Happy 10th Anniversary to the CustomerThink Community!

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This month marks the 10th anniversary of this community. What a fabulous experience it has been for me!

Please indulge me as I reminisce about what’s happened over the past decade. Join me for a look back to recognize those who helped launch and support the community. Together, we’ve created a special place to learn what it takes to build a customer-centric business.

The pioneers

After a 15-year career at IBM and then 3 years running a technology reseller, I took the plunge in 1998 to become a CRM consultant. Why? Because CRM seems like a wonderful blend of business strategy, customer-centric thinking and technology.

Well, as some may recall, my early days were spent mostly as an expert in PRM (Partner Relationship Management), which was an emerging niche in the late 1990s. But I also found time to start a general CRM newsletter (“On the Front Line”) in mid-1998. And then an email-based discussion forum (“CRM.Talk”) in 1999.

Both grew like crazy, but were hobbies that I supported as a sideline to my “real” business as a PRM analyst/consultant.

That started to change in 2000 when I launched CRMGuru.com, mainly as a place to archive newsletters and discussions. But we also wanted to provide a service to help answer questions. To support that idea, three brave souls joined me to volunteer their time to answer questions as “CRM.Talk Gurus” in different areas of CRM.

The First “CRM.Talk Gurus”


Bill Brendler
(change management)

Bob Thompson
(partner relationships)

Dick Lee
(CRM strategies)

Mei Lin Fung
(customer lifetime value)

Bill provided a focus on people and culture that continues to this day to be a key issue in CRM success. Mei Lin deserves a special thanks because she encouraged me to keep CRM.Talk going at the beginning when nobody wanted to, um, talk about much of anything. And Dick Lee has been our longest running advisor, starting from the Day One and continuing for 10 straight years!

CRMGuru was launched but it was quickly apparent that we needed more help to cover a wide spectrum of topics. So over the next couple of years these experts signed up to help the community.

CRMGuru Panel Grows


Barry Trailer
(sales)

Graham Hill
(customer value)

Jay Chang
(technology)

Jay Curry
(small-medium enterprise)

Jim Barnes
(customer strategy)

Jim Dickie
(sales)

Naras Eechambadi
(marketing)

Tony Craddock
(customer-centricity)

Over the years, having an advisory group has been a core part of our community leadership. Thanks to these experts for generously contributing their time and talent from the beginning.

Growth, change and CEM

CRMGuru.com took off immediately and our CRM email subscription list grew to the largest in the world. By 2003, I realized that I had to make a choice and make CRMGuru.com my main business, and scaled back PRM and other activities accordingly.

Over the next several years we were fortunate to have many more top industry experts from around the world share their insights on advisory councils/boards. Those serving for 2+ years include:

Global Advisors


Andy Rudin
(sales)

Bill Price
(customer service)

Colin Shaw
(customer experience)

David Rance
(customer service)

Donna Fluss
(contact center)

Francis Buttle
(CRM strategy)

Jack Fujieda
(CRM in Japan)

Jill Dyché
(marketing analytics)

Jill Griffin
(customer loyalty)

Jim Sterne
(web analytics)

Michael Cusack
(contact center)

Michael Lowenstein
(customer loyalty)

Paul Greenberg
(CRM 2.0)

Rafael Rodriguez
(CRM in Latin America)

Sampson Lee
(customer experience)

Silvana Buljan
(CRM in Europe)

By the middle of the decade it became apparent that CRM was falling short of the vision that we had at the beginning. CRM was still thought of as a primarily a technology initiative by most people, not as a loyalty-building strategy.

Fortunately, some new ideas were pushing forward as a counterbalance to CRM’s inside-out, tech obsession. Namely, Customer Experience Management.

After a lot of soul searching, in 2007 I changed the community’s name from CRMGuru to CustomerThink. It was a controversial move, but I felt that over the long term a more neutral name would help us cover new developments. And indeed it has.

In 2007 we also made a huge site upgrade to enable authors to post blogs and other content directly. Along with our name change, that set the stage for a rapid increase in contributed content and visitors over the past three years.

