CRM Process Improvements

Streamlined Processes and CRM Automation Create a Powerful Relationship

customer relationship management software implementation is an ideal time to revisit and possibly reengineer business processes, and in effect create a tremendous synergy by introducing both streamlined processes and software automation technology in unison.

The combination of business process improvement and software automation will provide your best offense in winning user adoption.

But recognize that attempting to automate processes in CRM software before those processes are streamlined and efficient is a losing proposition. You cannot refine a process before it is consistent. You should not automate a process before it is streamlined. So, first sequence and streamline each process to deliver a predictable result. Then automate with CRM software. I think Bill Gates said it well.

CRM Process Automation

Business process engineering injected to CRM software deployment consists of four steps.


Identify The Current CRM Process

In other words, how do we specifically do this job now? Whether the job is performing a customer facing sales activity, forecasting a sale opportunity, launching a marketing campaign or escalating a customer incident, each of these actions can be considered processes or workflows with the potential to be improved and automated.

Transactions and effort go in one end of a process and hopefully automation or information comes out the other end. The process is what happens to that workflow between “in” and “out.” Implementing processes within CRM software increases staff productivity and consistency in delivery.


Analyze The 'As Is' CRM Process

Once key processes are identified, the analysis phase begins. How do we do this job now? What are the sequential steps in the process? Are there steps in the process that really don't add value? What actions, events or variables result in exception conditions or deviations? Who performs them? How does the process handle exceptions? It's best to diagram all this on a white board or visio and then have it reviewed by the people who actually do the work to make sure all the bases are covered.


Design The 'To Be' Processes

This phase requires creative thinking and an absence of history. Just because 'we've always done it this way' doesn't suggest or reinforce that the process is optimal. Fresh thinking and challenging questions need to be debated to derive the best solutions.

Many business process consultants implement a socratic method with additional probing questions and 'what if' scenarios. How can we do this job better? Are there non-value added steps which can be eliminated or places where operations can be performed in parallel rather than sequentially? Is the right person or role doing the job?

You may find there’s little or nothing to be gained by redesigning a particular process. That’s fine. Once you’ve got the process completely mapped out you'll be able to implement it effectively in your new CRM system.


Test, Implement & Refine

Try out the new process, look for weaknesses and then stress the new process to the point of failure. If you find a failure point, fix it and begin another iteration. Most process improvements take several cycles to get ironed out. None of this is terribly difficult but it does require candid thought as well as thorough testing by the actual users or people who are most affected.

That last point is important. You can’t design effective business processes for your CRM system if you don’t have continual, effective, input from the people actually doing the work. This is another reason it is important to involve users early in the design stage of your CRM implementation. The users are the ultimate sources of knowledge on how things really work, and more importantly, on how they can be made to work better.

CRM Process Best Practices

A few business process design best practices can help, including the following.

  • Completely Define each Workflow, both Existing and Prospective
    Be prepared to get some surprises in the course of this step. Although many companies have elaborate procedure manuals detailing every step of a process, you will often find the process doesn’t actually work the way the manual says it does. In fact in many cases the process as described in the manual is simply unworkable. Your best source of information on how a process actually works is the people who do the job. Enlist their help to lay out the steps they actually perform. It's a good idea to reduce this information to an easy to understand diagram, preferably on a single page. Then show the diagram to the users and verify its accuracy. Don’t be surprised if you find you haven’t quite got it right on the first go-around.
  • Find and Eliminate the “Cracks”
    One of the most important parts of what you’re doing is finding out what isn’t included in your definition of the workflow process. Normally if you’ve divided the processes up correctly you will find that the basic workflow is straightforward. A call comes in, the receptionist takes it, forwards it to the proper extension and if the person isn’t in, the voicemail system picks it up. Fine, but what happens if the voice mailbox is full? Or the person is hospitalized for a week without having a chance to change the voicemail message? What happens if the customer is calling for the wrong person? Or the receptionist isn’t there to answer the phone? How does the process cope with these or other exceptions?These are examples of “cracks” – as in something falls through the cracks – and how you accommodate these deviations determines to a large degree the success of your new CRM software system investment. Most of these glitches aren’t hard to handle, but you need to proactively think through them and decide how you will respond to them in an efficient and consistent fashion. An important part of CRM process definition is finding these exception conditions and structuring their response.
  • Prototype and Test the New Process
    Once you’ve designed your process you need to test it out. Exercise the process under all the conditions you or anyone else can think of while proactively looking for flaws. A flaw can be anything from a condition that stops the process cold to one that takes an inordinate amount of time to handle and hence slows down the entire operation. Also pay attention to the human aspects of the process. A process that throws an exception requiring someone to trot down three floors to check the original sale order is not a successful process (unless it only happens once in a blue moon).Whichever CRM tool you choose to deploy, you're going to find that you're dealing with the implementation and automation of customer facing business processes. Modifying your CRM software implementation plan to go beyond simple software configuration, and fully include business process improvement or reengineering, will clearly deliver both an efficiency and increased return on your technology investment.