Brother is Watching You

If you want to understand your internal customers' needs, take the time to watch and monitor their behavior. When building the components of a CRM system, whether it is a data warehouse used by marketing or a contact management application intended for account managers, you should plan for capturing statistics related to the usage of these applications. Constant monitoring of these statistics will allow you to be proactive in supporting your customer.

At a client site, our team monitored the query usage in a data warehouse. One day, team members noticed a business analyst who ran 136 queries, obviously not typical for a normal work day. Further investigation uncovered the fact that this analyst was running the same query 136 times and substituting a different company identifier each time. After realizing this pattern, the support team talked with the analyst and demonstrated the procedure for setting up static company identifier lists. They taught the analyst how to reuse these lists on any report and consolidate the results for all listed companies on the same report. This was exactly what the analyst needed – one report containing data on all specified companies. The team's intervention resulted in hours of saved time, allowing the company to interact with customers more efficiently. Benefit is derived from monitoring and collecting performance statistics only when issues are identified and action is taken to resolve those issues. Be proactive in addressing the problems uncovered by continual system monitoring.

Self-Service Means Better Service

Creating simple and well-defined procedures which allow users to serve some of their own requests can greatly benefit both the customer and the CRM application team. A classic example of this is managing user IDs. Managing IDs and setting/resetting passwords can steal precious time from a system administrator's busy schedule. Various project managers and system administrators with whom I have worked estimate that 20 to 40 percent of customer requests are ID and password related. Automating user management so that customers can request access to systems, route approval forms to the appropriate manager and notify users when the process is complete helps free valuable IT resources.

In addition to freeing IT resources, creating automated processes for customer self-service also helps improve cycle times. Customers no longer have to rely on someone else to manage their requests, reducing the total time required for resolution. Processes to manage routine requests can be set to occur anytime during the day, night or weekend, giving customers the ability to accomplish their jobs regardless of the time or day.

Creating Performance Initiatives

Providing internal customers with excellent service requires a vision of excellence that is clearly defined and communicated to those responsible for providing CRM system service. Performance and service initiative documents serve as a guideline to the CRM systems team. These documents state clear objectives as well as metrics to measure the degree to which objectives are met. The following is a sample team performance initiative:

Statement of Initiative. Shorten the cycle-time required to resolve customer requests/issues.

Performance Target. Ninety-five percent of customer requests/issues will be resolved the same day if received before 2 p.m. and by 11 a.m. the next day if received after 2 p.m. The remaining five percent will be resolved within three business days, during which the customer will be updated on a regular basis as to the status of their issue/request.

Performance Metric. Tracking and performance measurement will occur through the customer support case application. If customer issue resolution requires assistance from third parties such as software and hardware vendors, all interactions with such parties will be tracked and included in issue resolution performance measurement. Data will be captured indicating the time issues/requests were made, as well as the time those issues/requests were resolved for internal customers.

Barriers to Achieving. Barriers include: lack of communication between team members regarding past issues and their resolutions; customers failing to give team members the time and information needed to help resolve the issues/requests; and a high percentage of customer issues requiring vendor intervention in order to reach resolution.

Support to Achieving. Factors that lead to success include: commitment to documenting issue resolutions and creating FAQ documents accessible by team members and or customers via the Web; support contracts with vendors that allow access via phone and searchable computer issue databases – helping to speed the resolution of customer issues that can be traced directly to software and hardware components; and a comprehensive development environment that allows for testing without impacting production systems.

Benefits. Improved customer satisfaction, management confidence that issues are not being overlooked and continual system improvement are benefits of effective internal CRM.

Once the performance initiatives have been decided upon, the team should review progress on a regular basis and improve processes as necessary, continually monitoring internal customer satisfaction. Over time, the performance initiatives will need to be refined, reflecting changes initiated by evolving business needs. This process of initiative refinement is often the catalyst for new and exciting issue resolution opportunities as well as entirely new project phases.

A Common Thread

A common thread runs through all of the strategies discussed: communication. Multiple communication channels, which allow interaction between internal customers and application team members, can be utilized throughout all phases of a project from development to training and support. Today there are a myriad of ways to facilitate communication – phone, e-mail, Web sites, instant messaging, voice mail, video conferencing, teleconferencing and pagers. Using these channels, the team can inform customers of maintenance and nonmaintenance downtime, better ways of using the CRM applications, new features, planned releases, and training and support processes.

Incorporating a closed-loop communication system that not only guarantees customers are informed, but allows feedback from the customer is fundamental to a true customer-centric support initiative. Feedback channels should be created which allow customers to offer suggestions, resolve issues and make requests. Creating a comments/feedback section on the application Web site is one of several ways to facilitate communication with customers. A team's ability to implement and manage communication with their customers relates directly to their success in addressing customer needs on a continual basis. As application development teams encourage open and honest communication with their customers, they will be able to evolve the CRM systems and meet the dynamic needs of a competitive business environment.

Creating a New Standard

As champions of pivotal business solutions, it is critical to create a new standard of internal customer support – a standard which enables your company to achieve its customer management goals and realize the full potential of CRM initiatives. Taking this approach will position your CRM initiatives for success by leveraging the contributions of project managers, consultants and development team members. Embrace the vision of what could be and make it reality from the inside out!

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Information Management content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access