The 5 things I hate about CRM systems

Asking me my favorite CRM system struck such a nerve, prompting me to rant like Lewis Black about why CRM systems are terrible

The 5 things I hate about CRM systems
Clay McBride via Eve Sadof, Cyberlaff Inc.

This article was inspired by a post on Facebook by Ben Parr, former co-editor of Mashable. What he wrote hit a nerve with me—a nerve as raw as any of Lewis Black’s—evoking my tirade. Parr posted:

 “Favorite CRM software and why?”

I replied, “They all pretty much suck and have since Siebel Systems invented it.”

Let’s start with platform companies like Google and Square Payments that do not generally use CRM systems and rarely use call centers. These companies understand that any CRM system will collapse at scale, so they build well-designed web-facing responsive self-service systems as part of the product design. 

I reviewed Square’s credit card dashboard three years ago, and it was exquisitely designed and implemented. Recently, I revisited it, and it is even better. Square hired good designers who eliminated the reasons to call them and gave users the ability to solve their own problems.

5 things I hate about CRM systems

  1. Pick a CRM system; they are all designed by people with sales careers, such as Mark Benioff, founder of Salesforce, and Tom Siebel, founder of Siebel Systems, to increase sales. The consumer-facing side of these systems are seen as a cost, a necessary post-sale evil, not a system to deliver a great self-service user experience that is part of the product design.
  2. There is symmetry to websites and CRM systems. If the website sucks, the CRM system will suck equally.
  3. Platform companies like Square have real analytics that produce actionable information. Users log in while avoiding saccharine platitudes from call center agents and authenticate once. The robust digital trail left behind is data that feeds the analytic engine that produces the intelligence to improve the design of the website.
  4. CRM companies have subjective analytics. Any action decided based on them is at best a guess. How many calls, how many minutes, the agents self-reported success, the damn pop-up website questionnaire, and the interrupting follow-up call that companies like Verizon Wireless make after each call to their call center. Verizon might have a setting on their website to turn this off, but I have never found it.
  5. CRM systems are run on the failed assumption that a low-paid, powerless person in a call center cubicle can create real customer satisfaction with scripted responses.

Why CRM systems frustrate consumers

The problem with most CRM systems is obvious when you step through a frustrating consumer CRM system interaction.

1. Most websites do not empower the user to solve the problem: When a consumer encounters a problem—unless he or she is very old-fashioned—his or her first stop is the website. After resetting their pesky password, the consumer logs in to find more than likely the site wasn’t designed to offer a solution to any but the most rudimentary problems, such as updating an address or telephone number.

And, if the site does have a solution, the consumer is still forced to call an agent because the user interface (UI) and navigation is so poor that the solution cannot be found. The agent knows how to find it because, in response to the many calls, the company decided to make it part of the agent’s script instead of fixing the UI navigation. Good designers are expensive and hard to recruit, but are less expensive than call centers and lost customer satisfaction.

No one wants to leave a message on the web CRM system because in the unlikely event of a response, the consumer will receive an email notifying them to log in to the company’s separate email system. What was that pesky password again? Apparently, this is due to the misplaced belief by companies such as mid-market banks that their email system is more secure than Gmail or Microsoft Live that have large security teams and big budgets.

2. The consumer is forced to call: Failing to find a resolution on the website, the consumer picks up their phone and calls only to experience more frustration.

  • Call centers are designed for the lowest cost: The call lands someplace where people really need the jobs, such as in a low-wage country like the Philippines, where call center agents are culturally disposed to strictly follow the rules set by the trainer, who was trained by a well-known CRM consultant who should be sentenced to 50 years to life.
  • Callers are held captive listening to recorded information: The consumer is greeted with a lot of information that does not solve the problem, such as a long text-to-speech report of their account status and the blood-pressure-raising recorded admonition on the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system (listen carefully because our menu has changed). While they drive the agents to misery with data entry and analytics that measure these poor souls’ performance in the number of calls per day, minutes per call, the accuracy of data entry, and bathroom breaks, the data collected for cost reduction does not lead to improved customer satisfaction. Does it not occur to the systems designers to multiply all the calls received every year by the amount of time consumers spend captive-listening to obstacles to finding a solution?
  • Getting to an agent is more busy work and wasted time: After authenticating with his or her account number and PIN and waiting in queue serenaded with music that recalls the last trip to the dentist for a painful root canal, an agent connects. After a verbose and saccharine greeting, he or she asks the caller to authenticate again with the same information. More wasted time. And at the end of the ordeal, the agent asks, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” OMG! The caller’s empathy prompts him or her to remove his or her finger from the end-call button to summon from the depths the politeness to say, “No, thank you. Have a nice day.”
  • Agents using CRM can solve only 4-7 problems, and yours is not one of them: After a long discussion about the problem, generously sprinkled with the agent's apologies and saccharine empathy taught by the trainer, the agent offers the scripted response that most closely matches a solution but does not solve the problem.
  • The agent's supervisor was promoted because of his or her ability to say no: Thirty to 60 minutes later, the consumer asks to escalate the problem to a supervisor. The consumer would have been better served—and wasted less time—hanging up when IVR system was initially encountered and writing a letter to the CEO. Waiting for the supervisor and his or her eventual “no,” is just more time wasted.

3. The bright idea to write the CEO that wasn’t: After more than an hour wasted with the call center, the consumer invests another hour writing and mailing a letter. Pesky postage stamps—who keeps them in this age of emails? Add 20 minutes for the trip to the post office to buy postage.

4. More sufferingthe letter never reached the CEO: The consumer’s carefully crafted letter was filtered in the mail room, scanned and sent back to the call center in the Philippines—to the agent sitting next to the agent that took the first call, but this agent identifies himself as from the executive office implying he sits right outside the CEOs office. But he uses the same CRM system that solves only 4-7 problems, and yours is not one of them.

If CRM systems are ever to work, the responsibility for a great user experience has to be taken away from the sales department and given to product managers and web/mobile designers.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Take IDG’s 2020 IT Salary Survey: You’ll provide important data and have a chance to win $500.