The social road ahead

The last decade was dominated by CRM and CEM. As commonly practiced, CRM is mostly about managing customer information, while CEM is a strategy to deliver memorable experiences that differentiate a company. My research in 2006 found that CRM is largely analytical (“left brain”) while CEM is more about emotions (“right brain”).

Now, of course, social media is all the rage. I couldn’t be happier because in 2002 I observed that collaboration is the cure for what ails CRM. There’s no doubt that social-empowered customers have really forced companies to be more customer-oriented. Or end up as a story on CNN!

Still, the social media revolution that customers started has only just begun. Although buzzwords are still being debated, I believe the journey towards a more “social business” will define the next five years or more.

And once again, our top authors are helping us figure out what the future will bring. I’d like to recognize and thank our top “social evangelists” over the past year:

Top 10 Social Business Bloggers


Axel Schultze

Catherine Sherwood

Esteban Kolsky

John Todor

Harish Kotadia

Mitch Lieberman

Prem Kumar Aparanji

Tatyana Kanzaveli

Vanessa DiMauro

Wim Rampen

Thanks to staff and sponsors

I want to thank our staff for their outstanding work, mostly behind the scenes. Our first site (www.crmguru.com) was launched by Matt Carroll, who handled all web publishing and discussion moderation duties in the early years. Carol Smalley and Gwynne Young both made huge editorial contributions at different stages of our development. David Sims wrote about sometimes too-serious CRM material with style and humor. Rob Finley managed sponsor relationships and Jennie Greer has been the mainstay of our increasingly complex operation for the past six years.

Sponsors have also been a big part of our success. Without their financial support we couldn’t have implemented the many improvements we’ve made over the years. Some of our major sponsors have included:

  • Big brands like Genesys, Microsoft, Oracle, Siebel and SAP
  • SaaS pioneers such as NetSuite, RightNow and Salesforce.com
  • Mid-market focused vendors like Consona, Pivotal, and Sage
  • Specialty vendors such as Allegis, E.piphany, InQuira, SAS, Unica and UniPress

Of course, the industry has changed a lot in 10 years—some of these companies have new homes as part of bigger vendors. But these sponsors and many more (nearly 200 in all!) helped support this community and deserve our thanks.

Lessons learned

I’ve traveled the globe speaking at conferences; met and worked with many of the brightest minds in the industry; and learned a lot about customer-centric business management. And life.

The main business lesson I’ve learned is that the right people make all the difference in the world. Leaders who envision the future and inspire others. Strategists who think and plan. Supporters who put the new ideas to work. Techies who evangelize and implement new tools. Critics who question conventional wisdom.

On a personal level, I’ve learned that what’s most important is my family. My wife Regina’s love and support kept me going, especially during challenging periods. (Yes, we’ve had a few.) My son Matthew has grown up to become an impressive thinker, writer and person. It won’t be long and he’ll be off to college and then launching his own career.

Well, that wraps up my trip down memory lane. Thanks for reading! Thanks to one and all for your great support. Please take a moment to add your comments below.

Now let’s get to work creating the next decade. I can’t wait.

19 COMMENTS

  1. Bob,

    I would like to congratulate you for leading CustomerThink into the prominent and significant role it plays in the business community.

    You also should be commended for adapting to fast-changing business dynamics. I have enjoyed my interaction with you as an Editorial Board member for the past two years and look forward contributing to your continued and expanded efforts in the area of Social Business.

    Kudos!

    John

    John I. Todor, Ph.D.

  2. Hi Bob Ten years is a very long time in the internet world. What is it they about dog years versus human years – X 7! Congratulations on providing a location for strategy discussions around the customer space. Customer “democracy” will be the one of the key drivers in business in the next decade. Let’s work together to ensure great benefits for all.

  3. Bob, you’re actually way more than “chugging.” CustomerThink continues to make big waves, and no other site rivals CT as a learning resource for customer-centricity professionals.

    I still remember 10-years back when someone named “Bob Thompson” called me and asked me to contribute to a new CRM site. I was busier than hell, but just listening to you for 10 minutes told me you’re an exceptional person, and exceptional mind, and a winner. I signed up, and it’s beeen a spectacular 10-year relationship from my standpoint.

