Putting the customer before the technology: Make sure CEM learns from the mistakes of CRM


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I think it’s time to put down a marker and outline how we can avoid CEM (Customer Experience Management) technology investment repeating the same mistakes as the last decade or so of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) investment. Hence this post. Here goes…

Gartner, the information technology research and advisory firm, has reported that the global customer relationship management (CRM) market grew 12.5% in 2008 to $9.15 Billion from $8.13 Billion in 2007. Yet one study found that 55 percent of CRM installations drove customers away and diluted earnings.

We have no excuse for this. SEVEN years ago, in the Harvard Business Review article, “Avoid the Four Perils of CRM” (February, 2002), the authors, Frederick F. Reichheld, Phil Schefter and Darrell K. Rigby, suggest that the main reasons for this failure are:

  1. Implementing a CRM system before creating a customer strategy
  2. Installing CRM technology before creating a customer-focused organization
  3. Assuming that more CRM technology is better
  4. Stalking, not wooing, customers

CEM – Customer Experience Management – requires not only a different philosophy from old-style CRM, but also a new approach to technology. The customer experience definition and management methodology must come first. The role of the technology is to support the delivery of the experience. Every touch in the contact center, whether inbound or outbound, represents a unique and immediate opportunity to extend and strengthen a customer relationship.

When you look at technology in the context of CEM, it needs to embrace CEM methodologies, enable the delivery of the brand promise and measure the experience. We all know that it’s the employees—the contact center agents, advocates or customer loyalty representatives—who deliver the customer experience. So the technology must equip them with the right content, resources and guidance to consistently deliver the designed experience, yet be flexible enough to let them move off center when necessary.

The question is, “How do you create the conditions for success such that the technology works?” Our view is that you have to undertake six important audits before installing the technology to ensure that it enables, rather than inhibits, the customer experience. We typically find that these audits do not take much time but are very influential in making sure that the appropriate context is created. We show below an example from one of our telecom clients. (The name is disguised.)

Experience audits


Copyright © smith+co. Not to be used without permission.

Putting the customer before the technology

Here’s an example of how to do it using Cincom’s Synchrony Unified Desk Top Technology (Declaration of interest: Smith+co work closely with Cincom).

Health Advocate is a US national healthcare advocacy and assistance company. Health Advocate’s mission is to help members navigate and overcome issues they encounter while accessing the United States’ complex healthcare and health insurance systems. Staffed by medical and claims experts that previously worked in the provider and insurance networks, these people (appropriately called “Advocates”, not agents) know how to cut through the bureaucracies.

But Health Advocate knew that the call center had to be the antithesis of the typical healthcare customer service center with long waits, impersonal service and impassionate personnel. (A Forrester Study found that health plans came in last place out of nine industries in Customer Experience Rankings, the lowest rating for satisfaction with online interactions and last place in satisfaction with phone interactions).

Health Advocate (HA) opted not to use an IVR system or voice mail so that when a member called, he or she would not only get a live person, but could work with the same Advocate repeatedly until the issue was resolved.

HA deployed a dynamic unified agent desktop that presents all of the member’s background and history as well as any other resources and content the Advocate may need. This lets Advocates maximize time working with the members rather than going through time-intensive customer look-ups, interaction history and content research.

Advocates are empowered to solve member issues. Long phone calls are not looked upon negatively. Instead, management views longer and multiple calls as indicators of in-depth and intimate service. So, unlike the cost center that is driven by first-call resolution and call durations, the Health Advocate “experience” center is more concerned with championing positive outcomes for their members—regardless of how long it takes.

Shaun Smith
Shaun Smith is the founder of Smith+Co the leading UK based Customer Experience consultancy. Shaun speaks and consults internationally on the subject of the brand purpose and customer experience. Shaun's latest book 'On Purpose- delivering a branded customer experience people love' was co-written with Andy Milligan.


  1. Hi Shaun

    Idolatry is a dangerous thing, wherever it is found.

    CRM idolised data and analytics. The data analyst knows best and he has statistical purchase propensity models to prove it. Buy this, buy that, wouldn’t you like to upgrade? Customers feel as though they are just targets to be milked for all their worth.

    Much of CEM idolizes brands. The brand manager knows best and has the touchpoint brand standards to prove it. In contrast to hard-nosed CRM, customers find themselves wrapped in a suffocating blanket of bland touchpoints.

    But where is the customer in CRM & CEM?

    Where is the understanding of what customers are trying to do and how to help them achieve THEIR goals? Where is the informed customer empowerment so that customers can manage their own relationships? Where is the understanding that it is customers who really co-create the experience for themselves, not CSRs, technology or ‘Thank you for your business’ notes.

    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.

  2. Hi Graham,

    I always enjoy your posts and comments on my articles. They initially read as though you are taking issue with my point but on re-reading them I usually conclude that we are in violent agreement!



  3. Thanks Shaun. I think you are right that many organizations move full steam with the “new” CRM or CEM app before addressing the underlying concerns. Recently read on the PBBI site about a Gartner study that quantified the cost of bad data — which costs companies on average $8.2 million a year. The article goes on to talk about how to make a business case for data quality, if interested –

  4. If we pull up and look at all change initiatives, I think there is a bigger picture and point here … the fundamental attributes of creating some evolutionary changes – whether people, process, technology, strategy, etc. – are utlimately quite similar – whether CRM, CEM, ERP, BPM, etc. Some sort of business case or imperative, alignment w/ key stakeholders, initiating and sustaining sponsorship, user / target involvement, training, and phasing to ease digestion. And like most drivers or criteria, they are more guidelines than algorithms – business is not physics. Per the previous comments, there are very few Silver Bullets and most claims of such only bring disappointment.


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