Communications sector tops in CRM initiatives

In a recent study that has tried to de-mystify customer relationship management (CRM) woes, the findings point to a cross-functional approach as the salvation to avoid a complete implementation failure.

The Fujitsu Consulting study, called The State of CRM in the North American Communications Industry was a survey of 45 communications companies and eight telecommunications firms such as BellSouth, Verizon, AT&T and Sprint.

The case studies were based on in-depth interviews with sales, marketing and customer service executives at the participating companies and found that telecommunications companies in North America are realizing business benefits from CRM initiatives.

The research suggests that communications outfits are more frequently involved in CRM initiatives when compared with most other industries; 38 per cent of communications companies had completed a CRM undertaking versus 28 per cent for all other industries surveyed.

The telco sector is conversely shifting a major portion of their customer interactions to automated channels such as the Web, e-mail and interactive voice response (IVR). The average telco plans to reduce the percentage of total customer interactions it conducts through call centres from 45 per cent in 2001 to 31 per cent by 2003.

While the study did not focus on return on investment (ROI) specifically, it instead laid out 16 goals to measure the success of the organization’s CRM implementation. But what is nearly as confusing as how CRM lends itself to profitability (an issue yet to be resolved) was how companies measured the success itself. “In many cases the goals were cost cutting, and if they achieved those reductions in expenses in certain functions then they were successful. Other companies had revenue objects, to increase revenues or retain a certain amount of customers. It does come down to the bottom line and being revenue effect,” said Deborah Czerna, associate director of Telecom360 Solutions for Fujitsu Consulting in Edison, N.J.

She added that the reason why CRM failure rates are high is because the organization in question doesn’t set concrete goals first- the technology is secondary to what the objectives should be. In part, she advocated that companies adopt a cross-functional approach to CRM that involves integrating sales, marketing and customer service are more likely to achieve strategic goals as opposed to those that only target one or two of these functions.

“That customer can touch on many facets. If you’re not touching that customer in a cohesive way, that customer is not getting a consistent experience from your company and that’s what CRM is all about, developing that relationship with the customer. It’s about understanding your customer,” she said.

Other notable finding for a successful CRM installation that the study alluded to included: viewing CRM as an ongoing process, build an information system that provided a view of company relationships with each customer and focus on making themselves easier to do business with customers.

Fujitsu Consulting can be reached at