Q&A: The many uses of CRM beyond sales and marketing

How ABC Financial deployed CRM to improve service call resolution and discovered so much more
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Doug Elkins, CIO, ABC Financial

ABC Financial, a Little Rock, Ark.-based payment processor and software provider for more than 3,000 health clubs around North America, had no customer relationship management system just three years ago. Serving a relatively small, niche customer base, it didn't need CRM for the typical sales and marketing functions. However, as the business expanded, the customer service department found that it needed a better way to organize and share customer information. After trying out a very popular CRM system for a year and a half, ABC Financial found that it wanted a solution that integrated better with its Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) applications. Turning for help to Sonoma Partners, a Microsoft products reseller, the company deployed Dynamics CRM. In an interview with FierceCIO, Doug Elkins, who served as CIO for the state of Arkansas before becoming CIO at ABC Financial, discusses how the CRM system has improved customer service and how he plans to implement it more broadly as a business processes management system.

FierceCIO: With more than 400 employees and more than 3,000 health club clients around North America, why hadn't you deployed a CRM system prior to three years ago?

Doug Elkins: We're not marketing to a large number of potential customers. Our market base may be in the thousands or tens of thousands. We're business-to-business and in a really small niche, where most of the players know each other. What is important to us is to provide the customers we have with the best service possible. We provide a concierge level of service.

We process payments, and we develop and sell software that our clients use to help run their health clubs and help manage their members. Our software will read the barcode [on a health club key card] and make sure you're a member in good standing. New membership prospecting is a part of our software as well. We have software called DataTrak, which has a robust point-of-sales component with inventory management. We also have MyiCLUBonline, which allows members to log into the system and manage their accounts.

We're up to about 4,000 merchants now, and there are probably 20,000 devices out there.  There may be an issue with a workstation or connection or printer.  Any time they have an issue they cannot resolve, they call our help desk. They'll also call us when they need help with the software itself.

FCIO: What was the impetus for implementing Dynamics CRM?

Elkins: The story starts around three years ago when we had no CRM. The closest thing we had was just email. That was pretty much the conduit of communication, and as most people know it is a poor way to organize data. The issue was really about having a single place to go and see our customer. Our ability to pull information about our customers [was hampered because the data ] lived in several different systems, and there really wasn't a good view. When clients called our service desk, it was a challenge to pull information together. Fewer than 10 percent of cases could be resolved on the first call. For us, CRM really plugged in at the service desk, not in sales or marketing.

FCIO: Why did you choose Microsoft's Dynamics CRM?

Elkins: One of the more compelling things for us was pricing. First we looked at Salesforce.com because it was much more attractive to get into it. But about a year and a half after we stepped in with Salesforce, Microsoft came out with special pricing. For the most part we are a Microsoft shop--Exchange, Lync, SQL servers. If you name it, we have those servers up and running. 

Any time we added a third-party product onto Salesforce, although the APIs and everything else worked, there wasn't really a cohesive feel to it. The adoption was somewhat of a challenge internally. It was a challenge to keep people trained on it.

Within our Microsoft ecosystem it was a challenge to make the connectivity with Salesforce. With the added benefits that Microsoft threw in, Dynamics CRM really was attractive to us. We could start off with Microsoft online and move to on-premise. It was one of those things we really couldn't say no to.

FCIO: How complicated was the deployment? What did the reseller bring to the table for you?

Elkins: What Sonoma Partners brought was a clear understanding of Dynamics CRM, which we did not have. They brought a deeper understanding of what could and could not be done. They helped a tremendous amount with the data conversion.

What concerned us was that we had spent the better part of a year and half gathering requirements and manifesting requirements for Salesforce.com. A lot of partners wanted to start in with a lot of front-end requirements-gathering. We were looking for a partner that could look at our Salesforce implementation and discern the requirements from that. One of the things Sonoma was willing to do was more of a real-time implementation. We put together some basic requirements and after a four- or five-day process, we took what we had done in Salesforce and implemented it in Dynamics CRM.

FCIO: How hard was it to sell this project to senior management?

Elkins: There is always a certain amount of due diligence required. This was certainly seen as a better option looking at a price-point comparison. But the question did come up whether we should just shut the whole thing down [rather than replace it].

Dynamics CRM is also driving our development efforts to make products better, so it was actually very easy to draw the connection between the investment and the ability to provide quality services to our customers.

FCIO: How would you describe the ROI so far?

Elkins: Everyone wants to put a dollar sign on these things. I can tell you we've been able to handle more calls. Our ability to handle an issue on the first call is now around 85 percent. We don't lose many customers, and I know we've lost even fewer since we put the CRM system in. 

We've been able to code the calls that come in to the help desk. We started looking at priority of calls, and found that password resets was the No. 1 call. About 30 percent of the calls were on password reset. It was a cumbersome process to reset passwords and communicate that back out to the gyms that had called in.

We've been able to reduce the staff on our help desk. We had 40 people and now we have about 28. Of the total 450 employees we have, probably close to 200 would say it is an everyday part of their lives. We've rolled it into our HR group. For us, we're really looking for the CRM system to be adopted as our business process management system. More and more we see it being the go-to application.

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