Voice of the Customer – Good, Better, Best

Earlier this year Microsoft included new Voice of the Customer functionality in its Dynamics CRM 2016 Online product.  Having previously worked in Customer Insight for several years the thought of having Research fully integrated into CRM was truly exciting.  So, in advance of my presentation with Andrew Bibby at the CRM User Group, I thought I’d share top tips for successful research.


1) Start with the end in mind

For each question you should be able to answer ‘what will I do when I have the answer?’. Be really strict to separate the truly insightful from the merely interesting; this will help keep your questionnaire from being too long. Having research capability built in to your CRM mean that you can source demographic and transactional data directly from within CRM itself rather than having to discover these via a questionnaire.

2) Target a representative group

If you’re not inviting everyone within a target group then make sure that those invited are representative of the whole. For instance, if your intention is to find the opinion of customers attending recent marketing events then you could invite every attendee. However, things get more complex should we wish to exclude people who have been recently invited to partake in other surveys.  When these are excluded from this survey then will those invited still be representative of those attending recent marketing events?

3) Make it interesting

With so many auto-generated surveys it’s all too easy to ignore them; and as companies increasingly drive research from CRM we are likely to be invited to partake in even more research. To help prevent our research invitations from being ignored we must deliver them with a compelling message and design; explain who you are, why you want their input and what you will do when you have the results, and above all make the message clear to understand. These things help achieve a higher response rate.

4) Review your respondents

Take a good look at the profile of people who completed the survey; are they representative of the target group? Check that you have a good spread of participants, from different demographic groups and people who have roles with diverse experiences. And if not, then consider the impact of this when reviewing your findings.

5) Send the invite at the right time

Much like email marketing, the timing of a research invitation is important. Should the invitation be send shortly after the event, such as closing the Service Case, or should these be batched and sent at a specific time? Think about your customers, when will they be most responsive to receiving the invitation?

6) Be impartial

Be balanced and non-judgemental in how you phrase your questions. Don’t “lead the witness”, for instance “Some people think CRMUGUK is the best CRM conference, what do you think?” is not an impartial question, instead ask “What do you think of the CRMUGUK conference?”, or “In your experience how does the CRMUGUK conference compare to other CRM conferences”.

7) Make it easy to respond

People should be allowed to respond to your question with an answer that represents their opinion. Consider all the possible answers, not just the most common responses, not forgetting responses such as “I don’t know” or “I don’t want to answer”. And ask open questions such as “why do you say that?”.  While such open-ended responses are harder to translate into percentages or charts it will ensure that you have the breadth of opinion. Responses to open questions will reveal opinions you have not previously considered and are therefore a great help in designing the available responses for your next survey.

8) Odd or even scale

Where you have a question with a scaled response, such as a Bad-Good, Sad-Happy, etc then you need to decide whether an odd or even number of response categories is more appropriate. Odd numbers are good when respondents could be truly neutral or indifferent, although this may encourage lazy neutral responses instead of directing the responder to consider whether they’re slightly more positive or negative towards the statement in the question. Even numbers are required if you want to eliminate that kind of fence sitting.

9) Keep it simple

A weakness of conducting research without an interviewer is that questions are more likely to be misinterpreted. Plain and unambiguous language is important as we need to minimise that occurring. If the question is misinterpreted then responses aren’t useful.

10) Don’t over analyse

Presentation of results as charts and statistics needs to be done with care, by all means be selective in highlighting results but do not distort the overall findings. Research that disagrees with existing business assumptions can be far more insightful than that which supports those assumptions. And be careful in the conclusions you make: correlation does not imply causation, the popular press would do well to remember this.

A plainer CRM Manifesto?

Kost’ Koniev (twitter: @skfd) messaged me today, saying “You should rewrite the manifest. Right now it’s crazy business-speak.  You fell into the trap of abstraction, but the message is good”.

He very kindly came up with a few suggested amendments, and I welcome an approach to use plain English.

What do you think?

