Do you need to buy a CRM?

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I’ve been prompted by some discussions on LinkedIn to write briefly here about CRM – or customer relationship management to give it its unabbreviated title. The idea behind CRM is that an organisation can record every interaction it has with its customers, so that anyone picking up a future call can be instantly caught up with what is going on, and analysis of the data can yield clues as to where services are breaking down and need improving (“3,000 calls this morning about missed bins? Maybe we have a problem…” – ok, not that, but you get the idea).

This sounds like an eminently sensible thing to do, only in most cases it turns out that it isn’t in practice. Firstly, over the years, getting CRM systems used beyond the contact centre (whether directly or through integration with back office software) has proved very difficult, so this complete record rarely is actually complete, thus defeating the purpose. Secondly, the supposed goal of a single record for every customer is invariably brought down by data uncleanliness, the habit of creating additional records for the same customer, and a general sprawl of records where customers don’t fit into neat holes (eg issues around services delivered to households, and those to individuals that often result in a mess of customer data).

So CRM for CRM’s sake seems like a non-starter. But in the last few years I have been involved in projects that have involved implementing CRM and CRM-like systems. How can this be justified?

For me it comes down to a fairly simple process. First identify the outcome you are trying to achieve, whether as part of an individual service delivered to customers (or residents, or users, or citizens: pick your favourite) or a corporate wide thing. Then assess what capabilities are needed to make that happen (booking, reporting, case management, assessment, payments, document management etc) and then work out which of those capabilities you already possess in a reusable way, and which you need to buy. Now, if those you need to buy can be delivered in the way you need by implementing a system that calls itself a CRM, then fine, buy and implement the CRM system. But there is no capability called ‘CRM’ and no service outcome called ‘CRM implemented’.

Hence, no CRM for CRM’s sake, but by all means buy a CRM if it delivers the capabilities you need to transform your services.

Photo by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash,