Enterprise Software

Selecting a customer relationship management system: The first step

Before you start to look for a CRM solution that fits your organization, you face the preliminary process of prioritizing company-wide goals. This CRM/101 guide will show you how to start the process.


Richard Artes

In theory, customer relationship management (CRM) is a system that enables companies to deploy customer service strategies and tactics. But for a CRM system to work effectively, your company must first define and communicate a set of operating values.

Operating values are statements or definitions of what a company believes in and follows when conducting operations. While defining operating values and a CRM vision is often considered a senior management activity, I believe that many or all of a company’s stakeholders should collaborate in establishing the critical CRM prerequisites.

The key to making any CRM system a success is to define a common, deployable set of business and operating values that company stakeholders can depend on.

Identify the stakeholders
Before operating values can be created, it’s necessary to define your company’s stakeholders. A stakeholder is anyone who has vested interests in the performance of the company. The four stakeholder groups typically are:
  • Customers
  • Employees
  • Suppliers
  • Shareholders

Develop operating values
When a company defines or enhances a mission or vision, it must first understand, examine, and test its operating values. Here are a few examples of operating values:
  • We will treat all employees with respect and provide the necessary resources for them to be successful.
  • We will take the time to understand the needs of the individual customer in order to develop a lifelong business relationship with them.
  • Our products will have the highest value to our customers as compared to any of our competitors.

Descriptive operating values help you achieve stakeholder satisfaction and are more useful in conducting daily business than vision or mission statements. The time and energy you put into defining and enforcing operating values will determine the integrity of the company and its consistency in managing daily activities.

Defining operating values for stakeholders
Because operating values describe stakeholder expectations, it’s important to define a set of operating values for each group. For example, the concerns and expectations of a customer might be:
  • 100 percent quality products.
  • 100 percent on-time delivery.
  • A real person on the phone for every call.
  • Answers to questions—first time, first person.
  • Friendly, happy customer service people.
  • Products and services available when needed.
  • Knowing company solutions are the best value.

Such customer expectations should be translated into company operating values, and once adopted, they must be enforced with no exceptions. If violations occur, any employee should have the authority to report and assist in alleviating the violation. These operating values also become the business specification for the CRM system, both in selection specifications and performance results.

Of course, customer expectations may not be totally achievable by the company. For example, 100 percent on-time delivery may translate into an operating value of 90 percent or better on-time delivery. But the most important quality of an operating value is that it is dependable, consistent, and enforced.

Who defines operating values?
A task team of employees, customers, managers, and perhaps even suppliers should participate in defining operating values for customers. Operating values should be simple, concise, measurable, and agreed on by all stakeholders. After operating values have been defined, knowing and enforcing those values is the next step toward customer service and customer relationship management.

Many companies today approach this process backward. That is, they do not have, nor do they communicate, customer service policies or operating values for CRM processes.

Define the process, establish your operating values, then select the CRM system. The primary selection criteria for a CRM system should be effective deployment of customer operating values. After operating values are defined and implemented, the priorities of your company and the CRM system that fits the company best should become clear.

As a postscript to this process, operating values are established for all stakeholder groups and many values overlap after they have been effectively facilitated. This may take four or five iterations. Such continuity facilitates the development of company vision and mission statements.

When properly conducted, operating values are simple, easy to deploy, and understood by all. The established values give employees, customers, suppliers, and shareholders common components of success by bonding them and providing the business requirements for a CRM system.

What’s next?
CSRM, an integrated customer and supplier relationship management system, is the next step in the evolution of CRM. That makes sense because suppliers are just customers in reverse, and they have similar values. Looking at the supply chain in a way that appears backward brings about a whole new approach to conducting business, leading to a new breed of CRM solutions.

Seventy percent of a CRM system can be converted into a CSRM system. And as you might expect, supplier operating values provide the specifications for the next integration component.

Richard Artes has over 25 years of business and manufacturing management experience. He is president of Richard Artes & Associates, Inc., a consulting, project management, systems selection, systems implementation, and education development corporation.

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