Automation Overkill


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In a CRM environment with a great deal of focus on automation, are we missing the point of CRM altogether?

In its barest form, Customer Relationship Management is just that: managing customer relationships. I think that in our fast-paced, overdrive society we often lose sight of what I consider the most important aspect of CRM, the relationships. In an attempt to save time, increase efficiency, and streamline processes, we are driven to automate as many facets of our CRM efforts as possible. But can you automate a relationship?

Sure, typing up a personalized email (no, not just an email with fields that automatically insert information) takes more time that sending a standard automated response. But put yourself in the place of the consumer; would you rather receive a computer generated response from a company you’re considering spending a considerable amount of money with, or a highly personalized email from a representative that obviously took the time to review your specific needs and craft a response tailored to your specifications? Which one would give you the “warm fuzzies,” an emotional conviction, and make you feel truly comfortable with your investment?

I can’t answer that question for you, but I can say that if I were going to invest a large sum of money with a company, I would want to know that I am not merely a number, not merely a check in the bank. I would want to know that the company has a true interest in my specific and unique requirements, and will be willing and able to assist me in finding a solution.

Today, a hand-written note stands out among the scores of automated messages, so why not take the time to engage in a true relationship with your customer? Never underestimate the “warm fuzzies.”

Ginny Wiedower
Ginny Wiedower is a young public relations professional, currently within the technology industry. Her past endeavors have given her experience in health care marketing and agency PR work. She is also a freelance writer and editor.


  1. Ginny,

    I agree with you that CRM has focused too much on automation. You could say that in most implementations it is about customers, not for customers.

    However, there are many instances where CRM, as automation, would be appreciated by customers. For instance, it would be nice if you didn’t have to repeatedly give your name, account number and the last 4 digits of your social security card as you got shuffled through a call center.

    Yes, yes, handwritten cards have huge impact. They are personal and they take some effort. They indicate the recipient is worth the effort. Most personalization of automated cards doesn’t carry any of this. In fact, it tells me that someone is using some trigger or formula that they thing will get me to buy. There are, however, examples of data-driven personalization that are meaningful, emotional an have an impact on customers. The program used by some Toyata and Lexus dealers comes to mind.


    John I. Todor, Ph.D.
    Author of Addicted Customers: How to Get Them Hooked on Your Company.

  2. Ginny

    Welcome to CustomerThink. Thanks for posting.

    I wonder whether you are mixing-up automation and personalisation. Automation is a great way to reduce costs and variation in high-volume customer operations, like credit card administration. It is best done after non-value-adding activities have already been removed. As Michael Hammer wrote about in 1990 in his article on, “Reengineering Work: Dont Automate, Obliterate”.

    That doesn’t mean that everything that can be automated should be. There are some complex activities which should still be done by people. Handling complaints for example, where the customers is seeking redress for any number of problems.

    At the end of the day, I would much more rather have an efficient, effective and cheap automated service that gets things right, than a personalised, hand-written one that doesn’t.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

    Readability Index: 12

  3. Relationship cannot be automated.

    The question is, what should be automated? Non-value-adding activities? Why keep them if they provide no value to customers?

    Take call center as an example. Most call centers use interactive voice response, or IVR, to service customers. Can IVR improve customer experience? If IVR is efficient and effective, then there won’t be “dial-a-human shortcuts” to escape from automated phone system.

    Whether the activity is non-value-adding or not, a personalized approach will always wow the customers.

    Daryl Choy, the founder of Touchpoint eXperience Management, helps firms make a difference at every touchpoint. Choy can be reached at

  4. Daryl,

    Some parts of a relationship can be automated. I have been with the same credit card company for over 20 years. Sometimes I don’t want to be wowed. I just want to know the balance on my credit card. Nothing more. Period.

    Less is sometimes more.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  5. Graham

    Agree, but only if the customer wants to have it automated. Most of the time, firms automate the processes simply because they want to save, if not cut, costs. They always have trouble realizing that automation may sometimes provide inconvenience to customers.

    It’s more about how to balance what to automate and what not to, from the customer’s viewpoint.

    Daryl Choy, the founder of Touchpoint eXperience Management, helps firms make a difference at every touchpoint. Choy can be reached at

  6. Daryl

    Ginny’s post and your comment point to a common fallacy in CRM, namely, that we must always take account of the customer’s viewpoint. Life is much more complicated if you want to be sustainably profitable.

    Modern business is a dynamic balance of four competeing forces. The first is customers’ needs, (wants and expectations). Obviously you have to meet some of them to be in business, but all of them? I don’t think so. The second is your capabilities to deliver what customers need. As needs change, so the capabilities have to be dynamically reconfigured to deliver them. Some of them may require new capabilities to deliver. But is it worth it? Not always. The third is the cashflow generated by using your capabilities to delver against customers’ needs. This is where much of CRM goes awry. Rather than balancing delivery against its cost, companies just push on regardless. The high failure rate of complex CRM projects is but one casualty of this uninformed approach. The final factor is collaboration across the company and with its delivery partners. Customers quickly see the holes in delivery where these things are not joined up. But joining things up carries a cost. You know the rest.

    These four factors are constantly changing. As is the optimal balance to maximise cashflow at any moment in time. And that is why you are in business. Not to be the best at meeting customers’ needs. Not to have the best delivery capabilities. Not even to have the largest roster of delivery partners. All these things help. But business is about maximising cashflow. Period. Everything else is a means to this end.

    If this is true, and no doubt many will viscerally disagree even if they don’t always have the figures to support their alternatives, then before you decide to automate an activity, or to keep it manual, you need to ask yourself one question, “Where’s the MONEY?”. The rest is up to management to decide.

    PS. The western economies may be entering a mild recession. Courtesy of the knock-on effects of the US sub-prime crisis. If that is so, then asking the money question is going to be even more important.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

    Readability Index: 11

  7. Graham

    If you are talking about CRM, then customer focus is all that matters. Otherwise, why managing customer relationship? You won’t manage something you don’t care for.

    If you are talking about management, or life that you refer to, then I agree with you that the C3EB model applies.

    Daryl Choy, the founder of Touchpoint eXperience Management, helps firms make a difference at every touchpoint. Choy can be reached at

  8. Thanks to everyone for your comments.

    I wanted to raise this question because so often we forget about the heart of CRM: relationships. A simple phone call to check in can do wonders in an environment of impersonal automated communications.

    Again, thank you for commenting, and I appreciate each point of view.

    Ginny Wiedower
    Public Relations
    Writing and Editing
    [email protected]


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