Earlier this month, I wrote about Silicon Valley veteran Joe Salesky, CEO of CRMNEXT, who argued that his company’s customer relationship management software could have prevented the scandal at Wells Fargo, in which bank employees were found to have fraudulently opened more than 1.5 million deposit and credit accounts without customer authorization. A specific dimension of this story warrants further discussion: What is CRMNEXT — an Indian company — getting right, that U.S. CRM software providers have gotten wrong?
The way I framed that question in my interview with Salesky was to ask him in what ways CRMNEXT’s heritage as an Indian company contributed to its wherewithal to deliver a CRM platform that’s more technologically advanced than those from U.S. CRM providers like Salesforce. First of all, Salesky responded, we need to remember that the entrepreneurial culture of Silicon Valley is every bit as present in New Delhi and Mumbai, and that innovation is a global phenomenon:
I came in as CEO a little over six months ago, and it’s been very interesting for me to understand the culture, and understand the teams. But there’s no question, India has a tremendous number of engineers who are interested in software, which I think is a blend of engineering and art, and India loves art. I think innovation happens around the world. We just happen to live in Silicon Valley, with access to capital, and great companies with great people — there’s a bit of a perfect storm here. But what isn’t in the Valley are banks that have to operate much more efficiently. The Indian economy is huge. Scalable, enterprise, real CRM, that understands the depth of a customer relationship, becomes essential, especially in the business-to-consumer world, where the scale is very different. We have five banks that have more than 50 million customers — that’s five banks that are bigger than Bank of America.
CRMNEXT, which caters to banking and financial services firms, didn’t even enter the U.S. market until earlier this year. The impetus for the company, Salesky said, was that across Asia and Africa, there are some really big banks:
One of the banks we work with, one of the largest banks in the world, has 300 million customers. By the end of next year, they’ll have half a billion customers. They have 375,000 people who will be using our platform to assist customers, and all of those customers will be self-serving on the platform. So there’s some scale that requires that things be done well — as a proving ground for technology, a bank this size is every bit as much of a bank that a U.S. bank is, but they’ve got to do it with a level of efficiency that will help them grow and be profitable. We now have half a million bank employees on our platform, serving about half a billion customers globally. So I think we’ve got a good sample set.
According to Salesky, it all comes down to a different take on CRM:
[Salesforce founder and CEO] Marc Benioff is a friend — I was with him at Oracle, I think the world of Marc. But his version of CRM is much more business-to-business CRM. It’s about managing leads and opportunities. So I would actually call that either an opportunity management system or a lead management system — it’s really not a customer action center. I think in most cases those tools are used like they were when Tom Siebel invented CRM — to keep track of the customer interaction. Sort of like a general ledger keeping track of your transactions, CRM is keeping track of the last time we talked, what we said. It’s sort of a log. It works well for certain B2B tracking opportunities.
Salesky explained that in B2C, on the other hand, CRM needs to be the tool that orchestrates automation:
The next wave in innovation is about removing friction. The way I define friction is very simple: Is it easier for you to get another product with me as an existing vendor to you, like your bank, or is it just as easy for you to go get that product from another party? You can measure this with Amazon — once you’ve done an online purchase with Amazon, it’s absolutely easier for you to do another purchase with Amazon, than to go to anybody else. They’ve got your info, your payment details — it’s literally one click. They’ve taken out the friction.
The problem, Salesky said, is that banks in the United States haven’t gotten there yet:
If you walk into your current bank and say you want a credit card, vs. going over to Capital One, for example, you would find it no easier at your current bank, because the credit card system lives in a silo. And by the way, this is what bit Wells Fargo. You want to benefit from knowledge of the customers, to know what products fit them, and make it really easy — the average product should only take a few questions to onboard you. … When you walk into a bank, there’s no way the banker is going to turn his screen around and show it to you. Part of the reason behind that is it’s a 30-year-old green screen, and just to do anything, like an address change, is 14 screen hops. I’m not kidding — we can go to any bank you want and get them to turn their screen around, and count. There’s no way that banks are going to be able to recruit great people — the minute young people take a look at that, they go, “You’ve got to be kidding.”
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.