Stripped-Down CRM Helps Kayak Stay Afloat


I posed the question how much CRM do SMBs need in a blog post last August. The answer: "Not as much as most vendors would have us think."


An approach advocated by one source I cited in my post, James Wong of Avidian Technologies, was to begin with a contact management or sales force automation system, migrating to a more full-fledged CRM system if and when more end-to-end capabilities are desired.


I recently encountered another instance of an SMB opting for a non-traditional approach to CRM on CNNMoney.com. Rather than ponying up for a costly system from Oracle or another CRM vendor, Travel Web site Kayak.com uses an online Intuit database called QuickBase, which automatically gathers the feedback submitted by Kayak customers.


Though the tool itself is a little surprising, Kayak's process for dealing with the data is where it gets downright unconventional. The company has no dedicated customer-service staff. Instead, each of Kayak's 58 employees spends about 20 minutes a day tending to customer issues, a practice Kayak's co-founder Paul English figures saves the company about $300,000 a year. In addition to saving money, Kayak's approach results in better service, contends English. He says:

We fix customer problems in real-time. Paying an engineer to do that for 20 minutes is cheaper than outsourcing the problem.
QuickBase tracks all complaints and responses on a giant screen at Kayak's HQ in Norwalk, Conn., according to the article, and inattentive employees are marked in red.


Kayak's approach to customer service reminds me of online shoe retailer Zappo's, which I featured in a blog post in May. Like Zappo's, Kayak appears to understand the importance of making customer satisfaction central to its company strategy. This is an area in which many SMBs can outdistance their larger competitors, say experts.