CRM = Customers (dont) Really Matter

CRM was supposed to bring companies closer to their clients. The basic idea was to; find out what a client wants and needs, give it to them, and get them to be your client for life.

But as with all good technology, it hasn't actually brought the sales teams, marketing departments, R&D, or customer service departments any closer to the customer at all! Technology is a poor subsitute for the human voice and social interaction.

I really feel sorry for the companies that struggled with the software, spent hundreds of man hours on design and implementation plans, dumped thousands and thousands of dollars into consulting sessions, developed training manuals and trained the trainers, held the meetings and issued management memos only to find that the problem of customer loyalty was the same if not worse.

They had the right idea but they were listening to those lame marketing gurus again! The same guys who have been promoting direct mail postcards as the best choice for farming prospects at a whopping 1-3% response rate!! (Whopee! Where do I sign up?) Seeing technology as a cure all for customer service is a grave mistake.

First, there is a serious problem with the oxymoron Client Relationship Management. Intimate loving families and friends can't manage their relationships, hence a 50% divorce! How in the heck is a company that sees its clients only a few hours each year going to manage the relationship?

At best, you can sustain, grow, and cultivate the relationship. At worst, you will lose it due to changes in the client's circumstances or aging, competition, economic and political factors, changing markets or (heaven forbid) your own terrible customer service and shoddy workmanship. But you will never be able to manage your clients. As a matter of fact... it is the client who manages you. They tell you what products they want, and what your product is worth, how they want it delivered, and like green french fries and the Edsel, whether they want it at all!

Companies that have to fight for their customers usually have internal problems. I heard that the CEO of a major insurance company said, " We stopped advertising once, we lost 50% of our business that year." This is a company that has trouble with client retention!

Retaining customers should never be a major struggle, and if it is, you are doing something wrong. It usually stems from not understanding the customer. Going to a computer program to improve customer relations, or find out what the customer is thinking is, quite frankly, nuts.

Let me give you an example from my own shopping habits. There are 4 major supermarkets within a 5 mile radius of my house. One has great produce prices, the others don't. I usually shop at that market for produce only, because their other prices are too high. I have a membership card with that store. Do they know why I only shop for produce at their store? NO! Will my shopping habits change if their prices change? Yes. Do they know that? No. Can they get that information from my membership card? No. Can they get it if the guy at checkout asks me? You bet! As a matter of fact I have volunteered the information. I have told checkers in passing on several occassions I think their produce prices are the best in town...do you think that information got to the store manager? Probably not! Am I going to seek out the manager to tell him? Probably not! But if I do, is he going to go in the office and make note of my comment somewhere so he can serve me better? No way!

Now,do you think the other stores know why I don't buy their produce? They have no clue, even though I have a membership card with them as well, they have no idea why I never buy their produce.

In-house customer surveys and focus groups and even "Hi, how ya doin?" conversations put the client and the company on the same side of the table, working together as partners to develop better products, services, and processes, and to cement relationships.

Here's another example of CRM failings, current gas prices are driving down SUV sales. Can CRM software tell you that gas prices are going to hit an all time high in summer? Can CRM software tell you that your competition is coming out with a hybrid that will save produce 50% higher MPG. Can CRM software tell you that your customer was in an accident that will make getting into an SUV painful and difficult, and that for the next few years he is going to buy sedans? No...but a single follow-up phone call by the salesman will tell you everything you need to know if you ask the right questions.

Building layers of insulation between the company and the client; software programs, autoresponders, marketers, voice mail systems, web sites, and self serve check outs are the death of communication between a business and its clients. Most people won't try to navigate the maze to tell you they are dissatified, they will just leave...and you'll never know why because they won't leave a message on your voice mail or tape a note to the self serve register.

But if you see frustration on a clients face, you can act immediately to turn a problem into a success. Some of the most loyal customers come from a bad situation turned surprisingly good. Case in point, At a fast food restaurant near my office I was carrying the tray to my table loaded with food for 4, all adults from my workplace. Another customer turned suddenly in front of me and all the food was on the floor. Frys and drinks everywhere. The manager immediately came over, dropping what he was doing during the busy rush hour, asked for my receipt, told me not to worry about it, to go sit down, he remade the order and had it delivered to my table within 5 minutes. For months afterward we ate there everyday, partly out of a sense of obligation, partly because we now trusted this restaurant and liked the manager, and we often brought other co-workers with us or brought back food for those to busy to leave for lunch. The restaurant certainly got its money worth on that $20.00 investment. And if we had had to replace that meal ourselves it would have had a totally different outcome. CRM cannot be credited with the success of the managers handling of this problem.

Hire a customer service team made up of people who love people, are excellent listeners, and who genuinely enjoy their job! Hire a customer service team of problem solvers, people who enjoy the challenge of creatively solving problems for people, pay them what they are worth! Train them to pass on all information from the customer to management immediately. Then train management to act on that information immediately. A free service call or product is a small price for retaining customers and gaining referrals, and costs much less than CRM systems. There is no better client relationship than the one that is face to face, person to person. Your customer service employees are the front line. They are your company image, they represent your company much more than your logos or ads. It's a lot cheaper to pay your customer service people a living wage and use them to get the information you need, than to squander thousands of dollars and man hours on CRM software that cannot.

Meredith Gossland is owner of Lasting Impressions 2, a small business marketing service, specializing in greeting card marketing, custom gift baskets for clients, multicultural marketing and marketing seminars. http://www.lastingimpressions2.com Contact her at info@lastingimpressions2.com

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