“Customer Managed Relationships”: I Never Thought I’d Have So Much Fun in the Bathroom


Share on LinkedIn

CEM and CRM stink as acronyms.

In fact, about 10 months ago, Disney Destinations, the travel agency arm of Disney changed its “CRM” acronym to “CMR,” calling it a slight change in philosophy. The change went from “customer relationship management” to “customer managed relationships.”

Slight? I don’t think so. This is an important recognition by Disney, which always seems to stay ahead of the curve, that the customer now dominates the business ecosystem, and any business that wants to be successful needs to not only recognize the fact but also actually rethink its business model and its strategies.

Most companies are paying homage to the Customer 2.0 version they are noticing is out there. But it’s the execution that counts, not the accolades. In other words, customers doesn’t want to hear from the company that they are important, they want to actually feel important to the company and get what they need from the company. For real.

The senses

Don’t underestimate the use of the senses here; “feel” is not a word I used lightly. Ultimately, if customers don’t feel their presence is valued and the experiences they have with “the company” don’t reinforce that valued feeling, they will take their business elsewhere—because they can.

To put it another more metaphorical way, you don’t have to “have luxury,” you have to “feel luxurious.”

That’s why products and services don’t do it anymore. Successful companies are now aggregators of valued experiences, rather than providers of goods and services.

For example, most people have known Kohler Co. for the products it produces: bathroom and kitchen fixtures, among other things. What it produces has, shall we say, functional utilitarian purpose when it comes to the basic needs of life: the ingestion and expulsion of water. Among other things.

There is a certain amount of luxuriant use value to its stuff: showers that had jets, rather than just the showerhead and eco-friendly, high-tech, toilet “systems.” There is even a certain amount of style: contemporarily styled kitchen faucets with clean lines rather than the traditional more rounded versions, for example.

But Kohler top management understood that lots of other companies, like Latonscana, provide highly stylish kitchen and bath accoutrements that compete in both price and function—and may even look even a bit better than the best contemporary (if you like that sort of thing) products that Kohler offered.

Executives figured that just implementing SAP (which is something the company did for internal purposes) wasn’t going to be a sufficient palliative for Kohler’s customers. Instead, they figured out that customers who come to Kohler are trying to build, or improve or replace, something in a room of the house that they most likely live in; and that they are probably hiring a plumber to install all this, if they aren’t involved in a do-it-yourself effort—which, most people not featured on TV aren’t.

Beyond SKUs

So Kohler couldn’t just produce the typical e-commerce site, which is often just a catalog with some SKU numbers, some pictures and a shopping cart with a home page wrapped around it. Instead, management understood that, especially with the new generations of customers—those building or improving their homes, people both are fulfilling a dream and are going to be living in a house that they chose for some personal (and often very emotional) reasons.

Executives had Kohler’s flagship site, the kitchen and bath site, overhauled and redesigned by Gorilla Polymedia (Chicago). Kohler figured that even though this was kitchen and bathroom (yin and yang, so to speak), the homeowners weren’t going to be happy just viewing products that could be attained elsewhere. A showerhead is a showerhead in that world.

The online world that Kohler created for its customers is My Kohler, where you “dream, plan, choose” your ideal bathroom and/or the kitchen. Here’s how it works:

  • Dream. This is the opportunity to explore trends like “color in the kitchen” or “the kitchen goes natural” that are supported by detailed articles on the trend itself, a “May we suggest” column linked to other articles and photo galleries of, say, an eclectic, contemporary or traditional style of natural kitchen. This, in turn, links to a color palette with a picture of a “swatch” of sorts and a detailed look-and-feel description of the colors. On the left side is a resource center to enhance things even more.

  • Plan. Here are tools to help you plan your kitchen or bathroom. They include articles ranging from how to deal with the shape of the kitchen to the social aspects of professional kitchens in the home to financing to hiring experts.

  • Choose. This is where the products are. But it’s not just products. This area of the site has selection guides that, for example, might cover the type of faucet you’re interested in up to and including spout height and numbers of handles. Each style has a detailed explanation of its differences with other styles and its optimal purpose. Then you click and select through a whole series of filters and wizards until you’ve made a set of informed smart decisions.

But the crown jewel is a personalized folder where you utilize all the tools I just mentioned and create rooms with Kohler products, which you then save to folders that you and your designer and plumber can access later.

The net experience is that you’ve created your kitchen and/or bathroom. And you’ve loved it. In other words, as a customer, you’ve had the ability to use all the aggregated tools and services you need to not only make an informed decision on the right products but also actually design or create the final plan that incorporates them.

Think about it. This is a self-managed customer relationship along the lines of Disney Destination’s CMR. It involves a genuinely enveloping experience, one that provides value to the customer. In return, the company gets an advocate, which means that it will not only get not only a repeat buyer but also someone like me who will write an article using the company as an example of how a valued customer experience gets created.

Paul Greenberg
The 56 Group, LLC
Paul Greenberg, the president of the 56 Group, LLC, is the author of the best-selling CRM at the Speed of Light: Essential Customer Strategies for the 21st Century, 3rd edition. Greenberg is co-chairman of Rutgers University's CRM Research Center and executive vice president of the CRM Association. His blog PGreenblog won both of the only two awards ever given to CRM blogs.


  1. Really it was a good article which made me to know that customer relations lies not only through personal care but also through the internet

    Hari krishnan


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here