Who’s on First?


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Costello are probably my favorite comedy double act of all time. Strike that, they are my favorite comedy of all time. I used to watch them every Sunday morning at 11am growing up. Within that context, easily my favorite routine, possibly their most famous is their baseball routine; Who’s on First. The general premise behind the exchange has Costello, a peanut vendor named Sebastion Dinwiddle, talking to Abbott who is Dexter Broadhurt, the manager of the mythical St. Louis Wolves. However, before Costello can get behind the plate, Abbott wants to make sure he knows everyone’s name on the team…

Fast forward 30 odd years, and the new double act seems to be Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Customer Experience – you can add the ‘Management’ part if you are so inclined. It seems that every conversation that starts with CRM these days, ends with Customer Experience. But they are strange bedfellows, because one is an Inside-out view of the world and the other is an Outside-in view. Similar to Abbott and Costello, all we want to know ‘everyone’s name on the team’. It sometimes feels like the definitions conversation many have had during the past 3 years or longer. Also, the whole ‘relationship’ bit is quite contentious.

Every conversation about CRM should consider customer jobs to be done (JTBD, thanks Mark Walton-Hayfield for that thought), thus there is an experience happening, in some way shape or form… But, not every experience needs to consider CRM (I touch on this in a post written last year). This is hardly a new conversation, when I began thinking about this, I reached out to my trust network and Paul G came back with the following from CRM at the Speed of Light’s very first edition which came out January 2001 and is on page xvii of the introduction. Paul noted that this was “LITERALLY the first time I EVER talked about a definition of CRM in any way at all”:

“Okay, enough of this. So, you ask, what is CRM? What is the purpose of this book on CRM technology and the Internet? The more substantial definition of CRM is being left to Chapter 1. However, I’ll throw in a short, distilled, filtered definition (120 proof) of CRM to begin to satisfy your terminological blood lust. CRM is a complete system that (1) provides a means and method to enhance the experience of the individual customers so that they will remain customers for life….”

(Paul mentioned to me that he has some thoughts that he will be sharing directly in about a month’s time)

Cause and Effect

CRM can drive customer experience, but customer experience cannot drive CRM. Customer Relationship can be impacted by the experiences had with the company (Thanks Scott Rogers for that thought) That said, lessons learned and listening to voice of the customer can impact what data is stored and how to act, of course. CRM is an enabling strategy and technology, used by people inside the organization. Where CRM gets a bad rap is when people believe that CRM and SFA (Sales Force Automation) are the same thing. ‘I don’t know, third base’. They are not the same thing, SFA is an inward focused, manage the pipeline, manage sales process, manage money and very often does not do much to provide external value. Customer Experience is an SFA afterthought, it just is!

How about Social CRM, does that get us closer? Customer Experience and Social CRM are not the same thing, either (again, my blog from last year). I am not going down the path of definitions, been there, done that. Social CRM is about a specific response, by companies because customers now want to have a say in the boundaries of the customer / company conversation. Social CRM takes into consideration how, when and where a company engages in the conversation will impact the experience of the customer. Interestingly, many examples of customer service done right could be called service experience, customer experience or Social CRM, take your pick, there are supporting arguments for any of the above. I also believe that the word Social is over used and more often than not people actually mean digital, topic for another day.

What about Design?

Proper customer experience design should focus (at least in part) on what good CRM tells you to do. For example, if you are using CRM to manage complaints, the customer data should specify the type of response, the channel of the response and the timing of the response due to the customer. This is not customer experience, is it? A few of the larger analyst firms have so closely linked CRM and customer experience that a conversation about one cannot really be had without the other. Well, that is not totally true, people talking about customer experience do not seem to jump into a CRM conversation, but those talking about CRM quickly jump into a customer experience conversation, hmmm….

Something I have said a few times, you can manage data and you can manage process. Not so sure you can manage customers and I am confident that you cannot manage experiences. We can simply do our best to manage what we would like the experience to be, we can design it and pay attention to detail, it is what the customer perceives it to be – period. How does, or should CRM play into the design process? For example, where does automation fit in, is automation a bad word? It sounds impersonal. But as Esteban Kolsky shared, people simply want the right answer and they want it now:

“For the first time in more than 15 years, automation through multiple channels is growing and the satisfaction scores are rising steadily. People are liking what they get, for the most part, and companies are improving how they do things. In the early 2000s, purchasing a ticket by phone using United’s telephone network would take over one hour and involve an innumerable number of steps; today it can be done in 5-10 minutes in far fewer and easier steps (mostly thanks to speech recognition).”

Just remember, if you want to know ‘Why’ – He is the left fielder… The answer is ‘Because’, the center fielder.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mitch Lieberman
Finding patterns and connecting the dots across the enterprise. Holding a strong belief that success is achieved by creating tight alignment between business strategy, stakeholder goals, and customer needs. systems need to be intelligent and course through enterprise systems. Moving forward, I will be turning my analytical sights on Conversational Systems and Conversational Intelligence. My Goal is to help enterprise executives fine-tune Customer Experiences


  1. Mitch, interesting post. Glad to see you blogging about customer experience and how it relates to CRM.

    You might enjoy reading the transcript of my interview with Ed Thompson of Gartner: What’s New with CRM, Social CRM and CEM? .

    He is at least one analyst (Bill Band of Forrester is another) that see CRM and CEM as different and complimentary. For example, Ed says:

    The way I tend to associate is to say it’s about roles and goals. And I would argue that CRM is quite narrow in terms of the roles. And most people would agree that CRM has something to do with sales, marketing, and customer service roles in an organization. In other words, the finance guys aren’t doing CRM. You could debate that, but it’s largely about those three departments.

