We’ve been going through big changes at the Spine over the last several months, but by far the biggest change is that Bill, with his unstoppable do-it-yourself spirit, has almost single-handedly transitioned us from a cut-and-paste email and spreadsheet business management system to an actual customer relationship management (CRM) software called Salesforce. Bill had to do a ton of customization and programming work to get us there, but now that the new system’s up and running it’s beautiful.
I never thought I’d say that about a piece of software, but there you have it. It’s more efficient, of course — it automates some general information emails, automatically adds customers’ pre-move questionnaire answers to their move records, and even lets us map routes and figure total trip mileages with the click of a button. It’s a much better tool for doing what we’ve been doing almost every single day for more than a decade, and for that reason alone it’s a lovely thing. It’s like we’re carpenters, on the job for twelve long years, going from handsaws to beautiful new power saws almost overnight. Our lives will never be the same again — well, at least our work lives.
Maybe more important than the fact that it makes our work easier and more efficient, though, is the fact that the system collects all our customer information in one place, from how they heard about us, to whether they want us to make an additional stop at storage, to how happy they are when the work is done. With all that information in one place, we can begin to ask questions about our work, get some data-driven answers, and hopefully make our business better.
To give just one example, we pay for different kinds of on-line advertising, from Google Adwords to Angie’s List to Yelp. With our old cut-and-paste system, it would have taken a lot of time and effort to find out how well our ad strategies were working. So we never really did it. We were spending money on ads, but we only had a vague, intuitive sense of whether or not a particular ad strategy was working. Our Salesforce system, though, tracks advertising results automatically: when folks fill out their information to get a moving quote via our web site, we ask them how they heard about us. And voila, we have some solid information that will hopefully help us make smarter decisions about how we spend our advertising money.
There’s a very tiny part of me that worries we’ve gone corporate. Even the name — Customer Relationship Management Software — makes me think of office parks and khakis and brightly colored golf polos. A tiny part of me feels guilty that, for example, I’ll no longer have to personally send out emails asking customers if we did a good job on their move. I still care just as much whether or not our customers are happy, but now I don’t have to remember to send those emails asking for customer feedback every week or so. But will my not having to think about those emails so often, or realize in a sudden panic that I forgot to send those emails out, make the emails less meaningful or sincere? More importantly, can you tell I was raised Catholic?
I’m being a little facetious, but the real issue is that nearly effortless technology can help us take better care of people. And something about that rubs me in a funny way. For example, does wishing your friend happy birthday mean less than it used to mean if now you only wish your friend a happy birthday because Facebook reminded you to? Or is Facebook just a better birthday reminder calendar than you could have ever imagined back in the early 90’s?
The truth is, I would sometimes forget to send those feedback emails out and customer service would suffer. But that won’t ever happen again; my remembering and forgetting has been removed from the equation, and mostly I’m just relieved. It’s wonderful to have that routine, brain-space consuming task off my plate and also to know that the task will get executed flawlessly in the future. When technology saves us from stress and drudgery, it’s a beautiful thing. And when technology helps wrest order out of chaos, like Salesforce does for us, when it organizes the world into discrete quantities in columns and rows, then you can use that information to help you figure out how to do things better.
As khaki-pants and polo shirt as it sounds, I’m really looking forward to running some reports.