Effective CRM


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Social is so now…so get over it already!

Something that we all learn over our careers, whether we admit it or not, is that the more things change, the more things stay the same. Yea, as technology is accelerating us into new directions and experiences, there is a lot of discussion about what businesses should be doing to adapt. And adapt they must. After all, things do change.

Adapt A*dapt”, verb (used with an object)
[imp. & p. p. {Adapted}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Adapting}.]
[L. adaptare; ad  + aptare  to fit; cf. F. adapter. See  {Apt}, {Adept}.]
To make  suitable; to fit, or suit; to adjust; to alter so
as to fit  for a new  use; — sometimes followed  by to or for.

Notice that I didn’t use the word transform.

Transform Trans*form”, verb (used without an object)
To be  changed  in form; to be  metamorphosed. [R.]

As strategy designers, I’m sure you have all planned for change. Everything changes. Your market changes as it matures or as innovation occurs. The economy changes, as we all know. Technology changes providing us with streamlined ways to deliver goods or services. Your plan has addressed the fact that changes occur and has built the mechanisms for measuring those changes and adapting to them – hopefully to your competitive advantage.

Your customers also change. That’s always been true, but now we are experiencing an environment where people are accelerating their change due to the acceleration of change in technology – as pointed out in a speech by my friend Brent Leary.

Why am I emphasizing adapt over transform? Because if you have to transform your business, you were in big trouble well before the word social became a driving force. Oops, I said it <<smack myself>>.

A Business That Means Business

Let’s investigate the things that don’t change. You may not hear this through all of the hype (present and future) but there are certain things that you still need to get done. The way you go about them may be changing (and you need to adapt) but there are pillars that every successful business is built on.  The word pillars sounds inflexible, so maybe the word I’m looking for is foundation. Wait, isn’t that more rigid? Whatever. Since I’m only discussing 2 pillars, maybe my arguments will just fall right over anyway.


Before you can have execution, there has to be contact. Let me explain this simply…we’re not in the business of making widgets and placing them in a warehouse forever. That’s the sort of thing governments do, not businesses. A relationship is a slippery discussion, so much so that to suggest that a piece of software can manage it is such a crime that a large portion of our economy should be in jail. Just kidding! Maybe.

What is it?  Well, how do explain what it’s like to have a friend?  Or, what it’s like to run into the same person every year at your annual vacation spot? What do you call it when someone you’ve met, or seen – or only heard – makes you just think about them? A relationship isn’t just a one to one dimension, it can be far more touchy feely than that. Do we have to talk about that aspect all the time? No. But, you certainly have to deal with it, so it needs to be in your thoughts at some point – preferably when you’re designing a strategy.

One more thing about relationships – they can be external and internal. Collaboration has truly become enabled with the Internet as a delivery system for capability. What’s being delivered is changing and also getting more powerful and more focused every day. Collaborating with customers to help them find the right product or service, or to resolve an issue. The company isn’t the only participant, this sort of thing allows the community assist, making the place valuable and the engagement scalable – there needs to be a reason to come back for more – and you have to be able to handle more as well.

Collaboration needs to happen within your organization as well. We’re calling that Enterprise 2.0 these days. Having been around awhile, I can say that my ability to seek out and receive help has dramatically improved since my initial post-college days. Being a field project manager for a time, in remote parts of the country, I would have to stop what I was doing, walk a mile to a pay phone, hope I could reach my boss or an engineer at the other end of the call, take notes, try to answer questions, and sometimes repeat the process if I didn’t have answers on the spot. That truly sucked! Today, I can reach my network of professional resources (internal and external) by simply turning my head .01 degrees, locating them online and typing a quick message. Oh, and cell phones helped a bit too. It gets better than all this, but that’s another conversation and one I will defer to my E20 friends.

Customer Centricity

This is not a new term. Therefore, it’s a term that has been subject to interpretation. Sure, everyone thinks about their customers. Are you thinking of them in terms of your product or service, though? Frankly, most companies are and changing this is what makes companies truly resilient to outside factors (see things change above).

Customer centric businesses design products, experiences and process differently than inside-out businesses. The customer is not interested in….

  • What you think would be a cool new feature
  • What Janet in operations feels needs to be done at 11 am each day.
  • Whether Bill & Ted had an excellent adventure getting the product delivered.

Your customers want to be wowed by an experience that, at least, meets their expectations. Since most customers don’t expect a company to meet them, stop talking about how you exceed them and take another look. Sometimes, they just want to make a purchase, so make it happen as friction free as possible. Sometimes they need help, so design your service around that need, and not some made up need to handle a call as quickly as possible. Customers don’t want to do business with 10 people, so don’t make them wind through the labyrinth of your homegrown warts and silos.  Find out what your customers really need, not in your product, but in the jobs being performed around it so you can offer solutions that no one else has thought of (innovate).

I know, all of this sounds good, but how the heck do you get everyone to go along with it? All I can say is, be a leader – not an enabler. There are entire books written on this subject. You have to want to do it, and you must be willing to do the hard work. That could mean conflict for some, but focus on the bigger picture – and the customer – these issues begin to pale in comparison to the successful customer outcomes you can create.

Since there are entire books and careers built around the topic of customer centric business design, I won’t pretend I can cover it all in a measly old blog post. So, I will leave you with a couple of things to ponder and hopefully spark a little bit of interest.

