CRM is in trouble

The CRM literature now proclaims the need to worry less about ROI (return on investment) and instead focus on ROC (return on customer). It is a sure signal of the failure of CRM to work. As CRM investments (and some are massive) have failed to produce the goods, the vendors now hope to persuade their customers to invest by implicitly suggesting they would be foolish not to.

They now assert that CRM should be about creating a culture that engages people across functions in discovering common ground: learning how to cooperate with each other. They say CRM will lower the barriers to the flow of information across the entire organisation. They say CRM will break down misunderstandings and stereotypes that functional groups have of each other. They claim CRM will help people discover common ground or a common approach to renewing relationships with customers and that it will create buy-in to that common approach. All plausible why-would-you-not-want-to-do-this stuff designed to persuade managers to follow the herd.

What they fail to realise is that these problems are caused by the way work is designed and managed. Spending vast sums of money on computer systems will not solve these problems; it is more likely to institutionalise and, hence, exacerbate them.

Vanguard call centre solution in the press

Last month the Observer (a UK thinking man’s Sunday broadsheet) ran a feature on the Vanguard solution to call centre design and management, observing that it stood as a contrast to the prevailing sweat shop paradigm, involving people in the continuous improvement of service to customers where they use measures that help them understand and improve performance rather than management measuring the agents on irrelevant and misleading measures, as most call centres do.

How long before the Vanguard solution becomes the norm? It has always fascinated me: our call centre solution is, of all of our applications, the fastest and easiest to implement. Yet of all the markets we work in it is the one that least demands our help. Call centre managers are wedded to the current paradigm in a more ‘stuck’ way than any other sector I can think of.

Ain’t life strange? Do you suppose the Call Centre Association will call me? For how long will they promulgate their model of ‘Best Practice’? The original reason for the Call Centre Association’s ‘Best Practice’ framework was to counter accusations that call centres were sweat shops. Yet the framework promulgates the very moribund, dysfunctional ideas that underpin the sweat shop phenomenon. Deming used to say: Doesn’t anyone care about profit?

If you have not read the Vanguard material on call centres you can find articles on the web site at:

Is BSI desperate?

Further to last month’s item about a head hunter asking me for help with her assignment to find someone to work in BSI, a reader wrote:

“I also got the call from the head hunter (as I also spoke at Q2002), and also declined. Her line to me was they were looking for someone who understood how to ‘sell’ quality to the voluntary sector. Desperate measures?”

If only she knew. Selling BSI is not selling quality; it is selling sub-optimisation of the most pernicious kind. If you are in the voluntary sector or in any other sector that these people are trying to get a toehold in, tell your friends. Ask any Standards-promoter what they know about the de-registration rate in the private sector. Whatever you do, resist this madness, for it will introduce a cancer of stultifying and counter-productive behaviour.

I guess BSI needs to develop more markets as the enthusiasm for their product wanes in the old markets. Without market-place coercion (‘you comply or we won’t buy’) it would never have survived this long. Stamp it out before it gets you too!

I am reminded of Ross Perot’s description of the cultural differences between working for EDS (the company he founded) and General Motors (they took him over and he joined the board). He said something to the effect that when someone saw a snake in EDS, they stamped on it. In GM, by contrast, managers formed a snake committee, hired a snake consultant and discussed snake reports etc etc.

How would BSI have you respond to snakes? Best answers published next month. Answers to me please:

On the buses

A reader writes:

“Transport for London (Tfl) are about to sign new contracts with the bus operating companies and one of the key measures, which links directly into the risk and reward element of the contract, is the spacing between the buses – having an agreed time period between each bus on a route within an agreed time window i.e. a bus every 8 minutes with no more than 10 minutes or less than 6 minutes between each bus.

So the bus operators are using a satellite tracking system that will allow them to automatically identify the distance between buses on the same route and will then send messages to each bus telling them When they need to slow down or speed up to maintain the proscribed spacing. The technology works perfectly except customers keep having a go at the drivers about ‘how slow the bus is going’ and ‘how long he is spending at each bus stop’; you see Tfl are right – it is a customer benefit to have even spacing of buses if you are at the bus stop; but it ain’t if you are on the bus already!

Like you always say, you get what you measure.”

Quite. Actually it is good example of something that will never be achieved from the management factory. If, on the other hand, the data were provided to the drivers they could make great use of it. They know from experience the causes of variation in travelling; they know where to expect delays. If used in a way that distinguished signals from noise, drivers could use the data to improve the system. Improving the system would also mean optimising end-to-end times. Customers want a fast service. Tfl would need to re-write the contract to require demonstrable method and measures for improving capability. That might be a bit much to expect but it is the right answer.