6 lessons in CRM project management: What brands would do differently next time

We speak with leading organisations on the lessons learnt from deploying a customer relationship management platform, and their advice for marketers and IT teams investing in new CRM solutions

Customer relationship management (CRM) technology is a foundation platform for any organisation trying to manage interactions with customers and prospects. But according to 2013 study from US-based Merkle, nearly two-thirds of CRM platforms fail their organisations because of a range of issues, stretching from insufficient systems to poor user adoption and utilisation and sub-standard data quality.

With the benefit of hindsight and experience, we’ve asked several Australian organisations where they faced challenges implementing CRM platforms, what they’d do differently if they could stage their rollout all over again, and what advice they have for others looking to buy or upgrade their CRM approach.

1. Ambulance Victoria

Platform deployed: Oracle Service Cloud (formerly RightNow)

Live date: March 2015

Ambulance services provider, Ambulance Victoria, offers a membership scheme providing income protection for Victorian residents for ambulance service fees. The scheme is available to single individuals as well as a family package and is managed by a contracted party.

In 2013, Ambulance Victoria membership analyst, Mark Howard, started building new specifications to update its CRM technology as part of a management tender that also incorporated financial reporting, call centre capabilities and printing. The organisation had been running off Aptean’s Onyx solution for seven years but wasn’t happy with the capabilities. It had also not been upgraded during that period and work done on the middleware made further changes difficult.

Having proposed a go live date of 1 January 2015, Howard allocated 20 months for the specification tender, evaluation and a 12-month implementation.

“We went to market with a high-level tender and specifications, details about what we wanted to gather from customers, what we’re currently doing and what we might do in the future,” he explained. “For example, live chat wasn’t in the old system and Ambulance Victoria had only just started emailing people. Having the ability to manipulate and analyse membership data was important, as was the ability to communicate.

“We also had separate EDM platforms, which meant we had to extract data from CRM then import into the EDM tool.”

Ambulance Victoria stuck with its incumbent provider but chose Oracle Service Cloud as its new platform, going live on 9 March last year. One of the first lessons for Howard was around the tender process.

“Having scope to fully define what it is you’re building in a CRM and how it’s being built and how things work is really important,” he said. “We found the response was to build CRM in the same manner as the old CRM. That was already seven years old and a lot of stuff we did was because we had to do things that way.”

The second big consideration was end-agent usage. “It’s not just what functions you’ll deliver, but how they work, and how the end agent is going to be able to utilise those, or be restricted from doing things they shouldn’t do,” Howard said. “An agent either follows instructions to do a certain task, or works out how to do it their way and shortcuts it because they’re always being measured on call handling time.”

The lesson here is you need to consider who is going to be using CRM first and foremost, Howard said. “CRM should be built to an end result – the right data, quality and all the correct outcomes,”he said. “The only way is to have simplified workflows that restrict people from being able to deviate from the actual process.”

While the Oracle platform’s built-in workflows have helped Ambulance Victoria address this issue, the disconnect between intent and what discovery would have highlighted means the workflows are still being built, Howard said. He added the two-week window Ambulance Victoria built in for discovery and discussion around CRM was nowhere near long enough.

Another key component of CRM, but something Howard claimed gets forgotten or downplayed, is end reporting.

“Everyone with a CRM says it can report, but worries about it later,” he said. “You get it all working, then you get 1000 report options and are asked to choose the ones you want to use. In our situation, the reporting tool is great if you want to report on agent performance. But if you want to report on how many people live in a certain postcode in the database, that’s not a standard report, so it has to be built.

“Don’t just presume things will work the way you think they will work. Unless you actually talk about it, you don’t know that as a business analyst, I need to be able to cut and dice data within the membership database and find propensity to buy, demographics, and so on.”

The final lesson Howard had is to avoid getting lost in “the now”. “You’ve got to always be looking at what customers expect, what they might expect, then put time aside to plan for those,” he said. Ambulance Victoria does this by having monthly meetings with its third-party provider, and Howard also attends Oracle information sessions regularly.

“If you don’t plan for it now, you could end up behind the eight ball,” Howard added.

2. Tatts Group

Platform deployed: SAS Marketing Automation

Live date: October 2014

One of the first collaborative projects launched by Tatts Group CIO, Mandy Ross, and CMO, Megan Magill, after they joined the organisation was rolling out a CRM platform. Thanks to growing opportunities in wagering to interact with and advertiser to customers, as well as the need to provide a seamless omni-channel experience across its bricks-and-mortar and digital services, Tatts is making significant efforts to become more customer-centric.

SAS Marketing Automation went live in late 2014 and is now servicing two of Tatts’ core business units - lotteries and wagering - from a campaign management point of view as well as for customer relationship management. Tatts claims its implementation has resulted in more personalised multichannel and multi-wave campaigns, as well as a significant uplift in customer engagement.

Read more about how Tatts Group's CMO and CIO are also working together on data analytics here.