  1. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a business strategy. Not software. Not a technology.
  2. CRM is not a technology. CRM is not software.
  3. CRM seeks to increase our revenue and customer’s satisfaction.
  4. Engaging in CRM means that the way we work is going to change.
  5. Customer interaction is driven by their platform and channel preferences. Not our technological stack or business process devised by executives.
  6. Customer-facing staff satisfaction is important.
  7. CRM’s focus is gathering everything we know about customer. And presenting it succinctly, but fully to Customer-facing staff.
  8. CRM’s focus is consistent communication with customers. Customer should enjoy that we know his name and remember why he called last time.
  9. CRM should have Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Changes to CRM process should be evaluated based on KPIs.
  10. Customers do not care about the intricacies of our internal processes. Back-office processes should not impact customers’ experience.
  11. Deploying a CRM system will NOT, by itself, improve sales and drive customer retention. Any CRM solution we have is simply an enabler to achieve known business goals; improved processes and policies will deliver the results.
  12. CRM software can help drive process consistency across the organisation; we welcome a consistent approach. And whilst CRM software can help us manage, using it just as a management tool is not customer relationship management.
  13. Changes to the way we interact with customers is ongoing. CRM is a journey and not a destination.

Thank you, Kost’.

CRM is not CRM

It’s been said that CRM is a journey, not a destination. CRM is stranger than that, CRM is not even CRM!
Image by Brian Talbot - https://flic.kr/p/frJ48

In this article we aim to refocus on the core principles and strategic reasons for using CRM software, correcting expectations of what CRM is and what it can achieve, and what else needs to be done to make that come true.

Let’s start by getting right back to basics: CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management.  It’s how we manage relationships with our customers, both our current customers as well as our prospective customers.

This is the first tenant of the CRM Manifesto: CRM is a business strategy; it’s not a technology, and it’s not a piece of software. 

Specifically CRM is a business strategy of increased and better-informed customer focus, combining business policies and processes, and changing the customer experiences our business deliver.

Any CRM software we may have is simply an enabler to achieve our business goals; by changing and improving our processes and policies we will deliver the results; CRM solutions just make this transformation easier.

Contrary to the claims of some CRM vendors and implementors, deploying a CRM solution will not, by itself, improve sales and drive customer retention, it will not provide a better customer service, and it will not target customers with the right message at the right time.

Customer Relationship Management strategy seeks to proactively manage business processes which improve relationships with current and prospective customers, increasing a customer’s lifetime value and driving revenue increases.  Indeed some organisations, Metro Bank for example, do not focus directly on lifetime value or revenue, but instead seek to make ‘fans’ of their business, knowing that this will generate loyalty itself.

If we are to embrace the strategy of Customer Relationship Management then the way we work is going to change, accepting and preparing for this transformation is central to any CRM programme.

Not only will change management become a vital workstream in your CRM programme but you may have to accept that some employees may not be ready to fundamentally change they work to generate mutual value for both the Customer and the Company.

Experience shows that getting people to accept change is a challenge for any change programme and CRM programmes aren’t an exception. 

Recent research by Forrester shows that nearly half of all problems with CRM programmes are the result of people issues, so it is crucial to explain the benefits of the new way of working, showing how things will be improved for them.

Addressing the “what’s in it for me?” mentality is important right from the start.

And above all, the tone for a your CRM programme, adopting new processes to serve customers more effectively and generate mutual value, should be set early on by senior management.

Countless CRM programmes were destined to fail before they even started, simply because no-one really knew what they were trying to achieve.

Don’t be theoretical, subjective or wishy-washy with the reasons for the CRM programme.  You need to figure out exactly what you want to accomplish.  Determine the customer relationship management problems you are working to solve, set measurable targets against those goals and measure before, during and after the change.

