A customer relationship management (CRM) tool is NOT customer service.

Technology is good. It enables connections, conversations and communities. It can fulfill business and personal goals. It can solve problems. But not by itself. Never by itself. Any technology or software “solution” is nothing without competent and caring people.

So I bristle when I hear about a college or company purchasing a customer relationship management (CRM) tool and declaring it a customer service solution. Because it’s not. A CRM tool, however sophisticated, is a cookbook. Without someone to do something with all the ingredients, there’s no meal.

It’s interesting to see what colleges do with their CRMs, which usually key on databases with tracking and reminder ability. Almost no institution I know of has ever set up all the expensive features in their “solution.” Some do a pretty decent job of tracking and interacting. Some limp along and do a passable job with their sunk-cost albatross, not notably improving the student experience. Others give up entirely when — surprise — the CRM actually requires them to do a whole bunch of work they thought it would obviate.

Put simply: If you’re not committed to customer service, don’t buy a CRM.

The best customer relationship management you can have is the willingness to interact with your stakeholders and help them along the way. It’s not about software, it’s about soft skills. If you’re helpful, responsive and flexible, you will provide better customer experiences, period. Sure, a CRM can tell you who’s inquired about your college, how far they’ve made it in the inquiry process, their student status and maybe their degree progress. But almost every student encounters questions and challenges along the way, and if you’re not there to help them (and no, an FAQ page full of questions no one has actually asked doesn’t count), then your “solution” doesn’t really solve anything.

(On a related note, those who use HootSuite or other social media tools only to blast their audiences with messages but don’t listen and respond to posts on their colleges or brands aren’t really taking part in “social” media. Anti-social or perhaps sociopathic media is more like it. But I digress.)

And while CRMs can allow you to collect data about students and their progress, are you using that data in some way to make the experience better? If not, then you’re not thinking about customers, relationships or management. In my blog series quest for how colleges can better deliver customer service, I know CRMs can play a role. But only if used in tandem with humans dedicated and driven to provide real solutions.

Next time: The trouble with ‘personal branding’ at colleges

8 Comments

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8 responses to “A customer relationship management (CRM) tool is NOT customer service.

  1. Pingback: Top SUNYCUAD takeaway: When nobody’s job is everybody’s job. | InsideTimsHead

  2. Wait. Other schools don’t know how to use their CRM either? *phew*

  3. Brock

    Im not sure if you have read any of Avinash’s books (http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/about/) but one of his core ideas is that you need to invest more in the people USING the tools than the fancy system itself. Good piece.

  4. Tim

    Erik: Ha! Do any other schools really know how to use their CRM?

    Brock: I’ve seen Avinash speak (fabulous) but haven’t read his books yet. I’m sure they are great.

  5. totencough

    All I have to say is, “here here!” CRM users and searchers NEED to hear and internalize this lesson because it is what is collectively holding them back and destroying the industry.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think this is all the CRM users’ fault. The CRM industry has had their fair share of ruining their own image by marketing themselves as the do-all solution. I wrote about this recently in an article posted on Capterra: http://blog.capterra.com/an-open-letter-to-the-crm-industry-what-businesses-really-need/

    Great article!

  6. Tim

    Brad: Agreed. I’ve blogged and presented about the difficulties of vendor-practitioner relationships, so I think your blog entry is on target. Thanks!

  7. Pingback: 9 Social CRM Companies to Watch | EnterpriseAppsToday | Michael Volkmanns Blog

  8. Dave Harris

    Now you are being too harsh. I think CRM vendors have been trying to add new flavors to their campaigns such as Social and Mobile CRM as well as trying to add personalization to ensure better customer service. The latest trends in CRM seem to be along the lines you have mentioned in your article. Check out this blog as it is quite a good read about latest CRM trends: http://banckle.com/blog/crm-market-implications-and-trends-in-2014.html

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