On CRM: Why Can’t I Generate A Simple Report Just By Asking For It?

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I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about analytics. He works for a healthcare analytics software startup which, he says, will make it “much easier” for companies to generate reports from healthcare databases.

“We’re providing very simple to use tools for users,” he said. “We want to make reporting accessible to everyone.” That sounds great, I replied. So how is this done? “Through a user interface that makes it easy to connect tables and then filter data,” he said.

And then my eyes glazed over.

Which is the same thing that happens to every one of my CRM clients when it comes to reporting. Their eyes glaze over. Why?

Because the users of CRM systems aren’t database experts. They are not adept at “connecting tables,” “manipulating data,” “creating queries” or “using filters.” All of this stuff may be standard operating procedure for smart developers like my friend. But it’s a mystery to the typical sales or service person.

For years I’ve been faced with this problem. As recently as yesterday a prospective client asked me about the “reporting capabilities” of a CRM product I was showing her and, as usual, I came back with the same reply:

“Oh, it’s very intuitive. It comes out of the box with a hundred pre-designed reports. And you can easily create your own. Blah blah blah. Blah blah blah.”

And she nods and ticks off the requirement on her “features” spreadsheet and we move on. And I know that once the system is up and running she’ll be faced with the usual report befuddlement and will have to begrudgingly ask for help from her internal tech person (who is unfamiliar with the software’s data structure) or pay through the nose for a consultant like me to design the reports that she really wants.

So what’s the answer? Simple: voice. Can’t we just ask for information? Apparently the answer to that question is just as simple: no. At least not right now.

Go ahead and search for “voice reporting” or “reports by voice” and you’ll find lots of nascent technologies that analyze and report on speech. But that’s not what we, as CRM users, really want. Here’s what we want:

“Please give me a list of all prospects in the 19004-area code with blue eyes, green hair and who are Eagles fans and send that list to my cell phone.”

Or (more seriously):

“Please generate a report of our top customers, categorized by region and sorted by sales volume and deliver a PDF to our CEO at 9AM Friday.”

I can ask Alexa to play a song, order more dog food and tell me the time. But can I ask it to generate a specific report from my CRM database and get it delivered with real time data to any person or device I want? No, I can’t. Instead I have go to my desktop (go ahead…you try designing a report on your smartphone) and monkey with a reporting tool for hours until I get the output I’m desiring.

I like the AI. I like the automation. I like all the ways my CRM system can be customized. But in the end, my CRM system is just a database. So what I would really like is to get quick access to the exact data I need just by asking. Once that happens, our reporting issues will no longer be issues. We won’t be waiting around for numbers. We will truly be data driven.

Is this coming anytime soon? I can’t find much about it. Perhaps there are startups working on this. Perhaps the big CRM vendors have this on their development timeline. If you do, let me know.

In the meantime, you get the point. And so did my friend, who walked away pondering how his company could leverage voice technology for their analytics offerings. I really hope the people providing us with CRM software are doing the same.

Originally published at https://www.forbes.com.

Columnist on smallbiz, economy, public policy, tech for The Guardian, The Hill, Philly Inquirer, Wash Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur. Small Business owner and CPA

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Gene Marks

Gene Marks

Columnist on smallbiz, economy, public policy, tech for The Guardian, The Hill, Philly Inquirer, Wash Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur. Small Business owner and CPA

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