Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Microsoft CRM: data conversion import from Act!

Best Software Act! is very popular CRM for small and mid-size organization.   This system attracts business owner by its low price, plus system is very easy to use.  However if your business is growing you should reach the moment to implement more advanced CRM solution.  Natural question is how do we convert the data from Act! to new CRM solution and the mapping of your objects for conversion.  You would probably like to avoid operator data entry with potential numerous errors and mistypes.  Assuming that you are IT specialist, well give you technical side of Act to MS CRM data migration

This system attracts business owner by its low price, plus system is very easy to use.  However if your business is growing you should reach the moment to implement more advanced CRM solution.  Natural question is how do we convert the data from Act! to new CRM solution and the mapping of your objects for conversion.  You would probably like to avoid operator data entry with potential numerous errors and mistypes.  Assuming that you are IT specialist, well give you technical side of Act to MS CRM data migration:

  • First you need to download Act! SDK from Best Software website
  • Install Act! SDK on the computer, where you plan to do programming
  • Well use asynchronous data export/import model, this means that well design the system, containing two parts: export into XML and this XML file import into the CRM
  • Lets code Act! data export application, well use C# to address Act Framework classes, well need these libraries:

using Act.Framework;
using Act.Framework.Activities;
using Act.Framework.Companies;
using Act.Framework.ComponentModel;
using Act.Framework.Contacts;
using Act.Framework.Database;
using Act.Framework.Groups;
using Act.Framework.Histories;
using Act.Framework.Lookups;
using Act.Framework.MutableEntities;
using Act.Framework.Notes;
using Act.Framework.Opportunities;
using Act.Framework.Users;
using Act.Shared.Collections;

  • To connect to Act! database:

ActFramework framework = new ActFramework();
framework.LogOn("Act Username", "password", "SERVER, "Database");

  • Now we need Act field names to map them with the fields in the MS CRM:

private void ShowContactsFieldsDescriptions(ActFramework framework) {

    ContactFieldDescriptor[] cFields = framework.Contacts.GetContactFieldDescriptors();

    ContactFieldDescriptor cField;

    for(int x = 0; x < cFields.Length; x++)

        {

            cField = cFields[x];
            Console.WriteLine("Table Name:tt{0}", cField.TableName);
            Console.WriteLine("Column Name:t{0}", cField.ColumnName);
            Console.WriteLine("Display Name:t{0}", cField.DisplayName);
            Console.WriteLine("ACT Field Type:t{0}", cField.ACTFieldType);
            Console.WriteLine("");

         }

}

  • Lets get contact list and create the file for import instructions to MS CRM:

ContactList cList = framework.Contacts.GetContacts(null);
FileInfo t = new FileInfo("Contacts.xml");
StreamWriter stw = t.CreateText();

  • Now we form export data:

for (int i = 0; i < cList.Count; i++) {

    string strContactXml = "<contact>";

    ContactFieldDescriptor cField;
    Object oValue;

    // First Name
    cField = framework.Contacts.GetContactFieldDescriptor("TBL_CONTACT.FIRSTNAME");
    oValue = cField.GetValue(cList[i]);
    if (oValue != null && !(oValue.ToString().Trim().Equals("")))
 strContactXml += "<firstname><![CDATA[" + oValue.ToString() + "]]></firstname>";

    // Last Name
    cField = framework.Contacts.GetContactFieldDescriptor("TBL_CONTACT.LASTNAME");
    oValue = cField.GetValue(cList[i]);

    if (oValue != null && !(oValue.ToString().Trim().Equals("")))
 strContactXml += "<lastname><![CDATA[" + oValue.ToString() + "]]></lastname>";
    else
 strContactXml += "<lastname>" + "N/A" + "</lastname>";

    // Salutation
    cField = framework.Contacts.GetContactFieldDescriptor("TBL_CONTACT.SALUTATION");
    oValue = cField.GetValue(cList[i]);
    if (oValue != null && !(oValue.ToString().Trim().Equals("")))
 strContactXml += "<salutation><![CDATA[" + oValue.ToString() + "]]></salutation>";

    // Job Title
    cField = framework.Contacts.GetContactFieldDescriptor("TBL_CONTACT.JOBTITLE");
    oValue = cField.GetValue(cList[i]);

    if (oValue != null && !(oValue.ToString().Trim().Equals("")))
 strContactXml += "<jobtitle><![CDATA[" + Regex.Replace(oValue.ToString(), "rn", "<BR>") + "]]></jobtitle>";

  • This is only portion of the data, that could be transferred into CRM, the whole list of fields is too long for small article, but your could design the whole list of desired fields.  Please, pay special attention to replace <BR> HTML tag this is required for text data transfer into CRM
  • Next is import application creation.  We will not describe here connection to MS CRM details please read Microsoft CRM SDK if you need this examples.  Well concentrate on the nature of the import.

