The CRM Journey: From Deployment to Continuous Improvement

What Comes After the CRM Software Implementation?

You have spent the last several months implementing a world-class Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system for your company. Your team has declared success, popped open the champagne and danced a victory dance. Now what? It's time to breathe a big sigh of relief, put your feet up and watch the system work in achieving those strategic objectives. Wrong. CRM software aligned with CRM strategy is a journey that requires constant care and feeding. The journey has just begun.

The first day of post-implementation marks the transition from designing to advancing customer relationship management software and strategy. Once the CRM software go-live event occurs there are several strategic and tactical things to start thinking about. Beyond the usual support tasks, such as the help desk calls and password resets, you and your team need to proactively initiate next steps.

First, start engaging your CRM software users right away. Find out if they are using the system the way you and your implementation team envisioned. Are they following the documented business process? Have they found shortcuts? These may be acceptable if they make the business processes more efficient.

However, shortcuts may also short change the system by circumventing downstream related processes or not capturing information needed for reporting. Are your users adopting the system? Identify pockets of resistance and step up the change management program procedures. Open up communications to resolve issues and make sure that management is still reinforcing the message.

Identify re-training opportunities. Users may need a refresher course. Or maybe new employees have joined the company. Do you have a comprehensive training plan? Are there sufficient documentation and job aides that will help your users with their day to day tasks? Is your user documentation up to date? Last minute changes or enhancements may not have been added to the user guides.

Next, revisit your original business requirements document. You may have done a first class job of gathering requirements and knowing exactly what your users wanted. However, things change during the implementation and there are always gaps.

Review your requirements document and take note of the items that were deferred or were nice to haves. Those nice-to-haves have a way of becoming must-haves by users who are looking for streamlined processes. Prioritize the high payback items and start thinking about solutioning. You may not be able to provide all the answers but identify the pain points and get help from your users to prioritize them.

Data quality is a constant battle in any CRM system. Review your data for duplicate data, incomplete data or inaccurate data. Are your users following data integrity procedures and using data standards? If your CRM software system requires an email address for every contact, make sure your users are providing real email addresses – and not gaming the system with placeholder data.

Are there account or contact duplications? If you haven't already appointed a data steward or instituted automatic duplication detection, now is the time to consider these solutions. Cleaning a few months worth of data at a time is a lot easier than letting the problem grow and fester. Inconsistent or incorrect data can turn off and tune out your users.

Lets not forget reporting, the life-blood of a CRM system. What key reports were developed during the implementation? Are they providing the information your users need? Do you need to tweak them? Do they need additional reports? Who is using these reports and which reports are not being used?

Do you need to reconsider different delivery mechanisms for your reports such as email distributions or publishing them to an Intranet web page? Some managers don't like to be on the system constantly. They prefer reports to be delivered automatically via email. If your reports are accurate and powerful, but no one is using them, then your CRM system will soon lay fallow as well.

How is the system performing? Load testing during implementation will give you some ideas of usage and performance. However, once the customer relationship management system is up and running, users don't usually follow usage test patterns.

Are you noticing peak periods? If you are using a cloud CRM system which is Internet dependent, local internet peak period usage may be detrimental to your systems performance. Fine tune your business application as well as your delivery model to accommodate real-life usage patterns.

Security is not a static issue. Permission settings that look good on paper may not always work out in reality. If your implementation strategy included a deny by default security approach, or limited users' visibility and access to data based on a need to know basis, you might now check to see if these limitations are working or hindering your users.

If you instituted an open security policy, where everyone sees everything in order to promote information sharing, you may also gauge how this information is being used. Is this empowering your users, distracting users or unnecessarily exposing company data? Some individual security permissions will need to be adjusted. An executive who only wanted a read-only view may now find that he wants to assign leads and to-do activities to his managers. A user who had access to all customer accounts may find his account list too large to focus and finds that he only needs to see a subset of those accounts on a daily basis.

Lastly, focus on the process of CRM continuous improvement. Start thinking about productivity enhancements, business process optimization and increasing CRM software ROI. Also, periodically ask yourself, "How can I make the user experience better?" Can you reduce keystrokes, navigational sequence or the number of pages required to complete a transaction? Can you automate or implement workflow to provide efficiencies?

No one wants to think that their system has bugs; There's only undocumented features! However, the reality is that no sophisticated business software application is 100% bug-free. Accept that fact and be up front with your users. Consider bug-fixes as part of your continuous improvement process and role them into your release management process.

One great way to identify areas of improvement is by going back to your user community. Start a user-group and invite users to provide feedback. Conduct lunch and learn sessions to weed out training issues and introduce more advanced features as users become more comfortable with the CRM software. Quarterly surveys can provide great insight, especially if they are anonymous and acted upon. Users want to be heard. Have regular meetings with your key stakeholders or super users. Let them help you prioritize enhancements.

A CRM system is an evolving tool. It must be fed, stroked and guarded. Don't let your CRM application become dormant and outdated. Nor should you let it run away without direction or controls. A well managed CRM system is a powerful tool that your users can count daily to help them do their jobs and accomplish your customer strategy.