Problems and challenges in the effective implementation of CRM systems

By Eran Lasser and Ziv Mandel

Many organizations are considering introducing CRM systems or are in the process of doing so. The main concern of these organizations is their ability to make the necessary changes at the level of organizational strategy that the introduction of the CRM system requires. Organizations are also concerned about damaging their existing customer care system. Their fears are based on past failures in their own or in other organizations.

With most other types of information systems we are concerned mainly with operations relevant to the organization’s internal resources. By contrast, introducing a CRM system affects the company’s customers, who are external to the organization and beyond its control. The company’s reputation and future are greatly dependent on the success of the CRM implementation. Failure in the introduction of the CRM system, especially in service and sales phone centers, can result in real disaster for the organization. The present article focuses on issues that must be addressed in order to ensure that a new CRM system is introduced in the organization in the best possible way, generating maximum return on investment, without affecting current activity, and with minimal risk.

The implementation of CRM systems varies from one organization to the next; each one must be treated as a separate application, having different needs and requiring different solutions.

 We identify seven types of CRM applications: (1) CRM systems for call centers; (2) CRM systems for service representatives in the field; (3) CRM systems for telemarketing; (4) CRM systems for sales managers in the field (sales managers who are in direct contact with the client); (5) CRM systems for marketing; (6) analytic CRM systems for the creation of BI insights and reports based on a database of client contacts; and (7) XRM systems for servicing partners and clients over the Internet. The last three are not discussed in this article.

What factors can interfere with the successful implementation of a CRM system at the functional and technological level? In our experience, three main factors are responsible for crucial failures. To the extent that IT can solve these problems, part of the difficulties in introducing CRM systems into the organization would disappear. Note however, that in some cases IT is not in a position to solve these problems, and the implementers of the CRM system must cope with these failures.

The first problem occurs when the CRM system is not connected directly to the operational systems. In the worst case it is not possible to access the operational and legacy data about clients and products through the CRM, and users must access simultaneously other systems, resulting in double entries. In another problematic case the connection is not complete and transparent. In this case it is possible to access the operational system not only through the CRM but also directly, circumventing the CRM and rendering its use optional. The second problem has to do with a client database that contains low quality data or with data that is missing altogether. The third problem is one of poor performance, the result of the fact that the CRM system is connected to a large number of systems and often interacts with various technologies, many of them legacy systems. If the transition to CRM does not include the upgrading of the technology of legacy systems, performance is degraded.

Even if the CRM system was developed under optimal conditions, several failures and challenges are built into every CRM system at the organizational level. We must be aware of these failures and challenges and create solutions for them as part of the training and deployment process. The introduction of a CRM system requires a period of time for entering client data into the system. This detailed information is needed later to conduct an intelligent dialog with the client. But often those who feed the data into the CRM system are not the ones who benefit from the data, and have therefore no interest in entering the data in the first place, and certainly not in the best and most reliable way possible. Another phenomenon we encountered in the implementation of CRM systems is that those who could benefit from the data are not using it often enough, which reduces the business value that the CRM system was supposed to provide to the organization. The infrequent use is the result of a lack of awareness of its existence or of a lack of faith in its quality.

At call centers, implementation of a CRM system involves several unique issues related to the fact that these vital, 24/7 systems cannot be down even for a few moments. Call centers experience a high turnover of personnel. Heavy use of students creates additional problems (for example, it is impossible to introduce a new CRM system during the exam period). CRM systems intended for sales managers are subject to conflict with the sales manager’s personal interest. Sales managers prefer not to expose their leads, contact persons, and the status of their transactions, and may try to prevent entering the complete data into the system. Neither are sales managers enthusiastic about the level of oversight made possible by entering data into the CRM system. Sales managers are generally powerful players in the organization, who can oppose the introduction of the system. They also seek the realization of immediate profits, whereas the benefit of the system is often felt at a later stage.

What is needed to succeed in the introduction of a CRM system? The success of a CRM project depends first and foremost on the people who implement it and on the manner in which they use the system. A working CRM system that is not being used is useless. A smart CRM system requires a smart user. Therefore the successful deployment of a CRM system depends on upgrading the entire sales and service organization, including the personnel and the supporting tools.​