 The XML export file should look like this:

<contact><firstname><![CDATA[John]]></firstname><lastname><![CDATA[Smith]]></lastname><salutation><![CDATA[John]]></salutation><address1_line1><![CDATA[1234 W. Big River]]></address1_line1><address1_city><![CDATA[Chicago]]></address1_city><address1_stateorprovince><![CDATA[IL]]></address1_stateorprovince><address1_postalcode><![CDATA[123456]]></address1_postalcode><description><![CDATA[Toy Corporation]]></description><ownerid type="8">{4F1849C3-9184-48B5-BB09-078ED7AB2DAD}</ownerid></contact>

  • Reading, parsing and MS CRM object creation look is relatively simple:

        Microsoft.Crm.Platform.Proxy.BizUser bizUser = new Microsoft.Crm.Platform.Proxy.BizUser();

        ICredentials credentials = new NetworkCredential(crmUsername, crmPassword, crmDomain);

        bizUser.Url = crmDir + "BizUser.srf";

        bizUser.Credentials = credentials;

        Microsoft.Crm.Platform.Proxy.CUserAuth userAuth = bizUser.WhoAmI();

        // CRMContact proxy object

        Microsoft.Crm.Platform.Proxy.CRMContact contact = new Microsoft.Crm.Platform.Proxy.CRMContact ();

        contact.Credentials = credentials;
        contact.Url = crmDir + "CRMContact.srf";
        CorrectXML("Contacts.xml", userAuth.UserId);
        StreamReader reader = File.OpenText("Contacts.xml");

        string input = null;                       

        while ((input = reader.ReadLine()) != null)

        {

            string strContactId = contact.Create(userAuth, input);
            Console.WriteLine("Contact {0} is created", strContactId);
            log.Debug("Contact " + strContactId + " is created");

}

  • Just consider in more details CorrectXML function it places OwnerId into XML contact tree:

        private void CorrectXML(string fileName, string userId) {

           File.Move(fileName, fileName + ".old");
           StreamReader reader = File.OpenText(fileName + ".old");
           FileInfo t = new FileInfo(fileName);
           StreamWriter writer = t.CreateText();
           string input = null;

           while ((input = reader.ReadLine()) != null) {

               input = Regex.Replace(input, "{_REPLACE_ME_}", userId);
               writer.WriteLine(input);

           }

           reader.Close();
           writer.Close();
           File.Delete(fileName + ".old");

        }

  • Finally, we are launching export, import, opening MS CRM and looking at the contact list, transferred from Act!
  • Separate task would be Sales data from Act!, Notes etc. we plan to describe them in the future articles

Good luck with integration!  If you want us to do the job - give us a call 1-630-961-5918 or 1-866-528-0577! help@albaspectrum.com

Andrew Karasev is Chief Technology Officer at Alba Spectrum Technologies ( http://www.albaspectrum.com ), serving Microsoft Great Plains, CRM, Navision to mid-size and large clients in California, Illinois, New York, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Washington, Minnesota, Ohio, Michigan

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Microsoft CRM Implementation for Large Corporation overview

Microsoft Business Solutions CRM is now approaching the phase of being mature product and the CRM solution you may consider for large publicly traded company.  Our view point considers the fact of multiple platforms and systems coexistence and balancing: UNIX, Linux, Microsoft Windows, Java, .Net, PC, AS/400, RS6000, Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes Domino, etc.  This increases the cost of maintenance, but decreases the risk of being trapped to one vendor/solution.

Microsoft Business Solutions CRM is now approaching the phase of being mature product and the CRM solution you may consider for large publicly traded company.  Our view point considers the fact of multiple platforms and systems coexistence and balancing: UNIX, Linux, Microsoft Windows, Java, .Net, PC, AS/400, RS6000, Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes Domino, etc.  This increases the cost of maintenance, but decreases the risk of being trapped to one vendor/solution.  So far weve seen successful implementations of Microsoft CRM in the following industries: Distribution, Logistics, Non-Profit, Chemicals, Pharmaceutical, Placement/Recruiting, Medicare/Hospitals, Retail, Wholesale, Education, Beverages, Services, Defense, Aerospace, Oil & Gas.