Expected outcomes are likely to need to prioritisation as you may not be able to deliver all the required benefits at the same time, aligned to Agile ways of working it is wise to deliver packages of benefit in phases rather than hoping to deliver everything in one “big bang”

Typical outcomes that one could expect from a CRM programme include:

  • Improving sales productivity
    • Improved lead qualification
    • Increased sales success, both conversion and retention
    • Shortened sales cycle
  • Improving marketing campaigns
    • More effective planning and execution
    • Improved customer loyalty
    • More leads generated for sales
  • Improving customer experience
    • Faster resolution of customer issues
    • More precise resolution of customer issues
    • Reduced calls that could be addressed through self-service
  • Improving operation efficiency
    • Reduced cost to acquire new customers
    • Reduced cost to serve
    • Reduced cost of IT estate (training, maintaining, integration)
  • Improving Governance and reducing risk
    • More processes automated or guided
    • Increased ability to track interactions
    • More and more accurate measurements
    • Reduced number of duplicate or orphaned records
    • More customer data held in corporate systems and less held in personal filofax (tricky to measure but not impossible)

As a last general recommendation, paint a picture of what success looks like and use this to tell a story about the case for change and what the world will look like after the change.
This will help gain widespread support and help everyone understand the need to change.

This article was originally written for efficy.com

Thanks to Brian Talbot for the photograph

6 ways to get your CRM data right

SignpostData is the lifeblood of Customer Relationship Management; it is the means by which users are informed about the customer, so they can best direct their decisions and actions to add value to the customer experience and meet business goals.  The content of a CRM solution is as important as the people, processes and technology.


These six guiding principles will help you define your programme’s data strategy.

  1. Seek to enable better decision making, both for individual customers interactions and collectively to inform wider customer management strategy.
  2. Recognise that data is a tangible corporate asset and manage it as such; know why it is needed and for which customer journeys.
  3. Strive to add value to the customer data asset – reduce data redundancy, reduce party duplicates and improve data quality.
  4. Thoroughly test any matching strategies to ensure you do not create false matches.
  5. Design processes so they support adding value to the corporate data asset, recognising that data degrades over time.
  6. Make is easy to understand the context of customer data; display values descriptively, do not expose users to coded values.  Records should have a named owner, an expiry date, a descriptive status, dates should be formatted consistently, and mandatory attributes should be used sparingly to ensure you can track known unknowns.

Image Credit: Matt Brown CCBY2.0

How to keep the customer in your CRM programme

Image Credit: Lisa @ Sierra Tierra

Why customer research is an essential element of any CRM programme

It’s all too easy for the focus of a CRM programme to become too inward looking, to focus on organisational improvements.

Indeed many CRM business cases will rightly have much benefit attributed to efficiency improvements, showing a tempting reduction in headcount that will delight the cautious CFO.

By all means consider internal benefits but remember that the focus of Customer Relationship Management is the customer, and improving their experience. It could be that the operational efficiencies you have identified add value to the customer experience, but this may not be the case. The only way you’re going to find out is to talk to your customers and prospective customers.

A good starting point is to review any customer feedback you already collect, find out their concerns and the improvements they seek. Whilst this will help you progress quickly, you cannot beat pro-actively seeking customers’ views on what they perceive as valuable.  This could either be through a focus group, where a moderator uses a scripted series topics to lead a discussion with a representative group of your customers, or by sending questionnaires to a similarly representative group or groups.

Once you have this insight, your CRM programme needs to find ways to deliver that value to the customers, remembering to monitor the effect on sales and loyalty, and continuing to regularly seek customer feedback and opinions.
Image Credit: Lisa @ Sierra Tierra CCBY2.0

How to avoid the common pitfalls of a CRM project [part 3]

I was going to write a lengthy piece about the importance of Data in relation to any CRM programme, and this post may well  turn out to be longer than I wish, however, there is really only one thing you need to remember…

Data is going to take much, much longer than you anticipate.

Unless your CRM application is only going to take data from one data source, and that data is clean and very well understood, then it’s going to take a huge amount of effort to handle.

Actually, even if you think your CRM application is only going to take data from one data source, and you believe that the data is clean and very well understood, then it is still probably going to take a huge amount of effort to handle.

