What does mint chocolate chip ice cream have to do with CRM?
One of my “rant buttons” is the way Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is usually discussed as a software-oriented, direct marketing, customers-in-the-aggregate, technology tool. Shouldn’t we focus, first, on how to manage human relationships with individual customers, and then look at how the technology can support those one-on-one relationships? In practice, it usually doesn’t work that way. Here’s a recent post I wrote on tompeters.com that sums up these thoughts.
Last week, during a presentation to 200 employees of one of our health care clients, my associate, Caroline Ceisel, made a spontaneous comment that put customer relationship management in usable, human terms. Caroline was leading a discussion on how to use information we learn about an individual patient, at one point in time, to personalize the patient’s relationship with the practice at a later point in time. Caroline said, “It doesn’t matter if you know your girlfriend likes mint chocolate chip ice cream if you don’t ever get her some.”
From where I was standing, near Caroline at the front of the room, I could see the faces in the audience. They practically glowed with understanding.
Sure, technology is very helpful in remembering those “nuggets” about individual customers. But those nuggets only matter once you pull them out and use them to give customers what they want. Think of all of the nuggets about individual customers that are sitting in your CRM database. Is your company using that information only to execute more streamlined direct marketing campaigns, or are you using that information interact with individual customers in ways that are relevant to each customer?
Remember, it doesn’t matter if you know it. It only matters if you use it.
Not surprisingly, with a new book out on customer relationships, I’ve been talking a lot about customer relationships.
The good news: Virtually all audience members in my talks embrace the concept that customer relationships are a true competitive advantage, and the key to loyalty and referrals.
The bad news: Most of them (even CEO’s) express frustrations that their organizations don’t act as if customer relationships were of ultimate importance.
It’s not that people within these organizations don’t believe in the importance of strong customer relationships. In fact, relationships get good lip-service support in most companies. The problem is that the happy talk of “we-care-about-customer-relationships” is not backed up with real substance.
Sure, companies have invested in CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems, but, for most companies, this is mostly a software exercise. Sure, many companies have loyalty programs, rewarding customers for repeat usage, but these are more about bribery than “getting-to-know-you.”
I will explore this concept from many angles on this blog. But for today, let’s consider one litmus test: In addition to a focus on aggregate measures of customer behavior, such as number of units sold, # of customers in Nebraska, average selling price, etc., does your organization also measure the value and characteristics of individual customer relationships? What do you measure about individual customers? How well are you set up to learn about individual customers, remember what you learn, and use it later to have an encounter with that customer?
Moving from “relationsh-lip service” to relationship-building is not rocket science. Like most things in business, the main reason that we don’t move from talking about it to doing it is that … we don’t move from talking about it to doing it.
In addition to writing, I spend most of my work time helping companies unleash their potential by creating better connections with their customers. This happens through my speaking events and through Yastrow & Company consulting engagements, where my team and I help companies figure out who they intend to be in the future, and then engage the entire company in creating that future through strong "We" customer relationships.
Before starting Yastrow & Company in the mid-90s I was vice-president of resort marketing for Hyatt Hotels. My experiences in the hotel business showed me clearly that most marketing doesn’t happen in the marketing department. Customers are paying attention to all interactions with a company, not just the promises made in traditional "marketing communications."