  • In-house Implementation.  This is non-expected paradox.  Multiple clients, especially large companies, do it themselves.  The reason is Microsoft CRM utilizes all spectrum Microsoft Technologies: Exchange, Active Directory, .Net, Full-text search, etc.  Microsoft oriented IT people understand it and like to be involved.  So, you should consider self-implementation first.
  • Integration.  Microsoft CRM has relatively simple business logic and sits in Microsoft SQL Server, which enables customization and integration with third party systems and databases.  If you have Microsoft Great Plains you can use MBS CRM-GP integration tool, based on BizTalk.  If you have UNIX-based ERP/Accounting, you can deploy MS SQL linked server to bridge MS CRM and ERP.  The same would work for Oracle ERP Oracle Financials.  Navision has third party integration tool and the one from Microsoft is on the way to be released.  Axapta is also candidate for the integration.
  • Customization.  Microsoft CRM SDK describes majority of MS CRM objects and classes and enable VB.Net or C#.Net developer to build-in custom .Net application for Microsoft CRM existing screens.  And this is actually the way of the integration you realize integration in the custom .Net application.
  • Messaging.  Microsoft CRM uses MS CRM-Exchange connector in its standard functionality.  However if you have IBM Lotus Domino email server you can deploy MS CRM-Lotus connector, developed and supported by Alba Spectrum Technologies.
  • Data Conversion.  You should use Scribe for initial data migration.  However you need some programming work if you plan on bringing advanced data (email attachments from Siebel, for example)
  • External consultants.  You should consider customization and integration initial design as candidates for outsourcing.  Then, when coding is done and implemented you may switch to your internal developers to support custom pieces.
  • Nation-wide support.  Microsoft CRM is very innovative from the support side.  It means that Microsoft CRM partners tend to go to the nation-wide and international market to sell, implement and support the application.  Being web application Microsoft CRM could be accessed, customized and modified from anywhere.
  • Internationalization.  Microsoft Business Solutions promotes MS CRM worldwide and has local versions of the product.

You can always have us help you, give us a call: 1-630-961-5918 or 1-866-528-0577, help@albaspectrum.com

Andrew Karasev is consultant and CTO in Alba Spectrum Technologies ( http://www.albaspectrum.com ) Microsoft Business Solutions partner, serving clients in Illinois, New York, California, Florida, Georgia, Texas, Arizona, Virginia, Minnesota, Canada, UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Russia.  He is Microsoft Great Plains certified master, Great Plains Dexterity, Microsoft CRM SDK C#.Net, Crystal Repots developer.  You can reach Andrew: akarasev@albaspectrum.com

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Lotus Notes Domino and Microsoft CRM Integration

Well, even if  the combination might look very unusual, we see the coexistence of these two systems, especially in large corporations, non-profit organizations.  Technically Lotus Notes Domino has parallel structure, including Domino email server.  Lotus is extremely flexible and you can program your own CRM or purchase CRM for Lotus, however Microsoft CRM has Microsoft SQL Server database and very simple Sales automation module. Lets look at the integration reasons and scenarios.

Well, even if  the combination might look very unusual, we see the coexistence of these two systems, especially in large corporations, non-profit organizations. Technically Lotus Notes Domino has parallel structure, including Domino email server.  Lotus is extremely flexible and you can program your own CRM or purchase CRM for Lotus, however Microsoft CRM has Microsoft SQL Server database and very simple Sales automation module.  Lets look at the integration reasons and scenarios.  Be sure that each specific case requires custom programming, tuning and support.

  • Why Lotus & MS CRM?  There are several reasons to combine the two.  First Lotus Domino has very long history and is present on the market over 15 years.  Corporations might have business system built upon the Lotus Notes Domino platform and it is not desirable or even feasible from the complexity standpoint to phase it out.  The second reason is possible IT strategy to balance multiple platforms to avoid over-dependence on one vendor (such as Microsoft).  There might be also licensing issue if corporation has several hundred Lotus licenses it doesnt want to lose them and pay for 200 Microsoft CRM users.  In this case MS CRM might be the solution for Sales department and all the other departments should stay on Lotus.
  • Lotus Domino as Messaging for MS CRM.  There is no need to program this custom piece, just use MS CRM Lotus Domino connector, supported by Alba Spectrum Technologies.  It has advanced functionality, versus standard MS CRM Exchange connector.  Instead of using GUID in the email header, it scans Contacts, Accounts, Leads emails for matching.
  • Lotus Workflow.  Workflow is possible in Lotus and MS CRM.  In Lotus, however workflow is the most advanced.  You can use Lotus Workflow and then upon the completion it can transfer control to Microsoft CRM.  This is typical Microsoft CRM SDK (to program MS CRM) and Lotus Java Agent programming from the side of Lotus.  Lotus workflow may work with integration to your ERP/Accounting application, such as Microsoft Great Plains, Navision, Axapta, however this is outside of the scope of this article.
  • Lotus/CRM Activities Synchronization.  One of the popular requirements is the synchronization of Microsoft CRM Activities: Appointment, Phone Call, Fax, etc. with Lotus TOTOs.  This should allow users work on the same project sharing Lotus and MS CRM data space.

