In Harvard Business Review there was a CRM paper by Scott Edinger indicating a high degree of dissatisfaction amongst users of CRM systems in the US. Follow link:( https://tinyurl.com/y9fcskdx ).

A business development colleague based in the UK confirmed that a study here would probably yield similar results. He is regularly working with clients whose staff are feeling let down by the CRM designers and are not feeling heard. He commented that, “The CRM industry has a lot to answer for”. The concern is that over 20+ years enormous amounts of money have been spent seeking the relationship benefits like customer-centric culture, but staff claim they can’t use the system and senior management are asking difficult questions about why the data they were promised isn’t there.

I felt defensive as I have been in the relationship database service since its earliest beginnings. In the early days it was Sales and the Service departments, later Marketing PR, charities, fund raising, investment management, and Student Services in universities. Our users were getting the CRM benefit, so not experiencing the ‘Edinger effect’. My colleague argued that we were not comparing like for like as my teams were implementing departmental solutions. They were also using a prototyping approach to capture staff working practices directly into processes; so, no use of business process analysts no specification writing and no software developers. Big system deployments can face different issues. Business system analysts may in theory encounter many types of process and be required to address the needs of many types of user. Project managers choose ‘software development’-type CRM designs so they can handle whatever happens by writing new code. Off the record, analysts agree that most processes are pretty simple (Excel-type complexity). They will sometimes admit that writing bespoke software code in order to put numbers into a column, is not economic, and certainly not agile. Our experience confirms this.

Could it be as simple as the breakdown of user engagement that has caused so many organisations to fail to get the CRM benefit? Centralisation of process ownership may have contributed. There are certainly suggestions from the Edinger survey that corporate objectives and demands for more management reporting of performance data have resulted in staff resentment. When the promised systems made their jobs more difficult, many complained of time-wasting, and being obliged to enter data that did not help them do their jobs better Similar complaints are common here in the UK. Could it be that ‘specification creep’ or ‘over-design’ is blocking the promised £M? of benefits?

My colleague and I discussed the contribution that leadership from line management plays in any successful organisation. We were both aware of the Simon Sinek TED-talk video of some years ago, which can be found on YouTube: ( https://youtu.be/u4ZoJKF_VuA). When a system was first suggested people probably started by asking ‘WHY’, as Sinek suggests, …. Why do we need a CRM system? The simple answer was probably focused on the transaction quality of the various relationship recipients (customers, clients, students etc.) and the organisation becoming more ‘customer-centric’. One type of benefit might be to sell more. So are we possibly seeing that the ‘WHY’ and the departmental management leadership to stay ‘on track’ have been supplanted by other objectives (‘corporate’ as Edinger suggests). Is it because the need for software development encourages line management to back-off, or retreat to a safe distance and let the IT specialists take over? Is it perhaps also the contracting-out of the customisation to an implementer that causes the user contribution to be misunderstood as it is translated into a software development specification? Is it possibly also a human factor that very few people who are efficient workers, are fully conscious of all their capabilities and slick working practices. The prototyping method provokes the articulation of unconscious activities, where a business process interview possibly does not. Can it be that fundamental?

As we have no names, places and dates the above is offered primarily as future project management guidance if not fact. I have however one anonymous confession that might confirm some of the assertions above, and the Edinger conclusions (which by the way I believe to be valid). A director of a large SME confessed to a CRM failure which had wasted a lot of money. He said, “We recognised that it was we as directors and senior managers who had failed to lead, and not our hard-working staff, doing their best, so we announced that the system was rubbish and moved on to buy a different one.”

David Jefferson, JIMC, Bedford, 25 Apr 2019