If you only take away the message that “data is going to be a big part of your CRM programme” then you’ll be better off than most.  But if you’d like a bit more information about Data and CRM then please read on…

Any CRM solution is only as useful as the content it contains; the data.  Data is the lifeblood of your CRM solution as it is the means by which users are informed about the customer, so they can best direct their decisions and actions to meet business goals.  The content of a CRM solution is as important as the people, processes and technology

There are a handful of data-related topics that a successful CRM programme should consider:

  • CRM data model
  • Master data management
  • Migration of data from decommissioned applications
  • Integration data from the IT estate
  • Reference data and data subscription services
  • Management Information

The CRM data model

“We want a single view of the customer” is often mentioned at the start of a CRM programme, but do we really know what we mean by “Single View”?  Do you know what it should contain?

It is important to get a early view of the content you are likely to need within your CRM, to find out the data you need to support decision making along various customer journeys; and just because you can get access to a particular data item it doesn’t mean that it should necessarily be in your CRM solution.  Indeed if the data doesn’t add to the value of the customer experience then its presence could well undermine it by adding to the burden of data maintenance and making screens  overly complex.

Get an early, “top-down” view of the content that need to be in your CRM.  As well as obviously things like contact details and preferences you will need to consider if CRM should contain service requests, complaints, quotes, purchases, as well as correspondence history and documents, etc.

If any entity (category of data) or attribute (individual data item) isn’t necessary for your customer journeys then don’t include it.  And those that are needed for several customer journeys are therefore all the more valuable to your business, and therefore need to be well maintained. Understanding the value of data is a great start for your CRM programme.

Whilst we’re on the subject of data maintenance it’s important to consider those attributes that are mandatory in your CRM application.  My experience suggests that mandatory fields are often more bother than they’re worth.  It is often assumed that simply by making a field mandatory that we can ensure we get the information we require, however this can be the opposite of what we actually get.  Be careful where you demand data from the users of your CRM application, if the field is mandatory and they’re not sure what to enter, then there’s a good chance that you’ll end up with them either guessing a value or, even worse, picking some default.  It’s better to have an empty field, which can show you your unknowns, than to have a complete field where you don’t know if the value is correct or not.

Master Data Management

It’s unlikely that your CRM solution will instinctively know how to best match customer records across your IT estate, so you will need to consider how best to match data to create a “golden record”. Whilst it is important to minimize the number of duplicate records in your CRM solution, it is even more important to ensure that you don’t incorrectly match records that belong to different people.  This is particularly true if your CRM solution is the master for an individual’s or organization’s financial transactions.

My top tip is to consider matching strategies early in your CRM programme, and start testing their outcomes against production data as soon as possible.

Migration of data from decommissioned applications

Legacy systems are never as well understood or documented as they need to be; and when it comes to migrating historical data who knows what value “X” meant on that lookup table from 8 years ago.  Yes, you will have to involve IT but you will also need to work with the business users experienced in using that legacy application every day.

My last tip here is to start data quality analysis early in the programme too, and if at all possible look to clean data in-situ before any migration.

Integration data from the IT estate
Hopefully the IT estate you’re going to keep is better documented, but just like those legacy apps there will be areas where they are not well understood.

Reference data and data subscription services

As well as the data from your existing applications there are a many great data sources available for a subscription, freely available from the OpenData community, or increasingly from social media platforms.  These can be used to enhance the understanding of your customers, and provide additional matching strategies too.

Management Information

We started by talking about understanding the value of data, knowing where it is used to inform decision making within customer journeys.   But data can also be used collectively within Management Information (MI) reports.  Make sure that the data within your CRM solution not only supports individual customer journeys but is also sufficient to generate relevant MI reports too.

At the end of the data, when all’s said and done…

Data is the lifeblood of your CRM solution,  the means by which users are informed about the customer, so they can best direct their decisions and actions to meet business goals.

The flipside to this is that some users will blame the data in CRM to avoid using the application and adopting a CRM way of working.  The data in your existing IT estate may have been wrong all along, but in a product-centric view people may not have been exposed to the bad data they now see in your CRM application.

If you get your CRM data right, users will flock to it as it will be a valuable resource to help them.

I could have written lots more on this topic and will revisit it in the future.  If you want to know more drop me a line or comment below.


In my previous article in this series, common pitfalls of a CRM project [part 1], I introduced the three themes of CRM failure

  1. Unclear Goals
  2. Data and content
  3. User adoption

with the main topic being my thoughts about CRM projects having unclear goals.  In this article I’ll be covering User Adoption.

User Adoption

Getting people to accept change is a challenge for any change programme and CRM programmes aren’t an exception.  In a recent research by Forrester they found that nearly half of all problems with CRM programmes are the result of people issues.

Studies have shown that when an organisation takes away old processes people can go through the change curve of shock, denial, anger and depression before they reach acceptance and integration.  This is particularly true if the individual has worked hard to develop work-arounds to cater for existing customer management inadequacies.

Taking people through change requires considered management.  The good news is that by now you should already have clear goals & created suitable CRM business case, this means that change management can start early.

Seven steps to CRM adoption

Communicate that change is needed

Share and publicise your CRM business case so that everyone knows what the organisation is trying to achieve with the CRM programme.  Remember CRM is NOT a technology, it isn’t software; Customer Relationship Management is a different way of working.  It is crucial to explain the benefits of the new way of working, showing how things will be improved for different people.  Addressing the “what’s in it for me?” mentality is important right from the start.  With a significant change programme like Customer Relationship Manage you should consider a dedicated sub-site on your intranet.

Above all, the tone for a new customer-centric culture, adopting new processes to serve customers more effectively and generate mutual value should be set early on by senior management.

Engage early

Involve all levels of staff in requirements gathering and discovery – not just managers and not just team leaders.  You need to include the frontline staff who will be using CRM every day as they are likely to be all too well aware of customer management bottle-necks, may have already devised work-arounds to make up for existing inadequacies, which they could be reluctant to let go, and they’re going to be using the CRM software day-in day-out, maintaining its content: your customer data asset.

Keep it Simple

Just because you can implement a specific workflow, or add “bells and whistles” to your CRM software, it doesn’t mean you should – at least not right away.  For a new user, easy of use is far more important than lots of functionality.  The more functionality available, the more intimidating the software will seem, and the harder it will be to learn.  Be particularly carefully to not create forms with lots of fields, or too many mandatory fields. It’s really important to keep things simple at the early stages.

Bite-sized chunks

Closely related to keeping it simple, you CRM programme should roll out new capability bit-by-bit, not as one big-bang approach.  People just won’t be able to cope with everything changing an once.  Think how Apple have 90%+ user adoption of each release of iOS, this is each release is a gradual build on the previous one, so that no-one is intimidated by the new.  Indeed this bite-sized approach will make users hungry for new capability – listen to their needs and plan to deliver new capability regularly.


Extensive user acceptance testing, ideally using a model-office and real-life data, will also help to get staff onboard early.  Listen to their issues and address any problems. Use their positive experiences of testing to generate and publish success stories even before launch; getting the users themselves to demonstrate to their peers “what’s in it for me”.

Training, training, training

Train often and train well.  Training can start even before the release of new capability, making sure that people understand the concepts and reasons behind the forthcoming “release”.  User Acceptance Testing is another way to pre-deliver training to make sure that users start to understand the forthcoming changes.

Whilst some training can be generic across all roles, such as terminology, navigation, etc; you must also prepare to deliver role-based training to address the “what’s in it for me?”  Training needs to be relevant to the everyday tasks that people will need to master and apply; this is equally true for staff, team-leaders, managers and the exec. Well motivated people are keen to understand how to get their job done and how the CRM software can help them achieve that; they really aren’t interested in all the features and functions.

Having process-centric training means that training must be delivered against the configured solution, not the out-of-the-box vanilla CRM software. If a business trains on an out-of-the-box CRM solution that has not yet been tailored to their specific business requirements and processes, the system is likely to look and act completely differently when ‘go live’ comes round, which can render much of the early training redundant.

