Proof That Getting Hung Up on Bad Service Isn't the End of the Line; You May Not Know Much about the Complex Business of Customer Relationship Management, but It Can Leave You Despairing at a Company's Apparent Indifference to Your Problem. PAUL McKILLION Reports

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Byline: Paul McKillion

MANY of us can recount horror stories of phoning a call centre and being subjected to a 15 minute wait before getting though to a surly operator who can do precious little to solve your problem or answer your query.

And yet, billions of pounds are spent every year on Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems which are supposed to take the pain out of this process.

So what has gone wrong?

Jeffrey Peel believes he has the answer. In his new book, he describes what the experience could be like.

'What a relief it is when we find an organisation that does things differently - that listens to us, owns our problem, provides a solution exactly suited to our needs.

'It then checks back to ensure we continue to be happy. Then after building up a relationship with us, contacts us and suggests ways of saving money or doing things better.

'Or, more likely, we may contact such organisations ourselves and we will fully expect that they will know of previous communications or transactions and will give us extra special service as a result.

'What an utter relief but so rarely it happens.'

Not only has the book, CRM: Redefining Customer Relationship Management, been published but a new market research business called Quadriga Consulting has also been set up.

The business is not totally new. Mr Peel started up and ran Quadriga Consulting from the south east of England for three years in the mid-1990s, with clients like IBM, Natwest and Fujitsu, before being acquired by a New Jersey company called Research Analysis Corporation.

He left the firm, which itself had been acquired by a bigger US company, in 2000 to join Belfast firm Amacis, the CRM software vendor, to head up its marketing division.

'There was so much going on back home' says Mr Peel.

After a two year stint with Amacis, and in a classic example of working within the knowledge economy, the decision was then made to set up a Northern Ireland-based Quadriga Consulting, even though a lot of clients are London- based.

'I wanted to come back to do what I was doing all those years ago. I re-established the brand and because I'm based here, there was no reason to move anywhere else.

'A business like this can be based anywhere on earth.'

Quadriga's services includes customer satisfaction surveys to see how well a company's CRM system is performing. As the above quotation from the book shows, it is often the case that a business isn't getting the returns it really should from what can be a very expensive outlay.

There are many reasons for this.

'I think one of the problems is that CRM has been hijacked by technology companies and they have tried to make it appear as something that costs an awful lot of money, and something that requires a huge investment in systems.

'I think what is needed is a significant investment in developing a CRM ethos around an organisation.'

The complexity of the system depends on the service being offered.

A simple purchase is not as complicated in managing online and telephone banking services.

'It's really about understanding your business model enough to know what CRM processes need to be put in place.

'And sometimes technology is appropriate and sometimes it's not - it's just about an appropriate attitude in terms of staff, training and an application right from the top management team.'

The call centre has become the classic example of how not to do it.

Although much work has gone into improving this sector, there are still enough sweatshop-type facilities to maintain the widely held belief that they do not offer a good service.

'Certainly in terms of call centre staff, a lot of people when they think of CRM think call centres because that is part of the organisation that has direct relationship with call centre. …