In the past ten years, $75 billion has been spent on CRM software, according to Gartner analyst Michael Maoz. During that time, customer satisfaction has risen only 3-5 percent. It’s not entirely fair to call CRM a failure – implementation and adoption make a difference and some solutions are better than others. In other words, your mileage may vary. But Maoz suggests another alternative: listen to your customer service representatives. “After all: they hear what customers are saying, and feel their pain,” he writes. “It’s just that no one in management has cared to tap into the employee.”

I think the problem here, as I mentioned here, is that too much customer “service” is being done in Taylorist call centers by workers whose mission is to upsell and get off the phone as quickly as possible to take another call. They receive poor pay, no benefits and their attention is entirely monopolized. They have no cognitive bandwidth for creative solutions or business process engineering. They don’t even work for the company they’re representing.

These aren’t the workers CRM is designed for, so blaming the technology won’t get us anywhere.Technological solutions can only do so much, and there doesn’t seem to be any will to rectify this situation. Companies continue outsourcing their customer service to cognitive sweatshops, then wonder why customers complain about them on Twitter.

That said, stuff like idea management and employee feedback systems like Rypple give us some hope that process and people can co-exist peacefully and, hopefully, productively. Meanwhile, we’re also seeing how activity streams can connect disparate parts of a company. And Adobe is at least trying to rethink customer experience. The pieces are all there, just waiting for someone to connect them. If companies are wiling to de-ghettoize customer service and get them involved in the company, maybe we’ll see some real progress.

Photo by Vitor Lima