Different time zone and customer relationship management

Came back from Taiwan after an intensive customer training (yes, an excuse for my laziness in blogging), and found an entry at Suda Fujiko referring to my old comment. Before updating the silly pictures I took there, let’s elaborate it in English more.

Recently our office decided to move every customer related activity and their histories – sales account and support calls – into a single database, provided from a very major company so put a link here, since I am not an advocate of their offerings. After some detailed documents circled around the mailing list (the kind that you jump at it enthusiastically wondering it might solve all the mysteries around that fancy buzzword, 30 minutes later decides “today might not be the perfect timing to digest this sophisticated idea”, put it in a folder neatly named “technical information” and it stays there never being accessed until you search for some document to be deleted in order to save hard disk space), the online & telephone training has taken place.

Four locations, each in differenct time zone. New York, California, France, and Tokyo. It sounds cool when written down like this, but by “Tokyo” means it was held in my shabby apartment with me sitting in front of my laptop in the same blogging style as usual. The only thing different was the Chinese soap opera running on the Satellite channel. I could have kept it running silent just for BGV, but shut it down because it was going to steal my every attention. The plot is always like this, with minor twist: Mobsters blackmail a poilce officer for smuggling drug + He has an affair with a young secretary + The secretary is the love child of the mobster head + An international bank group is dealing with both sides. You’ll never know what you’ll gonna get in the next moment. No, we all know too well what we want.

California – 8:00, kickstarting the meeting with a vigorous message “Any question? Do you get it?” sometimes, I guess, also to wake themselves up.
New York – 11:00, not sleepy, not too energetic, getting the right energy and understanding flow. Puts the right question at the right timing in a right way.
France – 18:00, time to close the office (or maybe way past). Rather in a skeptical mode: “Do we need to do this?”
Tokyo – 25:00, dead. (also exhausted from installing a huge chunk of Java or whatever applet to show the online presentation. Took 15 minutes away from everybody else and when finished installation, I felt like the whole thing already finished) The brain refuses to work in an active mode, much less in productive mode. …..this is not so clear….. “OK, everybody got it? Let’s move on!” ….ah, never mind….

I must say the training session helped me understanding the procedure and structure of online customer relationship. But probably not because of the session itself, it is more about the preparation done beforehand – reading the document, visiting Salesforce website, putting some comment on account history, such. The session had two meaning, both are not so related to understanding the solution. First the vendor justified their initial support fee by putting a training session (and mentioning every single function that needs to be mentioned for later record), and second our group has finally realized that database was not in the trial period any more – we had to adjust our behaviour from that moment. The training session delivered a message from the upper management – “We are serious”.

I think the biggest reason a lot of companies are adopting the customer-relationship database is because it makes them easier (or makes them believe it is easier) to treat each employees as a single piece of the puzzle called business model. When it’s not fitting into the big picture, take it off and put another in. “It is crucial for the business to collect information in a non-volatile manner” <- Separate the employee and the information so that the latter won't be lost when we have to get rid of the former "Put every activities to the database so everybody can work in a synchronized way" <- So the replacement can start working from the next day he is hired.

By adopting this scheme, the top level and the bottom level will leave the company, and the once-leading company will turn into mediocre, the marginal company might gain some momentum(as the vendor advertises). The top ones leave since they can’t put up with a hint of beaurocratic manner, and the bottom ones leave since they are easily pulled out in front of everybody showing what they are actually doing behind the bragging comments (let’s not focus on my own status). If the management team focuses on the latter effect, they will surely get what they want. But how many of them realizes the former effect, the possiblity of brain drainage? It will not only lead to losing the edge, it will decrease the morality and motivation. Once you realize the best one is leaving the group, suddenly you no longer believe in its power, in the leaders, and ultimately in yourself.

No matter the side effects are, the database management system will never make a good company into an excellent one. It is a tool for mediocre people who want to success by staying mediocre(never denying their lives), believing incremental and predictable step is the only way to survive. The guys who invented the system itself is magnificently smart, that’s sure, and it seems all the hypes are focused on their smartness to foresee the future of the CRM business’s success. But the more smarter the creator is, frequently the more stupid (or lazy) the user becomes. Isn’t CRM the case?

In every business group or unit, there are one or two “key person” who are vital to what makes the group the way they are. They can be recognized by looking into the activity history, but, the problem is it is hard to recognize them from the con man who does no real work but just creating a non-existent important activites just by looking into the database. The key person, who are admired and sought after, are in a lot of cases humble enough to share his credit with others which means they usually have more credit than what appears on the database. Everybody working with him or her knows it, but the management label who becomes lazy not to interact with the lower level and starts to look into the electrical files thanks to the “system”. The tool starts to make them trapped inside it.

Just like we can say “Just in time (Kanban)” = slavery, we can call “CRM” = imprisonment.