If you need help in the integration or customization, feel free to call us: 1-630-961-5918, 1-866-528-0577, help@albaspectrum.com

Andrew Karasev is Chief Technology Officer at Alba Spectrum Technologies ( http://www.albaspectrum.com ) - Microsoft Business Solutions and IBM Lotus Domino Partner, serving corporate customers in the following industries: Aerospace & Defense, Medical & Healthcare, Distribution & Logistics, Wholesale & Retail, Chemicals, Oil & Gas, Placement & Recruiting, Advertising & Publishing, Textile, Pharmaceutical, Non-Profit, Beverages, Conglomerates, Apparels, Durables, Manufacturing and having locations in multiple states and internationally.

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Microsoft CRM messaging through Lotus Domino email server - balanced solution

Microsoft CRM and IBM Lotus Notes Domino seem to be taking completely different paths and if company is Microsoft oriented - we see MS CRM, MS Exchange, MS SQL Server, SharePoint, etc. In the case of Lotus Domino - it is opposite - Lotus is corporate Information Media and could technically play CRM role with internal messaging coming through Lotus Domino server. However realities of modern corporation give us multiple examples when Microsoft CRM and Lotus Domino should coexist in compromise. There are several reasons why corporation doesn't like to stick to one platform:
1. Balancing several platforms not to be trapped to the one-vendor solution. Imagine, that you placed all the eggs into one basket and then this basket went into the trouble (lawsuit, bankruptcy, mismanagement, hostile takeover - to name a few in the life of the modern American corporation)
2. Legacy-dependence. If your corporation uses such product as Lotus Notes/Domino for 10 plus years - you can expect that majority of documents are stored in the Lotus databases. Just conversion of this legacy database is multi-million dollars project. And again - we could not predict the future accurately - who will win or lose - IBM or Microsoft - or maybe they will merge
3. Procedures and flowcharts. Nowadays corporation works and builds its business model around computer business system, consider things like users training, functional flowcharts/diagrams, reporting to investors, IDE with company vendors and customer. And we'd dare to say that these things are computer application platform dependent (even being designed in the heads of corporation founding leaders as abstract business processes - then they were placed into the computer platform and had to fit to its pluses and minuses)
Considering these arguments and having multiple requests from Microsoft Business Solutions and directly from our prospects and customer, we have realized the connector, which allows Microsoft CRM use Lotus Domino email server with similar messaging functionality as Microsoft Exchange 2003/2000
Microsoft CRM Exchange connector needs to be installed and its DLL based functionality is superceded by our own DLL, which communicates with Lotus Domino server via Java Agents
You can always have us help you with the integration and customization. Call us: 1-866-528-0577, 1-630-961-5918.

Andrew Karasev is Chief Technology Officer in Alba Spectrum Technologies USA nationwide Microsoft CRM, Microsoft Great Plains customization company, serving clients in Chicago, California, Texas, New York, Georgia, Arizona, Louisiana, Michigan, Florida, Canada, UK, Australia, South Africa and having locations in multiple states and internationally ( http://www.albaspectrum.com ), he is Dexterity, SQL, C#.Net, Crystal Reports and Microsoft CRM SDK developer.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

CRM...

Here is my latest article. It may be freely used in ezines, on websites or in e-books, as long as the Resource Box is left intact.

I would appreciate notification of where it was used, and if possible, a copy of the ezine or newsletter that it was used in. Please send notification mailto:webmaster@online-wealth.com

=========================

I hate computers.

Now, coming from a person who's been involved with them since 1967, you might think that's a bit over the top.

Well...it's not *actually* the computers that's the problem, of course, it's the software - the programs that run in them, that I *really* hate.

I also hate ATMs. Now, that's a double whammy for the poor, dumb machines!

But, like computers on the desk, ATMs are everywhere, and by golly, there're *so* convenient, aren't they? However, now that we have ATMs and computers in an unholy alliance, specifically designed to ruin your day at any nanosecond, I was happy - *well, almost* - when I had to turn to the customer service desk at my local bank for help.

Y'see, the ATM had just swallowed my cash card and had issued this terse message: "Invalid transaction - card retained", to be immediately followed by another: "Please use another card and try again." Huh? I didn't *have* another card on me right now, did I! And, I knew that there was sufficient money in the account...

Naturally I was annoyed but, resisting the urge to give it a Coke machine kick, I went instead to the customer service desk to sort the problem out. Here, I thought, I'd get the attention I deserve as a good customer, you know, talk to a *real* person, blah, blah, blah...

Ever been to la-la land? Well, we all get there, once in a while I guess, but...at 9.30 in the morning? Bear with me, for a few moments, while I relate the nadir of Customer Relationship Management - aka CRM for all internet aficionados - a la local bank style...

ME: "Look...er...my son, Danny Burke, asked me to get some money from the machine, and that one" - me pointing accusingly -"just upped and took it. Would you be able to help, please?" I smile helpfully (I tried to look a bit sheepish also - that sometimes helps).

SHE: "You shouldn't have done that!" Slightly frowning, and a bit of a sharp note to her voice.

ME (nonplussed, eyebrows raised): "Huh...what...oh, yes, well, he gave me his PIN...he's in school now" - glancing at my watch - "so, he can't be..."

SHE (cutting in): "You're not supposed to use his PIN - unless of course you're AUTHORIZED." Voice definitely rising now, but not yet shrill. Glares at me, accusingly.

ME (defensively and now, a bit angry): "Hey...I know about PINs and their use...and I don't need a lecture from you!" (glaring back now). I had been part of the online systems development team, at one of the major Canadian banks, in the mid 70s...so, I knew whereof I spoke.

SHE (slightly retreating now): "Well!" A pause. "Well, where is the card, you say?" I point to the machine again.
"Well, I suppose I'll go and get it...one moment...please" (almost an afterthought, by the sound of it).

She stalks off. Idly, I contemplate darkly how hard I can jam some old receipts down an ATM slot when I leave...if I ever get outta here, as the band said, yeah, if I *ever* get outta here...where are *my* wings, I wonder?

Her shrill voice breaks my vengeful reverie.

SHE: "Well, here it is," waving it about triumphantly, "but you can't have the card back. It's *not* yours, you know...you'll have to get authorization from your son...a letter...to pick it up." Emphatically, she puts the card in a drawer, slams it shut. Thud! Smiling now, full set of ivories, dripping insincerity.

ME: "Huh...what?" (I know, I know...I tend to repeat myself!) But, before I could go on...

SHE: "Anyway, what happened? Why did the ATM take the card? Did you enter something incorrectly?" I couldn't believe her accusing tone. At any moment, I expected her to start shaking her finger at me.

I look at her blankly, but I'm thinking. Now that was the funny thing about this whole mess - I'd followed everything to the letter...er, number: key in PIN, hit WITHDRAW CASH, select correct account...hmmm, must be SAVINGS, Danny has no CHEQUE account, but just after I key-entered 140, the ATM issued the above messages and ate the card. That's it...kaput! I felt that I'd just been executed. Maybe it was some kind of read error on the unit? Most unlikely...the card had already been accepted - PIN, account, the lot! But, what then?

ME (finally shrugging, shaking my head): "Hmmm...well, no...there's no obvious reason...that I can think of..." Brow furrows, bites lip pensively.

SHE (primly): "Never mind, never MIND, either fill this form out for a new card", handing me another bank form, as if I didn't have enough already, "or get your son to bring a letter back...and then you can get the card back!" She said the last with more false bonhomie, teeth glittering.

As I walked away muttering, I glanced back at the large sign above the area: "Customer Service Desk". Some service, I thought; more like "Customer Punishment Area - SFA (that's Self Flagellation Acceptable)"! My only option now was to return with some sort of letter to satisfy these goons and their procedures...so much for *this* bank's customer relationship management program.

That woman on the service desk failed miserably at CRM: the cardinal rule is that the customer is always right, even when s/he's wrong. She didn't *have* to tell me that using another's PIN is not recommended; from Spitzbergen to Tierra del Fuego, everybody knows *that*, already! Additionally, she didn't even have the courtesy to address me by my name...

And, to cap it all, instead of apologizing to *me* for the inconvenience, she made me feel as though I had been the one to inconvenience *her*. Some service, huh?