    Aside from writing, I’ve learned a ton from other contributors, while also interacting with(and sometimes meeting)top minds in the field, including my two friends who commented before me.

    But Ray, while we’ve communicated lots, we still haven’t actually met. Are you close to Australian wine country by any chance?

    If so, I’d like to travel out there, do a tasting tour, and send Bob a case or two of the very best. He deserves it.

  4. Bob,

    I can’t believe it’s been NINE years since we first ‘got-in-touch’ in 2001!

    CustomerThink (back then was CRMGuru) is an amazing platform for reaching global customer management professionals and experts, and it generates uncommon opportunities for me personally and my organization to grow to the current status.

    For example, in 2002, being introduced by Bob’s network, we joined force with Jay Curry and his CMI (Netherlands-based), to co-develop the 3C Method.

    Via CustomerThink platform, we could reach out beyond Greater China region, to export our CEM methodologies globally: since Jan. 2006, the Global CEM Certification Program has been expanded to Paris, London, Amsterdam, Dubai, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, and San Francisco. And the next coming program in Paris on March 17-18 would be the 23rd program!

    In addition, we appointed authorized implementation partners in Europe and America, to implement our U.S. patent-pending CEM methodologies to the local eneterprises there, which is something quite difficult, if not impossible, without the amazing global platform.

    Personally, I’d like to sincerely thanks Bob to create such a wonderful platform and all his helps for my career. Professionally, I truely believe under his management, CustomerThink would continue the leadership in global customer management, and our organization looks forward to further grow and prosper with CustomerThink in the next decade.

    Sampson Lee
    Follow Sampson on Twitter

  5. Hi, Bob! Congratulations to you and to the whole CT community. CustomerThink is THE resource to beat when it comes to everything about the customer.

    I’m happy that I’m part of this community, and is actually planning to be more active in the coming months. As it is, I wish you all the best! I would want one day to see and experience exceptional customer service anywhere I go. 🙂

  6. The value of consistency is something that hasn’t changed in this rapidly renewing society – congratulations Bob!
    But what I admire most about you is the rare ability to consistently reinvent yourself. You have guided this industry with provocative thoughts and assistance at the same time and continued to be a thought leader all the way into today’s social business world.

    I still remember some of the conversations in 2005, when CRM became a new face, PRM was a emerging and change was on top of your mind.

    I’m very thankful for being part of this very interesting ride – and really look forward to the next 10 years.

    Axel
    http://xeesm.com/AxelS
    (my social map)

  7. Bob

    What an achievement! Ten years? Surely it can’t have been that long.

    It’s been a privilege to be have been associated, albeit in a modest way, with your success. Success not just in terms of survival. Because many have tried but failed to create on-line communities of people with common interest. And not just in financial terms (although I must say your brand new Ferrari does sit very nicely outside your latest place in Burlingame). But in terms of impact. Because you have made a big impact on the people you touch, both directly and indirectly.

    What’s the secret of your success? Sure, hard work and dedication; a great support team; a loving family; your innate natural talent for words, of course. But I think there’s something else that few have been able deliver on consistently: it’s what I call leverage. What you’ve done is make a small action – a few words on your laptop, perhaps, maybe the selection of one discussion them or just a slight change in the layout of your site – have a big impact. A direct impact on your readers. Your team of gurus. And of course, your advertisers and sponsors. And an indirect impact on the people about whom this thing is all about – the billions of customers out there who now, as a result of your work in the last ten years, are receiving better treatment and more value from the people they buy from every day.

    I haven’t contributed to CustomerThink for some time, and kinda miss it. I’m in a different arena now, helping to change the way people pay for their goods and services through the use of prepaid payment tools such as gift cards, travel cards and payroll cards. But I am trying to apply the lessons I have learnt from you, Bob, to have leverage in everything we do.
    Best of luck for the next decade.

