Name a three letter business acronym with more negative associations than CRM. Only ERP rivals CRM for the concept of failure, frustration, cost and unfulfilled promise. ERP is the discipline of managing your stuff, while CRM is about managing relationships with customers. Why is there so much rancor about CRM? We have been hearing the litany of derision for a decade: you can’t manage the customer. Correct, but where in the definition does it say you are managing the customer? The aspiration, which requires perspiration, is to manage the relationship.
The challenge in ‘managing’ the customer relationship is that no one in the corporate office wants such a messy job. Managing growth, profitability, costs and competitiveness is the language of the executive suite. Minions to the C-Suite work to targets. Compared to those measurable management disciplines, managing the customer relationship is squishy – like nailing Jello to a wall. Yet we have no choice – manage we must. What does it mean to manage? It means to direct an effort with a degree of skill and focus. It comes from the Latin “manus” – or ‘hand’ – like in ‘manual’ or the original usage in Italy: maneggiare. That gives us an idea of the intent: be hands on.
Social Media initiatives serve to underscore this requirement of being hands on in guiding the customer’s experience with the organization. Ideally we’d like figuratively to hold each customer’s hand and insure that they have an acceptable experience with our business or institution. That can be expensive to scale. So we put processes in place, deliver information, simplify steps, aid in decision making, selection, set-up, handling of billing, delivery, payment and inquiry. It is all hand-crafted. CRM can’t be purchased because it is not a technology. As a business discipline, it is designed by you as the advocate for your customer. Technology is laid in behind the process, and analytical tools are put in place to measure efficacy, and feedback systems are put in place to test process integrity. CRM is an evolving, heuristic discipline. Social media are terrific in accelerating the evolution of our customer processes. They give the organization a willing cadre willing and ready to provide advice and insight on what works and doesn’t work with your business processes. But can we listen? Yesterday I was on the phone with my bank. Why? Because I was checking my account and there was a message that said, “Inclearing checks….. $312.72.” I’d never heard of this term ‘inclearing’ and so I typed it into the Search bar on the bank’s website. Nothing. So… of course: Google. Immediately the answer popped up. I checked the bank website: nowhere could I suggest that they add this search term. I called them. Hey: I’m an analyst – I can’t help myself. I suggested that they add the term. bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. I could tell that all electroencephalographic activity had stopped in the service agents brain. “Thank you, sir, for your suggestion.”
We have to be at least as good as Google. Google listens without any human listening. But for customer experience improvement, a CRM discipline is the only option for a business to succeed. And that might explain why CRM is the top business term that clients searched Gartner.com for in 2011. “Social” has given new life and urgency to CRM.