Caveats in the CRM Suite: Maximize Your User Experience and Business Value  

By Vivian Chak

The Customer Relationship Management (CRM) suite allows businesses like yours and mine to leverage a specific set of technological and data products or tools to track and analyze customer interactions and transactions. One of the biggest problems CRM is trying to currently solve is to help understand customers better by allowing corporations to realize the full value of their customer data. For some, this might mean leveraging CRM insights about customers in order to provide timely services or goods. Healthcare providers, for example, may use CRM to coordinate appointments between disparate clinics for patients, with the ultimate goal of improving health outcomes through patient adherence to treatment regimens. Or a retailer may use CRM to track product sales and customer satisfaction over time, with the aim of using this aggregated data to predict their next bestseller. 

Matching the right CRM to the right use case is important. People buy CRM with the expectation that it will be easier to use and get value from than spreadsheets or paper files. These expectations can vary dramatically between different market segments and industries. Service providers may require their CRM to have a user interface allowing them to toggle between serving a customer and viewing their history with the company. For example, a family-owned business may have different requirements for their CRM, such as an interface that enables easy access to customer contact information, and a place to store their transaction history. Determining the right CRM for your business in collaboration with your end users is key to enabling the best user experience.

The top 10 pain-points when working in the CRM suite today are:

  1. Bad data A good CRM should allow users to draw insights from their customer data by being the source of truth for the company; inaccurate data makes this difficult – “garbage in, garbage out.”
  2. Permanence of bad data An extension of the problem posed by bad data, distinguishing it from correct data and removing it from the system can be more difficult than discovering the faulty data itself. And should we be headed for a future of widespread permanent data ledgers, we could soon be experiencing “garbage in, garbage forever”.
  3. Enablement – CRM inputs come from its users (eg. sales, service, marketing). If the users do not understand how to properly use the interface, bad data can proliferate.
  4. Setup – A subset of enablement, if a company’s data lives in various places—spreadsheets on assorted hard drives, files in cabinets—and the chosen CRM is not simple to port data into, this can significantly delay return on investment, as valuable time is spent trying to aggregate the disparate data instead of analyzing and using it to inform business decisions.
  5. Establishing Business Use Cases – Given the diverse use cases of CRM and its widespread applications, it is unfortunately very easy to buy the wrong product for the intended use (e.g. using a generalized CRM lacking proper data encryption for storing patient data).
  6. Communication – While CRM is meant to facilitate discussion across departments (e.g. encouraging corporate strategy and sales to collaborate on sales metrics), the ease of access to data that CRM can provide, coupled with user silos, can lead to double work: like multiple people building the same or similar metric dashboard and ensuing confusion about which metric dashboard is the correct one!
  7. Keeping Users Engaged – Even after establishing clear use cases for CRM, successful setup, and enabling users, the value return cannot be sustained if users are not motivated to continue inputting fresh data and drawing timely insights.
  8. Security (external) – While one of the main functions of a CRM is improving communications across the company and its customers, this is a double-edged sword. Storing customer data and the subsequent obligation to protect it, can be a pain, if it is not properly secured.
  9. Constantly Evolving Personal Privacy Laws – Given the increasing ease with which companies and organizations can now collect data on individuals and the new frontiers this breaches, new laws and guidelines are constantly being created globally to protect the individual’s rights to privacy. Subsequently, when considering CRM purchases, it is important to ensure that the intended use for the CRM does not violate customer rights.
  10. Drowning in Data – CRM can greatly increase the volume of data available to a company or organization; if this is not considered, what seemed like an irrelevant problem prior to the CRM purchase can suddenly become significant. A hypothetical example: CRM is purchased to track customer transactions in-store, but it comes with a feature to track online sales as well. With this feature turned on, the data volume exponentially increases at a faster than expected rate, and the company runs out of server storage space.

I believe this need for companies to collect and draw insights from their CRM data will only grow over the next 10 years, as individual data grows. Barring a few recent incidents, such as mass user data leaks and unconsented use of social network data, our appetites for sharing personal information in exchange for better customer or user experiences remains high. And the expectations we have of empathetic user experiences continue to grow. We would like our service providers and merchants to know what we want and when we want, to some degree; and as technological advances make it possible to fulfill more of these expectations, organizations will feel the pressure to maximize their use of data and technology to satisfy more clients.

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The diversity of CRM providers has grown so much to meet the growing amount of personal data available and varying customer demands, and as both of these continue to increase over the next ten years, I see a lot of room for creativity. Existing CRM providers will definitely continue to provide surprising new product features, and new CRM providers may join the space to bet on niche but potentially growing needs. In the past, for example, it was unimaginable that CRM today would not only store data, but provide insights through shared AI services ranging from image recognition to sales prediction. Or that a CRM could be made specifically for the purpose of managing social media interactions with potential and existing customers.

I have heard of large companies spending unexpected millions on CRM because their initial adoptions failed. There are various ways the adoption might go wrong: in the setup phase, with user enablement, less data inputs than expected, or conversely, more data inputs than expected, etc. The unexpected spend, if the company does not deem CRM a lost cause, then comes from trying to redo the adoption (perhaps with an implementation partner instead of in-house on the second try) or switching to a different CRM provider entirely.

As we enter the age of plentiful data, it can be easy to rush CRM projects in a bid to capitalize on the potential gold mine that data represents. Through the pitfalls and trends outlined here, I would like to remind you that the uniqueness of your business and customers deserve a nuanced approach. All the best on your CRM journey.

Vivian Chak works in Sales Strategy & Operations at Salesforce in Toronto. [Please note, the opinions expressed here are fully her own and not necessarily those of Salesforce].

Also published on GreenBook Blog here