    Best wishes

    Tony

  8. Hi Bob

    I remember talking about joining CustomerThink (CRMGuru as it was then) with you over an ice cream at an outdoor cafe in the Heumarkt in Cologne. I had just joined a customer value management consultancy after being ‘spotted’ by their Director of Business Partnerships through my postings on the CRMGuru Forum. And my first client at the new consultancy, a Polish mobile telco, was a big fan of CRMGuru too. They were excited to have a bona fide CRMGuru consulting with them.

    I have enjoyed journeying together with CustomerThink over the intervening seven years. There have been a few downs; like being temporarily suspended (twice) for posting critical comments on blog posts. C’est la vie. Sometimes you have to pay the price for challenging sloppy, one-sided thinking. But the ups have been far higher and far more numerous. The biggest up for me was the introduction of open-blogging to the CustomerThink community. It is just great to be able to read so many diverse opinions about CRM, CEM and now Social CRM. All of us is so much smarter than any of us.

    My blogging has dropped back over the past few months due to pressure of work and the attractions of Twitter. New Social CRM offers many challenges to established businesses and CustomerThink is no exception. But with you at the helm, I have no doubt that CustomerThink will continue to write about the latest on Social CRM and to adopt it for itself.

    Keep up the great work Bob. You know you can count on my support.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

  9. Bob,

    I remember sitting in the Sheraton Hotel in Boston at one of the early DCI CRM conferences (remember when those shows took up the whole convention center) listening to you discuss your idea for getting people to share their expertise on how to make CRM really work.

    I can’t believe so much time has passed, but I did want to thank you for your vision in creating CRM Guru, and then expanding that to CustomerThink. Your venture established a resource of tremendous value for people and companies to turn to in boom times and down times, to figure out how to optimize their businesses and operations.

    I look forward to seeing you continue to have the site track the emerging trends such as Social Media, as well as help users get more out of their existing investments in core CRM. Best wishes for your next great decade.

    Jim Dickie
    Managing Partner
    CSO Insights

  10. Bob –

    An excellent review and look over the customer experience horizon. You’ve nicely encapsulated the CRM to CEM metamorphosis.

    Moving forward, as you note, there will be a lot more emphasis on shared customer-supplier conversations and engagement, consumer-generated media (CGM, especially communities), online (and offline) social media monitoring and text analytics, the impact of mobile communication, just to cite a few. CustomerThink is in the epicenter of both responding to/reporting on ebbs and flows in customer experience, and also helping practitioners and observers shape their thinking.

    Wishing you many years of continued success, and happy to be a contributing part of the CustomerThink family. Best personal regards.

    Michael

    Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
    Senior Vice President and Senior Solutions Consultant
    Stakeholder Relationship Consulting
    Harris Interactive
    Michael Lowenstein/lowen42 on Twitter

  11. Bob: When I read this is the 10th anniversary of the community, I asked myself “how many others can make the same claim?” The answer yielded a short list. Then I remembered a proverb that makes this unique achievement even more unusual: “He who tells the truth will be chased from nine villages.”

    CustomerThink proves that the truth comes in many flavors, and that when it’s presented unapologetically, consistently and fairly, people will return to learn more. Since my first blog in 2007 about my faulty Sears refrigerator, I have learned much from the great writers you have brought together, and from blogging about situations ranging from inspiring to annoying. Thanks for the opportunity! I look forward to continuing the journey!

  12. Bob,

    10 years in the technology industry is like 100 years of real life. Startups often expect overnight success and stardom. Yet in the real world success comes from building relationships with people, having a clear vision and working hard to create value for your constituents.

    I and the team at RightNow have thoroughly enjoyed building a relationship with CustomerThink and you Bob. You have always sought to add value and I hope we have done the same.

    I was always impressed that you personally traveled to Montana each summer to check in with us. It is a real statement about your character and commitment in a world where such statements are hard to find.

    I wish you much success in your next 10 years.

    greg

  13. Hi, Bob and all Alumni of CRMGURU, changed not only the name but all convinced to change existence to customerThink.com

    10 years? I really can not believe we come that far in time but yet not deep enough at all as we believe it should be there of Customer Centricity management.But we feel now and heard growing sound of cell motors to drive Customer centricities.

