The last time I saw fear written so clearly in the eyes of business managers was 1991. The computer company where I worked had made the decision two years earlier to cut research and instead pushed the development efforts that had reached maturity into production. We had performed well for those next two years, but clients started to ask about our next generation of products and services, only to be greeted by the old soft shoe and subtle ‘ahems.’ Our stock tanked, our clients drifted away, we downsized, we spun off new entities, and focused on our ‘core competency.’ That is another way of saying we completely killed our company.
It could happen to you. I am betting that you will be tempted to slow down your customer-centric projects. It will be a disaster if you do. Unless you are so unbelievably compelling to your clients (you are Apple or LL Bean, or Zara, or a beloved piece of art) that they can’t let go, pulling back on customer-centricity is just plain stupid. The thing is: there is a completely new model of CRM that hearkens back to the 1950s but is as fresh as tomorrow, and it is about building bonds of understanding with the customer that are now more thin rotted threads than tough, strong ropes. Much of social networking is fashionable junk, but the notion of community, of understanding the shared values and connections that your customers have with each other, will be a foundation of your customer strategy in 2012. Understanding that customer A is friends with a group of people who share a set of attributes (associations, forums, event attendance, age, hobbies) will be a basic expectation required to market a product of service. Analyzing and managing notions of ‘cohesion’ and affiliation and ‘social fabrics’ and ‘cohorts’ and ‘local affinities’ will be baseline disciplines. Extending these competencies to all channels, and especially mobile channels, will demand continued investment, but will also offer tremendous rewards.
And what else? The entire area of accountability and reliability will emerge as front and central. Your clients are dazed and suspicious of you, your partners, and everyone else out there. It’s a mess, and your competition is going to exploit every one of your weaknesses in earning the trust of customers.
This is why I know your CRM strategy will survive the downturn, though if you decide to pull it back, I can’t be so sure YOUR POSITION will survive the downturn.
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