One of the most common mistakes is having training being delivered by people who do not understand the processes.  It is important for a trainer to understand where the business and users are coming from and to be able to clearly articulate how the system benefits not only the user but the business as a whole. This means that the most effective trainers will be recruited from within your business rather than external service providers. Ideally sales managers should be responsible for training their sales teams as this ensures that the managers themselves adopt CRM.

Training cannot be a one-off exercise; new people will replace leavers, and the newcomers will need to be formally trained in the way you manage customer relationships.  Failing to have ongoing training will mean that “myths” develop about how and why things are done.   Not only that, but as new staff arrive they will also bring new ways of working, and your CRM practices will need to evolve over time and so will the training.


Ensure that every manager conducts every sales meeting from within the CRM application, using the dashboards and underlying data to evaluate sales opportunities.  Sales managers should adopt the attitude of “if it isn’t in CRM it doesn’t exist”, as this is guaranteed to ensure the sales methodology is adhered to.  Similar approaches should apply to your service and marketing teams too – managers must conduct their meetings and tracking from within CRM, if they demand that “tally sheets” or some other reporting is done outside of CRM then users will see no point in adoption CRM.

What’s in it for me?

If people don’t like the new way of working, don’t see it adding any value to them, and they are not forced to do it, then they won’t.  It’s much better to make the new CRM way of working engaging rather than forcing them to follow processes they dislike.  In short you need to answer what’s in it for them.

A good example here is expense handling: no matter how complex or cumbersome pretty much everyone follows their company’s expense management process and uses the expense management software.  This is because we want our money back, indeed so clear is the “what’s in it for me” you will find that training can often be very minimal as we’re so keen to self-learn.

Selling to Sales

It has been said that “many sales people would rather make an additional 10 calls per day rather than update their records”.  The last thing we should hear is that “I’m getting bogged down with admin when I should be out selling”.  Often sales people don’t see how using CRM software benefits them personally.  What they may not realise is that they could be missing out on following up with prospects or forgetting crucial information; prospect farming is a lot harder with incomplete or missing data.  All too often, CRM software is viewed as “a tool for managers to keep an eye on me” rather than a tool that enables them to be more successful. Selling CRM to sales is an important part of user adoption.

  • Put CRM in context; tell them why CRM is important to your company and to them as individuals. Salespeople may just see CRM as a way to keep to score and something that marketing use to send out mailings, it’s not and you must ensure they know why it’s important.
  • Explain how it benefits them; make sure they know that proper use of the system will save them time searching for contact information; allowing them to set reminders for follow-up calls or appointments; tracking results and allowing them to see what most effective; saving time by using pre-built sales pipeline reports; and simplifying lead qualification criteria tasks.
  • Share any ‘wins’ with CRM; any deals that were won due to its deployment, any potential problems that were avoided or any data that you are now able to analyse. All of these demonstrate the benefits of CRM to your sales team.
  • Listen to feedback.  I’ve previously mentioned the importance of bite-sized chunks.  Listen to your sales team, their needs and complaints then act on their feedback to further encourage adoption.
  • Use rewards to incentivise the sales team is a great way to ramp up involvement. It’s important to keep the goals team-oriented rather than individually-centered to promote cooperation and sharing of lessons learned among system users.  But there is scope for using gamification of CRM through leaderboards, points, and “badges” to appeal to their competitive nature.
  • Above all ensure that management set an example by conducting every sales meeting from within the CRM application, using the dashboards and underlying data to evaluate sales opportunities.  Sales managers should adopt the attitude of “if it isn’t in CRM it doesn’t exist”, this is guaranteed to ensure the sales methodology is adhered to.

A last word on user adoption

CRM moves customer information to the front line, enabling them to make as many decisions as possible without need for approvals or handing-off to more senior staff.  The CRM Manifesto continues in the theme of frontline staff adding value to the customer: “by giving our customer-facing staff ready access to information about our customers, their interactions with the organisation, and their products and services, our staff can best exercise their talents to add value to the customer interaction”.

This is a very different way of working for some people, hence the need to carefully manage the change to ensure user adoption.  To misquote Kevin Coster “If you build it, they won’t necessarily come” but with a change management workstream within your CRM programme you can ensure a smooth transition.