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Commentary: A passing grade on the CRM course

Most companies say that when it comes to customer relationship management, they're pleased with both their business results and application vendors.

Commentary: A passing grade on the CRM course
By Forrester Research
Special to CNET
February 24, 2003, 4:00PM PT

By Bruce D. Temkin, Principal Analyst

Despite the negative press buzz, most companies say that when it comes to customer relationship management, they're pleased with both their business results and application vendors.

Forrester surveyed executives from 111 large companies in North America about their CRM project experiences. Here's what we found:

Widespread satisfaction. Nearly three-quarters of respondents say that they are satisfied with the business results from their CRM efforts.

Forrester's take: Despite all of the unfavorable press, the majority of large companies are relatively pleased with the progress of their CRM efforts. Our research shows that these successful implementers focus their attention on the customer experiences they deliver, not the technology they deploy.

Process change predicaments. When asked about problems with their CRM projects, 45.9 percent of executives identified resistance to process change, a far greater proportion than the 34.2 percent who cite back-end integration and the 33.3 percent who gripe about software costs.

Forrester's take: Companies must look beyond technology for CRM success, blending people and process change with their application efforts. This approach, which Forrester calls synchronized deployment, contains three disciplines: process engineering (the people-process link), digitization (the process-technology link) and user engagement (the people-technology link).

Few technical difficulties. Only 13.5 percent of companies view technology selection or implementation as their most difficult steps. By contrast, 22.5 percent of respondents identify end-user adoption as the most challenging phase.

Forrester's take: Many companies view "go live" dates as their finish line. As a result, they overfocus on the technology issues and underfocus on getting users successfully onboard, dropping the ball after putting new application releases into production. To avoid this trap, companies should establish post-implementation milestones, such as 15 percent of salespeople entering at least 50 percent of their forecasts, as the key targets that they're shooting for with every release.

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Software contentment. More than half of our respondents have purchased CRM applications, and more than three-quarters of these application buyers give their vendor a passing grade.

Forrester's take: Despite their scapegoat reputation, most CRM application vendors meet customer needs. Still, there are real differences in vendor capabilities and orientation. Smart companies will craft a rigorous selection process and start taking the CRM capabilities of enterprise resource planning vendors seriously.

Usability displeasure. Fully 25 percent of companies dissatisfied with their CRM efforts complain about poor application usability. By contrast, only a handful of companies that are satisfied with their CRM efforts think application usability is an issue.

Forrester's take: In a recent research effort, Forrester found serious usability flaws in 11 different enterprise applications. And when interfaces aren't easy to use, people often won't use--or will misuse--the application. That's why companies should make usability testing a key part of their deployment efforts.

© 2003, Forrester Research, Inc. All rights reserved. Information is based on best available resources. Opinions reflect judgment at the time and are subject to change.