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Customers find kinks in Microsoft CRM

Companies installing Microsoft's new customer relationship management software say they are grappling with some flaws in the company's much-hyped product.

Companies installing Microsoft's new customer relationship management software say they are grappling with some flaws in the company's much-hyped product.

The main complaint with the software, which Microsoft released in January, is that it inserts a long jumble of letters and numbers into the subject line of e-mail sent through the system. The string of characters, which Microsoft calls a generated unique identifier (GUID), could confuse e-mail recipients, or worse yet, cause e-mail sent to customers and prospective clients to be blocked by spam filters, according to Microsoft customers and resellers.

Microsoft has even promised to refund one unhappy customer, Promarketing Gear in Bellevue, Wash., the $7,000 the company spent on the software. Microsoft touts the software, called Microsoft CRM, as a tool to help small companies save money and boost customer loyalty by streamlining sales, marketing and customer service activities.

"I am stunned that they think it's acceptable to put a number like that in your subject line," said Jeremy Whiteley, the head of Promarketing Gear, an eight-person company that makes promotional office supplies and gifts.

"It looks horribly unprofessional," Whiteley added. "People will automatically assume it's spam, or some spam software will kill it."

Microsoft CRM is an important part of Microsoft's recent push to sell more software to small and midsize businesses. It's also one of the first products that Microsoft's newly created Business Solutions division has built from the ground up since the company acquired Great Plains and Navision. Those acquisitions made the Redmond, Wash., company a contender in the multibillion-dollar business applications market alongside SAP, PeopleSoft, Siebel Systems, Oracle and Best Software.

The purpose of the GUID, according to Microsoft, is to help companies organize and keep track of responses to e-mail marketing campaigns and customer service correspondence. Out of 300 companies that have purchased Microsoft CRM, the company has received only one complaint about the feature, said Alex Simons, product unit manager for Microsoft CRM. Simons said he didn't know how many customers have actually started using the software at this point.


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Microsoft extensively tested the CRM product, including its response to spam filters, Simons said. He said the tests showed that e-mail with GUIDs in the subject line were no more likely to be blocked by filters than other e-mail.

Regardless, Microsoft reseller Green Beacon Solutions, in Watertown, Mass., said the GUID feature has already turned off one of its prospective Microsoft CRM customers.

"They were going to be a poster-child client," said Ben Holtz, president of Green Beacon, of the prospective customer. "Now we're in a cooling off phase with them."

Another Microsoft CRM customer, Maximum Impact in Atlanta, plans to train its users to delete the long string of characters from the subject line of its e-mail, said Joey Smith, the firm's chief technology officer. He said the problem is a concern but not a "deal breaker."

Some customers and resellers also said they found Microsoft CRM lacking in some basic features that competitors offer, such as the ability to automatically detect duplicate records and merge them.

Microsoft's Simons said the company is investigating fixes for the GUID and so-called data duplication problems for inclusion in the next version of the product, but didn't know when version 2.0 would be available.

Meanwhile, Whiteley at Promarketing Gear said he may reconsider the software when the second version is available. "I honestly believe the program has a lot of potential," he said. "It's just not there yet."