CRM Upgrade Giving AT&T Wireless Headaches

A new problem is prohibiting some wireless service reps from accessing select records and viewing some GSM/GPRS service customer accounts.
AT&T Wireless Services Inc. seems to have hit a new snag stemming from a glitch first recognized six weeks ago that, until recently, kept an unspecified number of customers waiting to activate their GSM/GPRS services.

The delays were related to a problem-prone upgrade to its customer-relationship-management software, which is designed to give AT&T Wireless customer-service reps easier access to customer-account and billing information, as well as prompt them to sell complementary services.

But the latest snafu is prohibiting AT&T's wireless service reps from accessing select records and viewing some GSM/GPRS service customer accounts, according to several operators speaking on condition of anonymity.

An AT&T Wireless spokesman describes the CRM problem as "isolated" and largely resolved. Service activations are not being delayed, he says. However, there still are problems with the upgrade, the spokesman says, and the company hasn't said when it will work as designed.

The company's problems began Nov. 1, as AT&T began to upgrade its CRM platform. Phone service for reps typically is activated within minutes of an upgrade, but some customers spent hours on the phone trying to get through to operators. Once they reached an operator, the wait to actually activate the services stretched for days.

AT&T Wireless said in 2001 it would standardize its customer-facing operation on Siebel Systems Inc. software. Since then, AT&T developed and integrated some portions of the software itself.

"Several elements could impact an organization's ability to make an easy transition," says Laura Preslan, research director at AMR Research. "The biggest one is the level of customization performed on the previous version. Major customizations have been made to 90% of CRM implementations today."

Even without customization worries, new CRM architectures can seem deceptively easy to digest, Preslan says. Migrating to a new version typically puts the company's operations at some risk. Not only must it train employees on the new functionality, but the IT department must learn how to support a new set of tools as well.

Despite risks, she says, companies continue to deploy new and upgraded software, estimating the global CRM market to reach $10.9 billion in 2004, up from $9.8 billion this year.