Editorial: Customer Relationship Management - The Customer's Perspective

By Len Monheit
[email protected]

CRM, or the theory of customer relationship management, is not a new concept developed by the high tech industry in order to sell high priced, marginal ROI software to larger companies to help them track and manage customer information and contact.

Organizations with a fundamental understanding of their customers and solid skills in relationship selling have long realized that one of the secrets to business success was to maximize both the quantity and the quality of client interactions.

This industry in particular, has been exceptional with its grassroots approach to CRM, with a focus on tradeshows, face to face interactions and personal invitations to events and activities. Many industry veterans have realized that being close to the industry pulse has led to increased market penetration for their products and services.

In an industry that’s facing new business realities and pressures, perhaps it’s time to examine strategy for customer interaction on a broader scale.

Our lives are filled with communications opportunities. In fact, there are so many potential interactions that we are overwhelmed with communications noise. Mail, television, magazines, electronic communications, billboards and radio are bombarding us with messages, seeking that moment of undivided attention to reach us as a new customer, or to cement an existing relationship. And we, the customers, have choice.

So what message is going to reach us as business or personal consumers?

In most cases, it’s the message coming from trusted sources, the message in tune with our own beliefs, the one that makes us feel comfortable, the one that stands out from the noise for any one of a number of reasons. The challenge for communicators, and therefore those practicing technology supported or more traditional Customer Relationship Management is to create this type of successful interaction, using appropriate tools and techniques.

Does CRM technology fit in?

According to ‘The Four Perils of CRM and How to Avoid Them’ by Drew Robb, CRM technology revenues will reach $20 billion a year by 2004, yet ‘many CRM projects fail and several actually drive customers away. In fact, some studies report that well over half of CRM projects fail to achieve desired returns. In the article, the author discusses poor planning, a lack of a customer focused orientation, getting on the technology cycle of buying more technology to support poor technology deployment, and confusing customer interaction with hounding as the key reasons for CRM failures.

Planning and strategy are obviously keys to any business process, yet it is amazing how consistently business decisions are driven by hype and in these cases, the race is on before your organization has reached the starting line. Many organizations fail to conceive a big picture, such as how the technology supports their business and processes including client interaction. In many cases, execution starts before customer behavior and preferences have been examined.

The second issue, customer focus is equally obvious. Just as an organization can manage to comply with guidelines by developing and documenting a poor process producing poor products (the same low quality every time), so too, a company can implement a CRM approach mirroring a poor customer service attitude. Customers will not appreciate your company, products or services, whether they are forced to deal with you in person, on the phone, electronically, or even through intermediaries.

The third factor, the technology cycle, is very much like spending bad money after good money in a never ending cycle. Many organizations feel that a few extra dollars for the next revision or release of a package will lead them to the business success they envisioned, but the implementation and process is flawed from the outset and the only result is higher cost. Pride, business inertia and crisis management means that the business cannot get out of this cycle before it’s too late.

The final factor, mistaking relationship management for hounding is typically the result of the philosophy of ‘more is better’, or ‘quantity versus quality’. Often too, companies don’t vary their mix of approaches, resulting in repetition, which increases the likelihood that the communication is perceived as noise and doesn’t make it past filters.

It seems to me that there are three key factors to a customer relationship strategy. First of all, give me value in our interactions, which you can only do if you understand what is valuable to me. Secondly, make me feel special and privileged by showing me that you appreciate my time and our relationship. Finally, make me part of a community of peers so that I can extend my involvement and network, which will give me an opportunity to grow myself and my business.

It really is all about the customer, whether you’re using technology or not.

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