Take the Money and Run

March 1, 2002
Customer satisfaction and loyalty are linked to how you automate customer service. Implement carefully.

Take the Money and Run

Now that at least some businesses are looking at ethics, it’s time to ask: Is it ethical to over-promise and under-deliver to make the sale? It’s the way a lot of business is done today. From automation systems to simple consumer-geared products, there are lots of promises made. But when you get the product home or when you turn on the software, reality turns out to be much different from what you were sold.

Technology enables lots of these promises. It has so much capability it’s easy to glibly assure that it can handle anything, bending reality just enough to score the contract. But technology has its limits. And there’s plenty of evidence.

A recent survey by Robbins-Gioia LLC on ERP installations, for example, found that more than half of the customers surveyed thought their implementations were unsuccessful. There have been several spectacular disappointments with ERP systems, some of which could be blamed on over-promising. Anyone remember FoxMeyer Corp., the drug distributor that went bankrupt after, it claims, an ERP installation failed? There have been several other ERP disappointments in the news over the past few years. Now customer relationship management (CRM) is going through a similar “learning curve” of promises versus reality.

Customers have been complaining for years that it’s too expensive to tear out a technical solution and install a new one. (Obviously, they haven’t complained loudly enough.)

Now you can always find a differing opinion about who’s at fault when a system runs into problems. Developers will tell you the customer didn’t do a good enough job at defining what he wants. Or that there’s always the attempt to cut the price to the point of sacrificing features and functions or some other issue. Customers can legitimately claim functions and features weren’t explained clearly enough.

I think the problem is more philosophical and threefold:

1. Too little truth about what a proposed solution really can and cannot do.

2. Not enough service to back up claims.

3. The take-the-money-and-run attitude of all involved parties.

One and three may change as ethics take on new meaning for some companies. As for number two, the one function technology doesn’t automate, and probably never will, is service. Poor service is a failure to deliver, or under-delivery. Technology does not remove the responsibility to provide good service.

And management can’t simply outsource it as recommended by the latest management fads. The company’s name and reputation are on the line no matter what contractor is used.

In these days of maximizing shareholder value by minimizing costs, the temptation is great to automate service. But the technical solutions for automating service are not complete. CRM issues clearly show that key pieces are missing. Apparently, the new need is no longer customer relationship management, but customer relationship optimization, or CRO. That’s quite a promise for a technical solution to live up to.

What’s the reality?

It makes one wonder whether it’s greed or shallow thinking that motivates such effusive adjectives.

Whatever the “reason” behind such delivery issues, customers should never be left with the impression that they ought to just “shut up and pay the bill.” But that’s exactly what will happen if companies continue to deliver less than what’s promised. You will likely hear a new word that will describe situations of over-promising and under-delivering: As in — I’ve been Enroned.

Leslie Langnau, senior technical editor, [email protected]

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