The Value of a Service Rolodex


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The high tech expo followed my keynote to the customers of a large technology company. The expo booth guards around the giant ballroom created a cacophony reminiscent of an old fashioned small town fair. “Step right up and win the little lady a teddy bear!” The teddy bears were replaced with a chance to win an IPad. But, the sound and spirit were eerily similar.

The center attraction was the latest whiz bang customer relationship management system. It could slice and dice faster than a butcher on a cold January morning. The system’s pitchman made wild projections laced with time saving stats and cost reducing examples. People were memorized by his glitzy slide show and sound effects all run remotely from his hand held magic machine.

Thinking he was singling out a potential buyer, he shot a question point blank at me. “And, what CRM system do you use, sir?” He cocked his head back as if he was ready to outdraw whatever brand I mentioned. I bluntly (and honestly) responded: “A Rolodex®!” The crowd around the booth laughed. He returned to his super-duper demonstration without comment. As I wandered to another side show, I overheard one person comment, “I bet our customers would like it better if we used a Rolodex®!”

I actually do use a Rolodex®–chocked full of handwritten notes about a client’s particulars—assistant’s name, number of kids, interests—all useful rapport building facts plus contact information. On the back of each card is information such as the last time we talked, future key events, most worrisome competitor, etc. It’s not very efficient. And, if I had millions of clients, it would not be practical. But, it helps me keep “relationship” in the middle of CRM.

Now, don’t get me wrong! I am not down on customer relationship management. We live in a time of razor thin margins when cost-saving efficiency is crucial to survival. Operationalizing customer management can bring reduced prices to customers and free up customer contact people to both tailor their responses and spend time on issues requiring their ingenuity and expertise. But, the Rolodex approach is code for what customers want most in their experience—acknowledgement they are uniquely valued through the manner they are treated. Keep the “R” in CRM.

Chip Bell
Chip R. Bell is the founder of the Chip Bell Group ( and a renowned keynote speaker and customer loyalty consultant. Dr. Bell has authored several best-selling books including The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service and, with John Patterson, Take Their Breath Away. His newest book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service, will be released in February.


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