Customer Relationship Management: CRM Rises Again
Insurance Networking News, January 2008
Much like a high draft pick in the NFL, customer relationship management (CRM) solutions seem to have suffered from the burden of high expectations. When CRM emerged in 1990s, it was touted as a cure all, which would bring companies closer to their customers, unify business processes and offer a solid ROI.
However, the reality was often quite different, as stories of tortuous or failed CRM implementations spread, and some began to question whether CRM was worth the investment. What’s more, some of the companies that helped define the CRM space in the 1990s, such as Seibel Systems and PeopleSoft, have been acquired by Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle Corp. in recent years. Indeed, the negative baggage around CRM became so heavy that even CRM solution vendors began to shy away from the term.
“If you ask insurers about their priorities, very few of them will bring up the term CRM,” says Kimberly Harris-Ferrante, Research VP for Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Group, noting that one is more apt to hear the phrase “customer experience management,” as the focus shifts to the experience customers receive on the Internet and at the call center from the more sales-heavy CRM offerings of the past. “It doesn’t mean they are not using it, they are just calling it something different.
Such is the case in Jacksonville at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, where the term CRM is no longer used, but the technology is. “We use [CRM] to support our sales force, our customers and, to some extent, our providers,” says Barry O’Rilly, VP business solutions group and CTO, noting the company retired the term, along with other old chestnuts like enterprise resource planning and supply chain management, after a restructuring.
O’Rilly says competitive pressure and need to keep agents happy is driving CRM use. The ease of use and quicker compensation engendered by a properly functioning CRM system may well be the differentiator for an agent selling multiple products. “The industry is changing,” he says. “There’s so much competition that frequently we have to consider a new angle on what constitutes competition.”
O’Rilly says that from the perspective of servicing the provider, agent and sales force, CRM products have made significant strides, yet their ultimate promise remains unfulfilled. “The real story is that now we have information at our fingertips in a way we hadn’t before,” he says. “This doesn’t mean that we’re done; we still need a better understanding of who’s buying our product and what’s profitable.”
Currently, the company employs a Seibel-based solution that has been tailored with homegrown applications to assist with things like rating and commissions, O’Rilly says. “It’s not a pure vanilla solution.”
Darren Joslin, VP, IT - customer and distribution solutions for Schaumburg, Ill.-based Zurich North America Commercial says, they too employ a mix of vendor and homegrown systems in the CRM space.
“We are moving from that collection into a more unified approach,” he says, adding that an essential focus of Zurich’s CRM initiative is distributor relationships. “We really look at CRM capability from a relationship management perspective. Collaboration is extremely critical.”
Joslin says that while CRM may not be the panacea that some envisioned a few years ago, there is value to be obtained from a properly implemented CRM solution. “The growth of the global economy has changed how companies view and access information,” he says. “CRM is an opportunity that, if done right, can have big benefits for an organization.”
NO TECHNOLOGY IS AN ISLAND
Some say that for CRM to live up to its potential, it has to be viewed less as a stand-alone technology and more as a business philosophy. Over the years, a majority of the money spent on CRM went to operational or sales-centric CRM systems. While these operational systems have helped net gains in efficiency and consistency, they failed to produce the quantum leap in ROI many envisioned.
“Although the interactions are happening [more efficiently], there’s still no guarantee that they are the right interactions,” says Colin Shearer senior VP of market strategy for Chicago-based SPSS Inc. “You could still be missing a cross-sell opportunity.”
For more information on related topics, visit the following channels: