Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

CRM and the due diligence of keeping everyone on the same page

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on August 19, 2010

I recently met with the director for strategy and the office manager/accountant for a small but growing nonprofit and one of the topics under discussion was front desk coverage. This nonprofit offers health and fitness related classes and has a busy, active community of members. Front desk workers are very important to the functioning of this organization as a result, as they are the people responsible for signing members up for courses and signing them in for attending specific classes, getting prospective members started in their registration process and in joining, and a range of other community facing tasks. I have stated many times in this blog that the most important employee in any organization is the one who faces and interacts directly with that organization’s customers and the communities it serves, and this organization shows how true that can be.

I asked a leading question as to process for managing customer relations management in this meeting and drew a blank stare from the director of strategy and a firmly stated assurance that “this is not how we do it – I never said we do that, did I?” And the point of discord was very telling, and forms the basis for this posting.

Vilfredo Pareto’s principle highlights how often individual events and independent decisions organize according to a power law probability distribution for frequency of occurrence, and this principle applies strongly to a help desk or customer service and support context. As many as 80% and even 90% or more of the issues and questions raised by clients of these services generally fit into a small fraction of the overall list of possible selections, and usually within the top 10% or less of issues, problems and questions considered. At a place like this, it can reasonably be expected that members and prospective members could ask any of hundreds of different questions or raise any of hundreds of different issues but 90% and even 95% of the time they will ask concerning one of the top dozen or so. My question was one of how this organization maintained a standardized list of vetted responses for this commonest few at the very least.

• This can help bring those part time and shorter term student interns and other new employees up to speed more quickly for working that front desk.
• They can limit (though not eliminate) the potential for a “but he said this and now you are saying that” conflict with a member.
• Much of this type of list can be developed into a frequently asked question (FAQ) document and be made available online and as handouts in hard copy.
• This type of list can help you identify when new significant and recurring problems and issues are coming up so you can prepare to deal with them in a more systematic manner. In this, the top ten or top dozen list may be stable now but these lists do change and can do so all of a sudden in response to unanticipated circumstance.

I asked a loaded question here insofar as my wording assumed that something was being done to develop and share standardized responses, or at the very least standardized templates to answers where specific answers might, for example, have to address specific classes and courses but about standard, recurring issues related to them. And they were not doing any of this.

The people I met with saw front desk coverage as an essential function, and one they needed to work on, both to keep this cost-effective and to maintain full coverage throughout their hours of operation. But they were thinking and executing ad hoc and with the additional learning curve requirements for new employees and the potential for inconsistencies and disconnects that ad hoc here can and does bring with it.

The issues I write of here apply to small but growing nonprofits and to large and even global corporations and I will add that they become more and more important and more and more expensive for doing wrong as the organization scales up.

If these issues can hinder the smaller organization they can effectively strangle the larger and more complex one. I have seen that happen in the internal-to-the-organization client and customer context of the IT help desk, and certainly when new technology is being implemented, with usability questions and implementation bugs and problems to sort out and resolve, and all at once. So this is a due diligence and risk remediation problem that I write of as much as it is one of cost effectiveness and customer relations management per se.

One of the two people I met with at this organization had a vacation scheduled, so I was told it would be a few weeks before they got back to me with a decision on whether to bring me in to work with them. That decision would presumably be made towards the end of this month. We spoke about their web site and blast emails and other issues as well as this one, but their front desk was their primary focus, and issues and problems they were seeing there.

As a final thought in this posting I add that problems of this sort need to be fully understood before you can develop and implement best practices fixes that will really work in your context and with capacity to scale up and adjust as needs and circumstances do. This may and probably will mean reevaluating some of the basic operational processes in place and that may call for changes that would go beyond that front desk point of customer and client contact per se. But this exercise does bring value, and looking for opportunity to improve on this area of your operational practices should be a core part of your ongoing organizational due diligence processes.

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