  1. Business Process – Select a few customer contact points and map the entire work and information flow, not just the end points with the customer. Look at everything that is happening and ask yourself what the step does for the customer. Does it slow the process down? If so, is there a benefit that the customer would expect to offset that? Do your competitors do it quicker with the same benefit. Can you find a way to deliver the benefit without the step. Maybe some tech can help.Does it makes sense? I’ve actually seen processes that were log jammed because the owner’s mother refused to change the way she did her little piece of the job (by hand – in triplicate), and the owner was just waiting until she retired in 10 years. The classic mother/customer dilemma.
  2. Customer Needs – Do you ask yourself how can I improve my product? That’s the wrong question in a customer centric business. If you answer it, you are projecting your assumptions. If your customer answers it, they are doing so in the context of the product. Incremental change is fine if it’s sitting on top of an innovation framework. Understand the complete job they are doing. Your product fits in somewhere. Other parts of the job could be frustrating. Is there something you can do to help? It might be a new product, opening up a  new market. You can only engineer your product so much, so play ball on a bigger field.
  3. Customer Experience – Surprise! There is more than the product or service you offer. See number 2 above. Experience can take many forms. As Paul Greenberg wrote,  American Girl has designed their stores to do more than just sell dolls. What do your customers do with their product. Maybe you can help them do that job. Yes, playing with a doll is part of the job little girls do. The doll isn’t the job. OK. Let’s call this an experience to make it more digestible. The experience of a tea party, one in which the doll has been invited to play a role along with the little girl, doesn’t have to be completely imaginary. American Girl has figured that out. What are your customer’s jobs, and how can you make the experience not just better, but innovative? And I got through this paragraph without using the term co-creation of value.
  4. Customer Metrics – If it’s all about the customer, why do we measure transactions? It’s easy and it’s what we’ve always done. People build careers around data compilations that really tell them nothing. How many phone calls is a sales rep making? How does that tie into reaching a quota each quarter? Based on the way people are incented, these patterns are very predictable. Have you ever asked yourself “do my customers stay with me longer than they do my competitors?” Or, “are the things that we’re doing extending the customer lifecycle, or reducing it?” Do you have any metrics for tracking customer disengagement instead of simply focusing on the next sale? Is customer retention important to you?  You simply can’t answer any of these questions with the metrics your local CRM vendor is selling you.

Future CRM

CRM has often gotten a bad rap, and for good reason. Everyone thinks of it as software yet they hold high expectations for all of the things it could do for them. Let’s look at it for what it is – a tool. As a tool, the expectations are much lower and the burden for driving success is shifted elsewhere. As a tool CRM needs to support a few things within a customer centric business. It supports things in product centric businesses too, which is another reason it gets a bad rap. That’s the fault of the business.

For a business to adapt, it needs to collect information that helps it make decisions. Many traditional places already exist for collecting this: Sales, Marketing and Customer Service come to mind. There is a wealth of data there, but it can be improved if we find ways to overlay silos (of data and function) with cross-functional efforts designed around the customer. Past CRM has talked about the 360 degree view of the customer. That’s a complete myth. We’re you able to answer any of the questions above?  Do you know, for example, how many days after the initial purchase the average customer makes the 4th purchase? Do they ever get to a 4th purchase? How many times do they buy before they defect?  See my point?

I could go on an on about the kind information I think you should be looking at, but the important thing about Future CRM is that it needs to assist in the collection of information and then present it to you in ways that allow you to quickly see how your are doing – as a business, by customer segments or by specific customer. That’s just common sense stuff isn’t it? It’s impossible to process raw data, and the traditional selection of KPI’s are worthless. Resilient companies are customer centric. Look into it. They’re not measuring what you’re measuring, either.

More important, Future CRM has to begin living up to the words Customer and Relationship. Relationships are key and there is nothing mind blowing about past CRM with regards to relationships. A central repository of email and phone call notes is hardly what I call relationship management. Today, we are focused on social media and the term Social CRM. This is because social media can allow us to extend our conversations beyond traditional 1:1 engagement and allow conversations to become many to many, or in many places. That isn’t the relationship holy grail, though.

Future CRM has to get relationships right. We’ve always had built relationships naturally, but the dynamics are changing now. For the sales rep, that means one thing. For the service rep, that may mean another thing all together. The complete relationship picture for the Future Business has to take them all into account. We need to be where our customers want to be, while living within the real confines of where we are. CRM today does not help us do that. It needs to change, and change quickly

As for the customer part, that’s really going to depend on your business, the strategy you design and the way you proceed to understand your customer needs / jobs. How do you design a campaign for understanding customer needs inside current CRM systems? And it’s not just about surveys. Data may end up in vastly different places. How do we turn it into digestible information. Heck, how do we communicate our framework to our own employees? Don’t wait for the CRM vendors to solve this. Your consultant may have to do it. But the tools need to be more flexible to allow this to happen.

And one final thing about Future CRM. It’s no longer just Sales, Marketing and/or Service. Future CRM, as a concept is not about a specific tool (I can’t agree that social support communities are CRM, they are what they are). In fact, it’s a collection of tools that work seamlessly together (both traditional and social) with people and process, in turn supporting customer centered initiatives at a higher level. It has to have a Relationship Engine at it’s heart (call it social if you want)  that ties into all the other process automation goodness we can have today. While I’m a CRM’er at heart, a non-flavor of the month kind of guy, I do ask myself if Customer Relationship Management is the correct phrase to describe the initiatives of the Future Business. The Future Business is not so different from the Past Business, though. It’s still built around the customer and on relationships with them. I’m not sure we’ve captured what is, yet, in a name. Thus Future.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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