Data Centers

CRM pain points: On-premise or in the cloud, still room to improve

Customer Relationship Management packages are still maturing as enterprises look for ways to integrate all possible customer touch points with these systems.

After making a major investment in CRM (customer relationship management) software three years ago, a financial services company has at last thrown up the surrender flag and is starting over.

"We determined that the CRM package we bought was too difficult for us to use, and almost impossible to integrate with our other systems," lamented the CFO. "This CRM system was a major investment for us, but we finally decided to pull the plug and look for a cheaper cloud-based solution that will hopefully be easier to use."

The toast of CRM has always been its ability to integrate everything known (or discussed with) a given customer so that whoever was interacting with that customer knew exactly what the history of previous conversations was and could more adroitly address the needs of the customer.

For example, a corporate sales rep makes a major product sale to a customer, but as soon as the customer opens the package of product, he notices the product has been damaged in transit. He then contacts sales support and receives an RWA (return work authorization) to repair or replace the product. He sends the product back to the factory and then receives a new shipment. The new shipment isn't damaged, but when the customer tries to use the product, he realizes that the product can't do what he thought it could do-so he contacts customer service. Finally as a last resort, he calls the company out of a general sense of frustration and a call center agent answers.

By the time the call center agent gets the call, he or she should have a full anecdotal history on the CRM system in front of him/her as a conversation ensues with the customer. This should give the call agent a good sense of what the customer's pain points are likely to be, and also a clear view of how to best remedy the situation.

Unfortunately, the CRM records for customers are seldom continuous or even universally accessible.

Operationally, staff members often experience difficulty in how to use the CRM system correctly to both log and retrieve data, which is what happened with the financial services company. In other cases, they feel they don't have time to do it. And in still others-the CRM system in not integrated with all of the customer touch points throughout the organization.

"A major CRM shortcoming we have come up against is that CRM just doesn't integrate well with call center phone systems," noted one telephony systems integrator and reseller. "We got tired of trying t o ask our CRM partner to provide a means of integrating CRM with the call center, so we finally did the integration ourselves. Today, our ability to integrate CRM with the call center is a major reason why we win new accounts."

Beyond telephony, the hope was also that CRM could easily integrate with other enterprise systems like financials, sales, and customer support. In large enterprises, this integration could even come down to CRM integration with the business's ERP (enterprise requirements planning) system.

Once again, the integration between CRM and internal corporate systems is not entirely seamless. Various software purveyors publish their own sets of APIs (application programming interfaces) and there has been significant industry effort to standardize these-but every integration takes on its own flavor and involves some custom configuration. Because the configuration is custom, follow-on maintenance can also become a CRM headache.

"We just couldn't effect a good systems integration or learn to use the CRM system that we had," said the financial services CFO, who hopes that her company's experience with cloud-based CRM will be better.

The company might get its wish in areas of CRM usability-but now having the software "a cloud away" could complicate integration with in-house corporate systems, since network traffic time and also security requirements and data stewardship will come into play.

For all of these reasons, CRM continues to provide integration challenges for organizations, both operationally and systemically. This is why CRM purveyors that can bring operational and systems integration value to organizations-along with great usability-stand to gain traction in a CRM market that has been around for awhile, but still needs to mature.


Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

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