Y'see, she was intent *only* on enforcing procedure, even to my detriment, instead of trying to get to the root cause of the problem...which, by the way, may also be happening to other customers. Even as I speak...

I was thinking about *that* as I drove back home, but put it aside, while I enlisted the aid of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. First things first, after all: get the card back, then worry about why I was card-swiped! This was going to be interesting, I thought, as I knew that Sherry had already had a run-in with the personnel in *that* particular branch some months ago...

Oh, the joys of online banking! ;-)

P.S. Part 2 will complete this sorry saga...

I would appreciate notification of where it was used, and if possible, a copy of the ezine or newsletter that it was used in. Please send notification mailto:webmaster@online-wealth.com

=========================

I hate computers.

Now, coming from a person who's been involved with them since 1967, you might think that's a bit over the top.

Well...it's not *actually* the computers that's the problem, of course, it's the software - the programs that run in them, that I *really* hate.

I also hate ATMs. Now, that's a double whammy for the poor, dumb machines!

But, like computers on the desk, ATMs are everywhere, and by golly, there're *so* convenient, aren't they? However, now that we have ATMs and computers in an unholy alliance, specifically designed to ruin your day at any nanosecond, I was happy - *well, almost* - when I had to turn to the customer service desk at my local bank for help.

Y'see, the ATM had just swallowed my cash card and had issued this terse message: "Invalid transaction - card retained", to be immediately followed by another: "Please use another card and try again." Huh? I didn't *have* another card on me right now, did I! And, I knew that there was sufficient money in the account...

Naturally I was annoyed but, resisting the urge to give it a Coke machine kick, I went instead to the customer service desk to sort the problem out. Here, I thought, I'd get the attention I deserve as a good customer, you know, talk to a *real* person, blah, blah, blah...

Ever been to la-la land? Well, we all get there, once in a while I guess, but...at 9.30 in the morning? Bear with me, for a few moments, while I relate the nadir of Customer Relationship Management - aka CRM for all internet aficionados - a la local bank style...

ME: "Look...er...my son, Danny Burke, asked me to get some money from the machine, and that one" - me pointing accusingly -"just upped and took it. Would you be able to help, please?" I smile helpfully (I tried to look a bit sheepish also - that sometimes helps).

SHE: "You shouldn't have done that!" Slightly frowning, and a bit of a sharp note to her voice.

ME (nonplussed, eyebrows raised): "Huh...what...oh, yes, well, he gave me his PIN...he's in school now" - glancing at my watch - "so, he can't be..."

SHE (cutting in): "You're not supposed to use his PIN - unless of course you're AUTHORIZED." Voice definitely rising now, but not yet shrill. Glares at me, accusingly.

ME (defensively and now, a bit angry): "Hey...I know about PINs and their use...and I don't need a lecture from you!" (glaring back now). I had been part of the online systems development team, at one of the major Canadian banks, in the mid 70s...so, I knew whereof I spoke.

SHE (slightly retreating now): "Well!" A pause. "Well, where is the card, you say?" I point to the machine again.
"Well, I suppose I'll go and get it...one moment...please" (almost an afterthought, by the sound of it).

She stalks off. Idly, I contemplate darkly how hard I can jam some old receipts down an ATM slot when I leave...if I ever get outta here, as the band said, yeah, if I *ever* get outta here...where are *my* wings, I wonder?

Her shrill voice breaks my vengeful reverie.

SHE: "Well, here it is," waving it about triumphantly, "but you can't have the card back. It's *not* yours, you know...you'll have to get authorization from your son...a letter...to pick it up." Emphatically, she puts the card in a drawer, slams it shut. Thud! Smiling now, full set of ivories, dripping insincerity.

ME: "Huh...what?" (I know, I know...I tend to repeat myself!) But, before I could go on...

SHE: "Anyway, what happened? Why did the ATM take the card? Did you enter something incorrectly?" I couldn't believe her accusing tone. At any moment, I expected her to start shaking her finger at me.

I look at her blankly, but I'm thinking. Now that was the funny thing about this whole mess - I'd followed everything to the letter...er, number: key in PIN, hit WITHDRAW CASH, select correct account...hmmm, must be SAVINGS, Danny has no CHEQUE account, but just after I key-entered 140, the ATM issued the above messages and ate the card. That's it...kaput! I felt that I'd just been executed. Maybe it was some kind of read error on the unit? Most unlikely...the card had already been accepted - PIN, account, the lot! But, what then?

