Millions of pounds have been spent on state-of-the-art CRM systems and high-tech call centres yet many people feel that customer service in UK businesses is still extremely poor.
Steve Rogers, UK managing director at Siebel, believes the problem lies with the data. "Very few businesses have a single view of the customer," he said.
In a mature organisation, customer data is dispersed across many different systems. For instance, customer data could exist in shipping systems, logistics and accounts. "Only recently have executives started putting customers in the middle of their businesses," said Rogers.
A single customer view does not equate to a single customer database. "It is a mistake to put all the data in one place," said Rogers. The database becomes large and unwieldy. Moreover, creating a single customer database is incredibly difficult.
Rogers' answer is to set up a federated, loose partnership where customer data is allowed to flow freely between IT systems tied together with smart middleware. He said Siebel often acts as "agent provocateur" by managing the business processes from the inception of a marketing campaign right through to extracting cash from the customer.
Siebel achieves this with its Uan (Universal Application Network) middleware, which is based on XML to enable data to be shared between applications. Rogers said, "With Uan, Siebel can reduce integration costs by 50%." The Uan software is being extended during 2003 and Rogers said it will include 250 business processes by the end of the year.
But Uan is a stepping-stone as far as integration goes. Rogers said, "Within five years we will have very few companies building integration." Instead, he predicted that a new type of software will emerge - "integration applications" that sit on top of middleware.
Industry analysts often warn that CRM does not deliver business value in terms of return on investment. Rogers does not dispute this but he said the problem is down to businesses building their own CRM solutions instead of buying packages.
"The vast majority of CRM is not delivered by packaged software," he said. When Siebel visits prospective users, Rogers said the CRM business case it proposes is normally rejected at least once by the board. "We do not sell any software today that does not have a robust business case."
Still, the problem for users is measuring whether the CRM project has delivered business value. "In the vast majority of cases, no one specified the success and failure criteria," Rogers said. "No rigour or metrics were applied to ensure key milestones had been reached."
Rogers advised IT directors to invest in the IT backbone to support CRM. But they also need to take a customer-centric view of the business. "CIOs are pivotal in delivering the majority of short-and medium-term business benefits." Taking this further, Rogers said IT directors should be rated by the customer value they add to the business.