The Changing Face of CRM
CRM or Customer Relationship Management, to give its full name, is one of those strange business applications which doesn’t always do what it says on the box. Accounting systems and logistic systems are fairly unequivocal in operation but CRM is a bit of a moveable feast.
Very often the customer (the ‘C’ bit) is not really involved at all and the system is very much about internal control of sales operations, sometimes only a part of the relation with the customer is covered by the CRM implementation and sometimes it’s just a haphazard technology imposed on a business situation – usually with a somewhat negative outcome.
The fact that CRM is not well understood and has a perceived record of indifferent return on investment is, at first glance, a little perplexing. Businesses of all sorts live or die on the relationship with their customers; if customers do not want to buy or find that dealing with a supplier is so unsatisfactory that it is beyond tolerance then there is not going to be a happy ending. It’s easy to forget that commercial transactions are emotionally charged and the opportunities for making customers unhappy are legion. Salespeople that don’t return calls, service that disappoints, goods that never arrive and needs that are not understood are all prime examples of why effort needs to be put into the customer relationship and CRM can – and should – be a critical support in achieving the very best outcomes. The fact that it too often is not used that way has an historical legacy that we need to learn from.
It is sometimes said in the media that we (Hewson Group) were one of the founders of CRM but this is not really true (I can’t even remember now who coined the acronym). We may have done the research and written the books in the early 90s that influenced the development of CRM but we always thought that the technology revolution that was approaching would benefit marketing most. It didn’t turn out quite as we expected because when the big CRM projects started in about 1995 they were aimed at salesforce control in the very large sales teams that existed (particularly in the USA) in insurance, pharmaceuticals and similar sectors. Understanding and servicing the customer was very often completely overlooked. It is no surprise that the subsequent experience of shoehorning these massive, ruinously expensive and inflexible sales systems into something that would support a ‘360’ view of the customer (or some other silly mantra) would many times turn out to be unsatisfactory.
In 2012 the small/medium business is very much better served by the available CRM systems. They are (mainly) light, flexible and inexpensive and often implemented by re-sellers who know what they are about. But the trap remains the same. The way that the software is designed still favours the salesman not the customer. Don’t use it that way. Always look at what is important to the customer; what experience they want, the emotional plus and minus opportunities and what they might tell you that will drive your marketing programmes in the future. It sounds easy and it is. The difficult bit is thinking about it that way before you even start.