ME (finally shrugging, shaking my head): "Hmmm...well, no...there's no obvious reason...that I can think of..." Brow furrows, bites lip pensively.

SHE (primly): "Never mind, never MIND, either fill this form out for a new card", handing me another bank form, as if I didn't have enough already, "or get your son to bring a letter back...and then you can get the card back!" She said the last with more false bonhomie, teeth glittering.

As I walked away muttering, I glanced back at the large sign above the area: "Customer Service Desk". Some service, I thought; more like "Customer Punishment Area - SFA (that's Self Flagellation Acceptable)"! My only option now was to return with some sort of letter to satisfy these goons and their procedures...so much for *this* bank's customer relationship management program.

That woman on the service desk failed miserably at CRM: the cardinal rule is that the customer is always right, even when s/he's wrong. She didn't *have* to tell me that using another's PIN is not recommended; from Spitzbergen to Tierra del Fuego, everybody knows *that*, already! Additionally, she didn't even have the courtesy to address me by my name...

And, to cap it all, instead of apologizing to *me* for the inconvenience, she made me feel as though I had been the one to inconvenience *her*. Some service, huh?

Y'see, she was intent *only* on enforcing procedure, even to my detriment, instead of trying to get to the root cause of the problem...which, by the way, may also be happening to other customers. Even as I speak...

I was thinking about *that* as I drove back home, but put it aside, while I enlisted the aid of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. First things first, after all: get the card back, then worry about why I was card-swiped! This was going to be interesting, I thought, as I knew that Sherry had already had a run-in with the personnel in *that* particular branch some months ago...

Oh, the joys of online banking! ;-)

P.S. Part 2 will complete this sorry saga...

Roger Burke has been involved with computers since 1967, and has managed to break quite a few, over the years. He, and his wife Sherry, are now actively engaged in online self-publishing and promoting specific affiliate programs at http://online-wealth.com . If you have any comments or questions about this article, please send emails to mailto:webmaster@online-wealth.com .
Copyright 2001, Online-Wealth. All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

CRM: Technology vs Culture

CRM: Its at the forefront of todays business vocabulary. $6.7 billion was spent globally on CRM software in 2001 - communication, behaviour and culture are equally crucial factors in making CRM successful too.
CRM: Technology v Culture By Cheryl Rickman

CRM: Its at the forefront of todays business vocabulary and, according to Meridien Research, $6.7 billion was spent globally on Customer Relationship Management software in 2001. However, businesses are increasingly learning that technology and software alone cannot make a CRM system successful, and that communication, behaviour and culture are equally crucial factors in developing a successful CRM strategy.

New Internet technologies have arisen, such as Computer Internet Integration (CII), Chat, Push, and Callback, which enable one-to-one customer/consultant conversations and let advisors take control of the customers browser to help them navigate and buy. However, in the same way that companies have traditionally had problems managing effective in-house call centres, today web companies are finding live customer service to be time consuming and labour-intensive.

Some companies say they have the solution. Microsoft (obviously in there somewhere) will be releasing their new customer relationship management product, MSCRM, due out by the end of the year. This promises increased sales force automation for small businesses and is, apparently, not aiming at the enterprise market.

A company aiming at the both the SME and enterprise market is SalesForce. They aim to become the world's first "enterprise automation utility" by delivering (CRM), sales force automation (SFA) and financial software over the Web, competing directly with giants such as Siebel, PeopleSoft, SAP and Microsoft Great Plains. And with customers paying as little as $65 per month for their low-end service, its a more affordable CRM application, which is apparently quick and easy to implement.

The Professional Edition application (its current offering) does not allow for real-time integration with back-office systems and offers only limited customisation. To address these shortcomings Salesforce.com has announced its Enterprise Edition, which is aimed at larger companies, plus an introductory offline edition, available for use on a laptop, and a wireless version accessible via any PalmOS device.

Another solution comes from Transform People International (TPI). Unlike the aforementioned companies, TPI is not a software company. Its a management consultancy, specialising in behavioural analysis and transformation, organisational change and training. Naturally they focus less on the technology and more on developing connections and transforming behaviour, attitudes and styles the grass roots of CRM know how your customer thinks, what their needs and wants are; how you think and how to best engage effectively with each person to generate optimum results.

