It’s been said CRM is more like a journey than an event. It’s also a statement that Frank Erschen, vice-president in the BMO Financial Group’s technology and solutions division, takes to heart.

At a recent customer presentation, Erschen was heard describing the Bank of Montreal’s CRM journey,

four years long and counting, as akin to the ride experienced in A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The book chronicles the exploits of hapless hero Arthur Dent who travels through the galaxy, stumbling from one misadventure to the next. Somehow though, Dent manages to keep about him a sense of whimsy and a good nature.

To be sure, Erschen’s mission, which involves a large-scale roll out of customer service software, is a lot more down to earth.

But it has its perils too. “”CRM can be many hurdles and curves encountered, requiring fortitude, creativity, passion and a lot of hard work by many people,”” Erschen says.

And the journey is far from complete. The first implementation of the system, using software from Siebel Systems, was launched in 1999 to 500 users in one of BMO’s U.S.-based operations. Since then, it has been rolled out to 2,000 employees in 2001, and 2000 more in 2002. Another 13,000 employees in call centres and branches across the country have yet to be implemented.

There’s a lot more to it than just the software. Several changes need to be made to the bank’s technology infrastructure including replacing seven platforms with one, consolidating the number of data-bases and re-engineering many of the processes.

The problem? “”You can’t sell a project on the basis of improving your infrastructure, you need to show the business benefits upfront,”” he says.

To demonstrate this value, Erschen showed how a better infrastructure not only leads to better customer service, it can translate into more products being sold.

For example, on the call centre side, BMO Service reps were often putting the customer on hold while looking for information previously stored in several different places. With all this data, such as a complete history of all customer contacts made located in one file, the conversation between service rep and customer, as Erschen says, “”becomes a lot more

relevant.”” It also gives the service rep the chance to up-sell or cross-sell different bank products more easily.

For BMO’s management, it’s a similar story. It’s also about having all the information they need to do their jobs in one spot.

The benefits, however, can be seen as a lot broader. Erschen likes to compare where the bank was four years ago to where it is now. In 1999, the bank had all kinds of sales and service platforms. The focus was on product lines and businesses rather than the customer.

In 2003, it has one sales and service platform for all its branches, call centres and support centres, and the focus is on the customer.

And while there is still some way to go before the bank rolls out the entire system, the basics are in place. The journey can continue.

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