    On this great occasion of your 10 years of Customer Management,let me remember what I said to you when I heard you said first on your intention changing very successful name of CRMGURU to Customerthink.com.

    “I agree with your direction of thinking because the past CRM is “not customer Centric ” Relationship Management but actually on the contrally, “Corporation centric Management.” I need to develop the new philosophical approach.

    Peter Drucker positioned “Customer” as one of major share holders.
    “Original CRM started We should leave out from the level of ” COGITO ERGO SUM”.= I exist because I Think) We should know that “THINGS and I EXIST BECAUSE The OTHER EXISTS”.

    Real existance is instantly become Nothingness” and Nothingness instantly becomes Existance” as Buddha said to us. Thus, just believe the customer as a real transparency of your self and vice versa.

    But as also I said, please do not throw out the name as CRM.
    I proposed New Customer Centric Relationship. Let us Japan use CRM as a base, because we are not yet penetrated in Japan for CRM as a base.

    But you decisively changed the name and operation drastically.
    Now I totally support your decision.

    I came to 6th annual certification of the CRM Best Practices for Customer Centricity Activities and would like to work with you for future 10 years also to implement Customer Centric Relationship Management.

    Yours,
    Jack Fujieda, Chairman of CRM Association

  14. Bob my hearty congratulations!

    10 years involved in this market is a true achievement. I believe you had the courage to make the hard decision to reinvent Customer Think as the CRM bandwagon drew to a close. I remember our first conversation, we discussed the merits of CRM. As you know I was reticent about joining CRMGuru, but I am very pleased that you made me see sense!

    This is truly a community. A great way of meeting like minded people.

    Your achievement is something you should be truly proud of.

    Colin Shaw
    International Author. Lastest book “The DNA of Customer Experience”

    Follow me on Twitter:
    ColinShaw_CX

  15. I’m overwhelmed by the great comments. Thanks to everyone for taking time to share a few thoughts about the journey we’ve made together.

    Much like the journey towards a customer-centric business (one that is never completed) this community has been taken many twists and turns, and even hit a few potholes along the way. But it’s never been boring. The past 10 years have been the most rewarding time of my 30+ years professional career.

    What’s next? Well, you can see one idea we’re exploring at http://www.socialbusinessone.com. I’m very excited about 2010 and the next decade. Looking forward to sharing the experience with you all!

  16. Bob – you’ve created a wonderful community. I thoroughly enjoyed the interactions at the 2 summits I attended – my contributions have been extremely limited due to ‘busy-ness’ and bandwidth issues – I’ve met some great people – keep it up

  17. Dear Bob

    I wanted to point out how greatly it is to your credit that you have helped us so far along the CRM quest …. I may even go so far as to quote Abraham Lincoln….

    “The point you press — the importance of thorough organization — is felt, and appreciated by our friends everywhere. And yet it involves so much more of the dry, and irksome labor, that most of them shrink from it…”

    You have performed an invaluable community service and much of the success of CRM that has been achieved, has been through people exchanging tips and ideas and sharing their experiences here at Customer Think.

    I am really proud to have been there in those early days and glad to hear it made a difference that I was there to encourage you in those early days…. thank you for remembering after all these years.

    Looking forwarding to celebrating the 25th!

    Mei Lin Fung

    Twitter: meilinfung Blog: Mei Lin Fung says Professionals Earn Customer Trust

  18. For the work well done and having built this wonderful and thriving community of customer centricity/loyalty visionaries and the 1000s of its other contributors.

    I very well remember CRMGuru when I started visiting and writing on its pages from March 2003 – via CRM, CEM, and (now) Social CRM it has become even more promising.

    I think “leverage” as written by Tony indeed describes the best what you created, initiated and developed by curiosity, vision, dedication and -often- plain hard work.

    The few times I could meet and discuss with you in the Netherlands made me even more confident that CRM as a phenomenon could not have found a better champion.

    Wishing you and CustomerThink all the best in the next decade….

    Edwin

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