Its the value of knowledge about customer needs and buying habits that is becoming more important along with changing business cultures and deepening connections with customers. TPI understand this and have launched their new Connections Tool as a result: an online diagnostic tool that aims to improve connection and communication with customers in 4 simple steps. Rising above regular sales techniques, the Connection Tool builds on both CRM technology and behavioural understanding. The output provides a written summary of the main characteristics of the person, with an overview of how they act when under pressure. It also provides an overview of what drives that person, with key tactics and strategies for better connection. http://www.transformpeople.com/connections/tpiintroduction.htm

The TPI Connections Tool grew out of Transform People Internationals experience in delivering organisational change in many global corporations across a wide cross-section of vertical markets ranging from communications and technology to packaging. As well as an acute awareness that, by understanding behaviour, businesses can improve communication and develop relationships more successfully.

Technology V Culture

An Information Masters survey revealed that, Technology and information are responsible for, at most, 25 per cent of your CRM competence. Other assets that are important include brands, messages (sadly neglected), staff knowledge, policies, processes and rules.

And, according to Robert Shaw, founding director of the consultancy CRM Best Practice, The danger is that many organisations are now investing huge sums in the wrong things. The technology is excellent in many cases, the problem lies with how we apply it. We invest too much time in selecting one-hit solutions and too little time in creating the business vision, adds Robert. Bad CRM is easy. You just read the press, go to a few exhibitions, choose some software, hire some systems implementers, and bingo, you have a Web site, a call centre, or a mailing database. Most important for good CRM is to have an offensive strategy, not a defensive one. Waiting until competitors threaten you, then responding to them or copying them is a recipe for failure. You need to take time out to create the vision.

And that vision includes developing an analytical attitude towards customer, staff and client behaviour. A vision mirrored by Transform People.

How you asses the person youre developing a relationship with, how you assess your own behaviour and your organisational behaviour, and how you engage with people are crucial to making CRM more effective, Says Ian Mills, Director of Transform People International.

Arthur OConnor, leading expert on CRM and columnist for www.ecrmguide.com, agrees, Some businesses spend a fortune striving to engage, attract, and sell prospects -- only to take extreme measures to avoid interacting with these same people after they become customers.

He adds that the Call Centre hasnt been the best choice for those striving to improve CRM. Many companies brought in poorly trained, ill-equipped people to serve as their primary customer interface, says Athur. Resulting in Corporate Schizophrenia.

Evidently then, it is the behaviour of staff, the behaviour and experience of your customers, combined with a winning strategy and good technology that will improve a CRM strategys chances of success.

Afterall, a CRM package only has real and tangible value if it is backed by a strategy, agrees Ronni T. Marshak, senior vice president of the Patricia Seybold Group.

In building a robust customer relationship objectives should include reducing the cost of acquiring new customers, cross-selling and up-selling to existing customers, closing more sales, targeting more lucrative markets, and creating conditions to make those goals more obtainable. "Most of those conditions have nothing to do with CRM technology itself," says Marshak.

"A company that wants to become truly customer-centric rather than just paying lip service to the notion may have to reengineer fundamental business processes and change prevailing attitudes altogether," he concludes.

Evidently then, the success of CRM rests on both technology and organisational change and the willingness of organisations and individuals to assess and analyse behaviour to improve connection and deepen relationships.

The best technology in the world cannot incur the required cultural, organisational and behavioural change that is needed to drive effective CRM strategies. The difficulty is getting people to change the way they work, to use the technology and to interact with the customer differently. So says Micheal Juer, Director of Sales Pathways Ltd.

There is now a shift occurring where businesses are beginning to realise that they have to work with their customers, and technology is becoming a secondary issue to that. But it is that cultural shift that you need to do, in order to actually deliver good customer service and differentiate yourself from your competitors in the market place.

Customer relationship management should be seen as a strategic response to a set of customer, staff and business needs. And as long as businesses focus on those crucial points and not just technology alone: working with customers and facing organisational and cultural change, their CRM results will improve.

7 Tips for CRM Success:

Define your business objectives and goals against which results can be measured. Give each CRM project three dimensions: people, processes and technology. Establish a systematic approach to project management including team development, IT, marketing, services, sales and management, as well as software. Clearly identify corporate and customer needs. Research requirements, behaviour and how to engage and deliver effectively. Manage organisational change effectively. The human factor is imperative to a projects success. Invest in training more essential than any piece of software. Focus on proactive selling, management and relationship building to effectively upsell and cross-sell.

Cheryl Rickman is author of '111 winning ways to promote your website successfully' and contributes regularly to Better Business magazine, Digitrends.com and Internet.com. She offers website appraisals, copywriting and marketing via http://www.webcritique.co.uk

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