Users tout value of CRM

Despite challenges, users are finding that investing in customer relationship management applications can deliver a payoff.

That was the message from several attendees in Baltimore at Gartner Inc.’s CRM Summit, including the Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, who spoke last week at the conference about the city’s successful deployment of CRM applications. Baltimore runs Motorola Inc.’s Customer Service Request (CSR) system, which manages non-emergency service requests.

“The customers used to call us, and they were not always treated very well,” said O’Malley, explaining that city employees who were “rude people” and posed a disciplinary problem were sometimes relocated to take the calls from citizens. To help change the “spoils-based patronage system,” the city installed the Motorola application, he said.

“Government isn’t a business, but it can be run in a more businesslike fashion,” said O’Malley.

For instance, the CitiTrack system helps administrators make decisions on issues such as where to deploy police based on the amount of crime in a given area. Baltimore also used the CSR software to implement a repair policy for potholes: If a caller provides an address, the pothole will be filled within 48 hours. And the city was able to consolidate all of its phone numbers into a single 311 exchange, instead of a “different phone number for every problem,” said O’Malley.

Baltimore’s experience wasn’t the only one discussed at the Summit. At FedEx Corp., using CRM has boosted the retention rate of call centre employees by 20 per cent and cut the number of inbound calls, said Scot Struminger, vice-president of IT at the Memphis-based shipping company. FedEx uses an Amdocs Ltd. ClarifyCRM call centre application, which provides employees with the ability to access relevant customer data.

“We made the customer service reps’ job better,” Struminger said.

According to Gartner analyst Scott Nelson, customers are once again buying CRM applications, although purchases tend to be smaller and more “tactical” than in the past. There is also a more vertical approach by vendors, which are selling packages to relatively new areas, such as nonprofit organizations and government agencies.

While CRM isn’t yet as proven and reliable a technology as older accounting and other ERP applications, customers are beginning to understand just what it really is and how it can benefit them, Nelson said.

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