Magazine Article | October 1, 2002

Let Them Have CRM

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

CRM (customer relationship management) is not ready for the masses. But, midmarket companies can certainly benefit by centralizing customer data.

Integrated Solutions, October 2002

Here stands FMC (Financial Models Company Inc.). It's a midsized business with 470 employees and 2001 revenue of $78 million - about what you would expect from a company this size. While it has five worldwide sales offices, FMC has been headquartered in Toronto since its founding in 1976. It's from this site that the company develops a suite of investment management software that is used by more than 500 commercial financial clients. It's from this site that those clients receive a majority of their support. It's at this site that company knowledge - about customers, support calls, and contracts - was more likely to be found in the heads of employees than at the desktops in front of them.

In many ways, FMC is not dissimilar from a lot of midsized companies. The fact that it is constantly being pushed by customers to offer better service, for example, is hardly unique. What is different about FMC, however, is that it invested in technology instead of living with workarounds. It embraced a new CRM (customer relationship management) solution while many companies of similar size remain intimidated by such initiatives. The software developer uses its CRM system to manage sales contacts and customer support, keep projects on schedule, update contracts, and facilitate accounting tasks. "I can't think of anyone at the company who doesn't have a reason to use our CRM system on a daily basis," adds Rick Sands, director of product management at FMC. FMC's experience not only proves that a CRM solution can work at a midmarket company, but that a CRM solution can actually be the pivotal application at a midmarket company.

Contact Center Is First Touch Poin
Here sits a client service employee at FMC. She's one of 120 such employees that either serve in the field or at company headquarters. In her case, she handles incoming support calls at headquarters. The phone is ringing. An FMC client is at the end of the line. This call is one of 4,000 that the company's contact centers will handle this month. She picks up the call. What does the client want? Will she be able to resolve the problem?

The truth is that FMC clients contact the company for support issues that range from "How can I print this report?" to "What are the accounting rules for a three-currency security transaction?" Now, FMC can group the support calls each month and take action to eliminate calls and streamline support in the future. This wasn't always the case. "We relied a lot on anecdotal information. ['Is it just me, or are we getting a lot of support calls about this one issue?' an FMC rep might ask.] We'd collect some of this data and manually populate spreadsheets with it," recalls Sands. "As best we could, we tried to accumulate this data and use it to guide our business decisions and customer support."

The dynamics of that decision-making process changed with the implementation of Epicor's eFrontOffice, powered by Clientele, an integrated suite of e-business applications. The software not only tracks customer contact histories, but also generates reports that guide FMC's operations. The "How can I print this report?" support call may be from a new user, or it may be symptomatic of a problem with FMC's software. By monitoring the number of similar calls and user types, FMC can take the appropriate course of action. This may be recommending an upcoming training course in an end user's region or developing and issuing a software patch. These are two radically different options. The data saved in the SQL database that drives eFrontOffice allows FMC to make the right call.

Customer Needs Impact Product Development
Here sits the director of product management. When it comes to FMC's software, the buck stops with Rick Sands and his peers. His company must support its most current release plus the one preceding it. His team has been working on a new version of its software. Are FMC clients ready for a new release, and do they want it? Will FMC be able to support it?

Knowing the answers to those questions means pulling together client data and contracts. At best, this used to be a trying process involving spreadsheets, phone calls, and anecdotal evidence. By the time this task was complete the data was outdated and inaccurate. The company's new enterprise software eliminates these headaches. "By tapping the database, I know the version each client is using. I know when the licenses were issued. I know if clients are currently converting to a new version and where they are in the process," states Sands. "This data tells me whether releasing a new software version will cause our clients grief or if they're ready to convert."

The power of this client data can't be underestimated. If a handful of clients are running a software version that will soon lose support, Sands can huddle with the sales staff and map out a conversion strategy for those few holdouts. If 50 FMC clients are running versions that are already one generation old, then releasing a new version of the software might not be the brightest tactical move. In addition to an en masse outcry from clients, FMC would have to wrestle with the support issues that accompany 50 upgrades.

Integrated System Eases Accounting Burden
Here sits the Vice President of Finance, Steve Ashbury. The company's clients are invoiced from his department. But, it's much easier to say the word "invoice" than perform the task. Service reports must be pulled. Client contracts need to be reviewed. The resulting data must be manually entered in the billing system. Will the invoice be accurate and complete? When can FMC finally close the books on this month?

Following a three-month integration between FMC's financial system and eFrontOffice, Ashbury quickly saw the benefits of maintaining customer data in a centralized database. By automatically extracting data from the SQL database and using it to populate invoice fields, FMC has realized previously unimagined efficiencies. Invoicing clients for one particular FMC service, for instance, used to take up to two days. Now, with a mouse click, all invoices are created in less than 20 minutes. The integration also allows the company to produce financial reporting packages in multiple formats - a big value for its management clients. "The benefit of the integration and resulting automation is certainly reflected in the time it takes us to close a month [prepare a financial statement for a given month]," relays Ashbury. "We used to take 30 days to close a month. Now we can do it in less than 10."

CRM Closes Support Loopholes
Here sits the director of legal and business affairs. FMC's software is mission-critical. There can be no finger pointing when problems arise. The company and its clients each have certain rights and duties - that's what contracts are for. It's managing these contracts that consumes the days of Diane Lank. But, does the administration of these agreements have to be so difficult? Isn't there a better way?

Once again, the key to alleviating the unnecessary burdens lies in the capture and centralization of customer data. Contracts, as a rule, tend to be complicated documents. Adding variables such as billing based on the number of users, number of portfolios managed, and hours of access time do nothing to simplify the process. Now, imagine trying to manually pull all of those variables together each month then apply those variables to a specific contract. It's a feeling somewhat akin to treading water. By including the contract information in the SQL database, however, calculus suddenly looks like simple addition. Reports can be generated. Client information (e.g. address, contact, number of users) can be updated, and the changes impact each FMC user.

From a contract administration standpoint, managing branch offices in New York and London became easier. In the past, a London sales rep might have closed a deal with a subsidiary of a company that's based in North America and is already an FMC client. "We already had a contract with the parent company, but our salesperson had no way of knowing that," recalls Lank. "We might waste a lot of time before we discovered this fact." With its CRM solution in place, all FMC clients and their affiliate companies are monitored and tracked. Salespeople in the field have access to this data through a browser interface.

Here sits your company. You're not a software developer, but you certainly have clients to take care of. Implementing a CRM solution at your midmarket company seems a little overwhelming. You've struggled for years with manual processes. You write it off as the cost of doing business. Why? Doesn't there have to be a better way?