China in the Customer Management Groove


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It’s hard to believe that we’ve just completed the fifth annual
China Customer Management Forum
, held April 5-6 in Shanghai. It seems like just yesterday that Sampson Lee contacted me and said something like, “Hey, what do you say we start a CRM conference in China?”

I wasn’t sure that China was ready for CRM (or CRM for China), but trusted Sampson. And he was right!

After missing the past two Forums, it was great to come back to Shanghai and see the progress of customer thinking, against the backdrop of gleaming new skyscrapers near the convention center.

Finding Chinese souvenirs was a bit challenging in the huge mall nearby, though. One downside of globalization for this traveler is seeing the same brands I can buy at home. Not that I was complaining when I enjoyed my usual café latte at Starbucks!

It was fun to see fellow keynoters in action.

Shaun Smith (author of “See, Feel, Think, Do”) from London, encouraged the audience to put away their spreadsheets, get more engaged with customers’ experiences and trust their instincts. I have to agree that the first wave of customer management thinking (generally known as CRM) has been heavy on analysis and light on emotion. Yet emotion is what really influences our behavior. For more on this, visit

Ro King (co-founder of Quaero), an American now living in Jakarta, made me smile with her provocatively entitled presentation, “If the Customer is in the Driver’s Seat, Where Will I Sit?” Ro used Singapore Airlines to illustrate the shift from “make and sell” to “sense and respond,” not to mention the importance of a powerful brand image like the “Singapore Girl.” But I’m left wondering if the real answer for marketers is one they won’t want to hear: get used to being a back seat driver, because there can be only one hand on the steering wheel, and the customer has it now.

Sampson Lee (founder of GCCRM), based in Shanghai, made me think with his presentation on how the “peak” and “end” of an emotion curve can help build a brand. This Peak-End Rule was first suggested by Daniel Kahneman, a pioneer in “hedonic psychology,” a view that voluntary human action is motivated by the desire to experience pleasure or to avoid pain. According to the peak-end rule, we judge our past experiences almost entirely on how they were at their peak (pleasant or unpleasant) and how they ended.

Hedonism and CRM, who knew?!

But the highlight of the conference for me was reading and listening to the case studies presented by the winners of The Customer Management Awards 2006. This year’s award winners were truly impressive; their case studies on a par with the best I’ve seen anywhere in the world:

Customer Experience – B2B – AIR FRANCE
Customer Experience – B2B – Bertelsmann Direct Group Direct Services
Customer Experience – Contact Centre – Ping An of China (Greater China)
Customer Experience – Contact Centre – dopod Communication Corp. (Mainland China)
People Award – Manulife-Sinochem Life Insurance Co., Ltd.
Process Award – Shanghai Volkswagen Automotive Co., Ltd.
Strategy Award – New China Life Insurance

My personal favorites were:

  • Ping An Insurance Group, which also collected the judge’s award (decided by Sampson, Ro, and yours truly) for Industry Practice Grand Award and Judge’s Grand Award for the best case study overall. A great example of a balanced approach to customer strategy, experience design, sophisticated multi-channel technology, and attention to culture/people factors.
  • Shanghai Volkswagon, which won the Audience choice and judge’s Innovation awards. Connecting with customers via blogs puts the company at the forefront of the next wave of “customer co-creation,” guru-speak for “hey, instead of ‘managing’ relationships, let’s just jump in and engage with customers on their terms.”
  • Manulife-Sinochem Life Insurance, the People Award winner, showed how focusing on recruiting and training internal staff and agents helped the company achieve the highest persistence rate in the industry (above 90%). See, treating employees well is good business, too!

Based on the case studies presented at the conference, and discussions with the delegates, my sense is that Chinese managers have moved past the CRM-as-magic-technology-pill phase faster than their American counterparts. I’m sure that this annual gathering, along with the
GCCRM web site, has made a difference.

Following the Peak-End Rule, my personal experience peaked with the case studies, and ended with a fabulous awards dinner on the second day of the conference. Well done, Sampson and team, for putting on another great China Customer Management Forum!


  1. Time flies.

    The first China Customer Management Forum was held in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong in end March 2003, yes, the SARS period. You could imagine what Bob and I had faced. But it makes us feel piece-of-cake from the second year onward.

    I’ve given a short speech at the Awards Presentation Dinner. The theme was “One Hope, One Goal“.

    One Hope– and GCCRM donates 5% of the forum ticket revenues to HOPE worldwide to help the poor children in Mainland China for four consecutive years. My “One Hope” is to spread the influence to more enterprises to join the effort.

    One Goal–this year is the 5th year of Customer Management Awards. My “One Goal” is to get not only enterprises from China but also Asia Pacific to join our program and share their success experiences next year.

    A picture tells thousand words.

    [img_assist|nid=1052|title=What Was Bob Thinking Of?|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=640|height=469]

    [img_assist|nid=1056|title=We Visited Yunnan last December |desc=|link=none|align=left|width=640|height=425]

    [img_assist|nid=1055|title=We Sponsored Students and Teacher from Yunnan to Talk to Us Face-to-face in Shanghai|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=640|height=427]

    [img_assist|nid=1054|title=Customer Management Awards Winners|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=640|height=425]

    [img_assist|nid=1053|title=Bob, Shaun Smith, Ro King and I at the Awards presentation dinner|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=480|height=319]

    Sampson Lee
    CustomerThink blog: The Effective Experience


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