    But the goals are very long, and we typically collect every six months a list of about 40 to 50 “What are your goals, your CRM initiative?” So, it could be acquisition of customers, cross selling and up selling, lowering the cost of service, improving the campaign response rate. There’s a whole long list of things that people try to achieve.

    Customer experience, I would argue that the goals are narrower, almost a subset of CRM. The goals are advocacy, satisfaction, loyalty.

    And then later in the interview Ed says CRM and CRM are:
    “adjacent, overlapping but different.”

    I hope the days of saying CRM contains CEM, or vice versa, are over. See my article CRM and CEM: Managing the Yin-Yang of Customer Relationships.

    Frankly, I don’t understand a couple of statements you made.

    • “CRM can drive customer experience, but customer experience cannot drive CRM.”

      CEM is all about designing and delivering intended customer experiences that drive customer loyalty. Some experiences require CRM systems. Others require people, stores, etc. When I talk with CEM experts they acknowledge that CRM systems are part of the answer, just not the entire answer.

    • “Customer Experience is an SFA afterthought, it just is!”

      Sorry, this just doesn’t make any sense to me. CEM developed later than CRM, but that doesn’t make it an afterthought, if that’s what you meant. And SFA actually pre-dated CRM. SFA and Marketing Automation were smashed together to form CRM in the late 1990s, and then customer service/support automation was added later just to round things out. CEM came into prominence around 2005 as a more holistic idea from the beginning.

    One additional comment… automation is not a bad word, except when it’s presented as the only thing that matters. Despite all the advances in self-service, people still prefer to talk to people to solve problems. And my research finds that human-based experiences are more likely to be memorable, creating loyalty. So the challenge ahead is to use technology effectively but not assume it’s the complete answer. Zappos, for examples, is heavily automated but when people call they get amazing human-powered service.

    In a nutshell, I see CRM as more about systems and CEM more about people, but there is considerably overlap. And that overlap is likely to increase in the next few years as we move to more digital and multi-channel interactions.

  2. Bob,

    Thanks for the comments/thoughts.

    My goal was/is to provoke a bit of thought on the subject and try to bring the two worlds together. The issue is that I struggle with is that darned word ‘manage’ (I don’t like it in CRM either). An experience is what someone perceives it to be, it cannot, nor should no be managed. There should not be a goal towards experience, it should simply be positive, efficient … depending upon what the customer is doing. For example, a roller coaster ride should simply be fun, the vision is that the rider likes it, of course, but driving loyalty is not the goal, fun is the goal.

    I think of experience as being a lot of things and much greater. If measured, without annoyance, I see experiences as having an input into future experiences. The most logical place to store that information is in the CRM system, so that it can drive certain types of experiences where CRM is involved (service, support, transactions). I believe we agree on you first point.

    With regards to the second point, my use of ‘afterthought’ is really that SFA is a company driven, what ‘we’ need to do perspective on driving sales. Many (most?) sales people only consider the customer experience during this process (mostly BtoB professionals) as an afterthought to, some process designed to get the person to buy something. I was not building chronology of what came first, sorry if I was not clear on that. The key point is that SFA is often considered part of CRM and in many cases SFA is considered to be CRM and the people who use it do not give much thought to the customers perception of the process.

    One last thing. In my research and reading for this, it was interesting to note that analysts covering the topic seemed to follow a specific path. What I mean is that folks like Bill and Ed are willing to make the progression from CRM to CEX. Those at each of their firms who talk about CEX do not make the connection back to CRM (I could have missed it).



  3. Mitch, thanks for your comments, much appreciated.

    Looking at “relationship” and “experience” holistically, I agree we can’t can’t completely manage them. In that sense CRM and CEM are both misnomers. Just like we can’t directly manage our personal relationships; we can only manage our behaviors.

    Even if companies practice Customer Revenue Management aka SFA, they can’t manage revenue directly. OK, maybe banks can, but that can land you in jail!

    So what do companies manage?

    * In CRM, most companies manage customer information — leads (sales), deals (SFA) or incidents (service/support).

    * In CEM, companies can manage the company resources that customers use to create their own experiences. Apple manages its store design and how employees are dressed and trained. AMEX manages how it hires and equips agents in the contact center. Coke manages the brand image conveyed in TV ads.

    Much like a theatre, in CEM you can manage your performance but ultimately the customer’s perception is what determines whether the experience was good or not. We can’t manage perceptions but we can influence them!

    Your point about experience in sales being an afterthought is interesting. I agree that’s how the industry is treating it, for now. There another “M” trend building in Revenue Performance Management, which I researched an wrote about in a recent article. In a nutshell, RPM is a technology-enabled strategy to increase total revenue productivity… by getting (among other things) marketing and sales to work more collaboratively. The sales experience (what customers/prospect perceive) is not part of RPM thinking, just like CX wasn’t part of CRM thinking in the beginning. In my view RPM will need to evolve to recognize that the “art” of sales is equally important to closing deals as optimizing all the bits in the marketing/sales funnel.

    Regarding analysts, I see your point. In my discussions with CX analysts at Forrester, I’m not sure they’ve given due credit to CRM. And over the years CEM experts have gone to some pains to position it as something completely different from CRM. Yet when I research best practices, I found lots of common ground. Technology is one, but also ideas like treating different customers differently. CRM ideas are incorporated into CEM but sometimes presented like they are completely new. Of course, CRMers did the same thing. CRM thinking is a evolution of direct marketing, it didn’t spring to life as a completely new idea either.


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