by John Clark
Date Published - Last Updated February 26, 2016

In the past, when the IT organization was essentially a monopoly, concern for the customer experience was often secondary to concern for alignment with industry frameworks. As the competitive landscape for IT services shifted—from outsourcing to automation and the cloud, not to mention the emergence of channels like social and mobile—IT began to focus on improving customer service and the customer experience. When customers are won and lost based on service quality, cost, and performance, managing services and the customer relationship are critically important.

ITSM and customer relationship management (CRM) are industries, frameworks, technologies, and approaches that have traditionally been applied to very different business processes, workloads, and segments of the organization. But with the degree of consolidation and standardization taking place in both industries, there’s more commonality than diversity between CRM and ITSM.

Service management is a business concept that focuses on improving the customer experience. ITSM grew out of this concept, targeting IT workloads, processes, and services. As ITSM has matured, it has both leveraged and contributed to non-IT frameworks and concepts, and, as a result, many ITSM principles are applicable to departments and divisions outside of IT.

CRM targets an organization’s marketing, sales, and customer service processes and workflows. In essence, CRM is for communicating with and managing an organization’s potential, new, and existing customers. CRM principles and technologies drive the customer relationship, with the customer at the center. The goals of CRM are to make sure customers are made aware of products and services, incentivized to purchase products and services, and provided with positive customer service experiences, should they need help with the products and services they purchased. CRM workloads and processes often include loyalty management, marketing and event management, lead and opportunity management, territory management, order/invoice management, contract management, customer analytics, and case management. This last process deals with “issue to resolution” workloads, and it’s where the similarities between CRM and ITSM begin.

Historically, ITSM hasn’t focused on the customer per se, but on stability, service improvement, and IT efficiency and effectiveness. In this scenario, rightly or wrongly, the business is considered to be “the customer.” Updates to ITIL and other ITSM frameworks have increased the focus on the customer experience, but they’ve still been primarily concerned with service definition, lifecycle, and process improvement.

CRM, meanwhile, has evolved over the years to include a number of capabilities and features that ITSM professionals should recognize, including:

  • Cases, incidents, and service requests
  • Call centers and service desks
  • Channels
  • SLAs, entitlements, and contracts
  • Customer satisfaction and feedback
  • Service calendars
  • Case routing and service groups
  • Work queues, stop-the-clock, and service hours
  • Metrics like resolution time, response time, arrival time, escalation time, resolution rate, first call resolution rate

The promises of both ITSM and CRM continue to be realized successfully or sought after unsuccessfully. When done properly, they ensure ongoing customer maintenance, which, in turn, drives ongoing business profitability.

Both CRM and ITSM are subject to the same fundamental challenge: introducing new processes and work patterns to an organization. Ironically, some of the same obstacles to successful ITSM prevent organizations from achieving successful CRM:

  • Lack of user adoption and organizational change management
  • Missing or poorly defined vision and strategy for implementation
  • Poorly defined business objectives
  • Lack of management endorsement and support
  • Poor planning for operation of the systems involved
  • No stakeholder investment and involvement with success

Recent industry analysis suggests that, in an increasing number of organizations, the service desk function is consolidating several corporate functions, such as HR, payroll, accounting, and marketing (in addition to IT, of course). Consolidating customer intake and integration, as well as workflows for both externally and internally customers, is possible via CRM.

In response to the proliferation of touch-based devices, along with mobility and BYOD, together with an increased focused on the customer experience, many CRM solutions have been extended to include:

  • Device-independent interfaces with touch and mouse/type capabilities
  • Contextual (process and procedure) information
  • Service entitlement-based information
  • Dynamic, intelligent routing (intended to reduce “hot potato” reassignment)

Furthermore, features like self-service and workflow automation integrate into other systems and data sources, allowing CRM systems to mimic or supersede many of the capabilities of well-known legacy ITSM systems. Legacy ITSM systems tend to be ticket-centric; even when they differentiate between incidents and service requests, everything is often implemented as an incident or “ticket.” CRM goes beyond traditional ticketing by differentiating customer demands, which allows for the automation and management of service requests (i.e., service value) and the reduction of incidents (i.e., service failure).

So, what does this mean from an ITSM perspective?

As noted, there’s a transition underway in support organizations: the traditional phone-based, ticket-driven service desk is evolving into a self-service−oriented and automated “corporate service desk” that’s scoped to handle non-IT workloads, incidents, and service requests. This stands to have positive effects on customer engagement, process diversity, interaction and service delivery, deployment, and platform extensibility. The ideal CRM solution will be geared toward improving/increasing customer engagement and creating positive customer experiences; it will support specific CRM and ITSM processes while being flexible enough to absorb other processes, services, and workloads, and it will enable organizations to “meet customers where they live.” By having the ability to be deployed on-premises, in the cloud, or via a hybrid model, the ideal solution will also enable the business to diversify its risk while improving the customer experience. Finally, the ideal solution will give organizations the ability to extend services and handle alternative business processes and workloads.

Special thanks to Ellen Giasi and Reggie Best from the Microsoft ITSM Practice for their assistance with the creation of this article.


John Clark is an ITSM architect with the Microsoft Enterprise Services IT Service Management Practice. John is the former president and current Events chair of the Ohio Valley itSMF LIG. John has been involved with and focused on IT management, ITSM, CRM, enterprise architecture, and business process management for the past twenty-five years. He has published articles in various industry journals and presented at industry trade shows. Follow John on Twitter @CyberJMC66 and @MicrosoftITSM.

Tag(s): ITSM, IT service management, customer experience, supportworld


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