Tatts group head of CRM and loyalty, Brendan Hodgkinson, and Ross had several tips on implementing such a platform successfully:

Check your hardware: Be aware that as the sophistication of your campaigns increases, your CRM platform will place unprecedented demand on supporting infrastructure. “Some performance issues which appear to be the CRM system may in fact be the result of capacity or design issues,” the pair said. “Make sure the system architecture, and in particular database hardware needs, are assessed carefully and designed to scale rapidly.”

Focus on cross-team engagement: It’s no good having a great CRM technology implementation if the marketing team can’t use the platform effectively. “Make sure your technology and marketing teams are talking, to really understand the upstream and downstream effects of a more mature CRM strategy,” Ross and Hodgkinson said. “Forecast uplifts in the number of campaigns, EDMs sent per day and load on the customer data mart to ensure these supporting technologies are equipped to meet this increased demand.”

Transformation of data: It’s also vital to ensure your data insights strategy is clearly aligned to your CRM program. This flows through to the data, which will drive campaigning.

“For example, CRM systems can function more effectively by combining complex data points into derived attributes,” the pair said. “The ability to bypass complex selection criteria to use single attributes, and then pass these through to downstream systems for personalisation and tailoring of content, can profoundly simplify campaigning. This requires significant work upfront in CRM strategy and campaign design, to know where benefits can be achieved through this approach.”

Test and Learn: CRM implementation is not a one-step process, either, and it’s important to take an incremental test-and-learn approach to maturing your capabilities. “It’s important to start small, test, learn and adapt, so you can understand what works," said Ross and Hogkinson. "This can then evolve over time into truly effective CRM strategy and campaigning.”

Make measurement a priority: Finally, understanding how the system will enable measurement of campaigning and customer engagement is critical. The system implemented should ideally allow an organisation to measure incremental uplift and customer engagement rates via integration with inbound and outbound systems. “This will allow meaningful feedback to stakeholders, and continuous improvement from day one,” the pair said.

3. Mercer

Platform implemented: Salesforce One Platform

Live date: September 2015

Mercer head of customer experience, Aaron Lochrie, is responsible for end-to-end customer experience management at the superannuation and financial services firm. He’s played a strategic role in overhauling customer technologies as part of a wider transformation and investment effort to deliver better business outcomes for customers and clients.

At the heart of the customer technology stack is Salesforce CRM, which went live in September 2015. Previously, Mercer used proprietary tools to manage its contact centre and frontline teams, integrated into its legacy administration platforms.

Salesforce not only offered wider CRM capabilities, it could unify data from a far greater number of sources, Lochrie said. The platform also provided the foundation for the next level of digital capability including sales and marketing automation via Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

Mercer took a phased approach, starting with inbound contact centre then progressively rolling out to more user groups. In Q2 this year, Mercer will roll CRM out to all financial advisers.

“At that point, we will have for the first time a genuine single view of every customer and interaction on all channels across our superannuation and financial advice businesses,” Lochrie said.

For Lochrie, three key, interrelated lessons came out of the CRM platform project.

The first was around development agility. Because of the desire to quickly realise benefits from a customer engagement perspective, Mercer decided to adopt Agile. This was its first exposure to rapid development cycles and one that extended across the organisation.

For the first time, the technology development and deployment of new capabilities could go much faster than the business change processes

Mercer's Aaron Lochrie



“We could have spent years mapping and detailing business requirements and we’d still be doing it now. But instead, in a short space of time, we were able to move 250,000 customers onto Salesforce and be in production and our people realising the benefits far sooner,” Lochrie said.

However, Agile proved an inhibitor at first. “Our traditional approach was to have a detailed requirements gathering stage,” Lochrie explained. “Initially, our actual use of pure Agile early in the deployment slowed us down. This was perhaps a mix of our ability to execute Agile, plus the fact that this was a complex project from a data and integration perspective.In the first few releases working with developers, there was rework and scope creep.

“Some Agile processes and workshops generated heaps of new ideas, which is fantastic, but since the first phase of releases, we’ve taken a more balanced approach to requirements gathering upfront. When we initiate a release cycle, we don’t go back to the traditional gathering processes, but we do take time to get some more definition to prepare the development team. That hybrid approach upfront is now helping us go faster.”

Lochrie said Mercer also underestimated the scale of behavioural change and support necessary around enabling the CRM transformation.

“For the first time, the technology development and deployment of new capabilities could go much faster than the business change processes,” he said. “Normally, when we initiate a project like this, we start with a technology build, as that is where the most time and effort would be, then determine in the plan where change management and communications requirements would fit.

“We were on such a rapid development cycle through use of Agile… and we got in such a good operational rhythm, we had two-week rapid development cycles. What we discovered was how quickly we could support our people on the goals and change management requirements to make sure we got the right outcomes.”

To cope, Mercer increased subject matter expert involvement on the ground, as well as worked on more business analysis on changing business processes.

“This project as we work through, has become less about technology once we had the foundation in place, and more about people, behaviours and culture,” Lochrie added.

Up next: More vital CRM insights from leading Australian brands, plus one CRM expert's checklist for avoiding a project fail

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