CRM: Management, Marketing or both?

The acronym CRM is a confusing one. Many people say it stands for Customer Relationship Management, while others suggest Customer Relationship Marketing. Let’s take a look at how both of these acronyms are playing out.

Customer Relationship Management

In the mid-’90s while many of us were working on Marketing Information Systems (MkIS) to support focused customer strategies, most software and systems vendors were busy building and selling “Customer Relationship Management” software as a way to capitalize on the growing interest in the acronym “CRM.” Fueled primarily by this influx of CRM software and systems, most people began to accept that “CRM” stood for Customer Relationship Management, and began their attempts to manage relationships with customers. Most organizations taking this approach have found that their CRM initiatives have failed to live up to expectations–both financially and with stronger relationships with their customers.

CRM–as defined through systems and technology–relies heavily on customer data, information, buying patterns, and the like. It assumes we’re able to gain the data we need to do a better job of “managing” the customer’s needs, values and expectations with our business. However, customers don’t tell us everything and assuming they did; there are so many external factors that will influence a purchase decision or loyalty to the business, we could never hope to have databases large enough or powerful enough to allow us to manage relationships for any length of time with any sustainable success. We try anyway. As a result, most of us are data rich and information poor and have learned the hard way that CRM is not about systems and technology. High hopes that having more customer data would lead to more effective and targeted marketing programs that would lead to higher revenue for the company have not materialized. Only capturing the data and trying to sell the customer more things doesn’t do a darn thing improve the relationship-a the fact that many have learned the hard way.

Customer Relationship Management is perhaps a misnomer. A better term for the systems and technology aspect might be Customer Information Management.

Customer Relationship Marketing

The term Customer Relationship Marketing–or the other CRM–seems to have fallen by the wayside. This CRM is perhaps the better phrase to use in describing what we do with customer information. We gather it, analyze it, identify patterns, and then make offers to a customer based on this data. We can make those offers through the mail, online, by telephone, by email, or in person. We can test our offers, our messages, and our channels to see which combination produces the best results
for our business. Customer Relationship Marketing? It seems like we once called this database marketing, and before that direct response. But, it should go further.

Customer Relationship Marketing should take advantage of the data and information gathered from all of the customer touch points in determining the best offer, message, and channel for the marketing efforts. Unfortunately, most organization don’t go this far. Most don’t have enough of the customer information needed to develop effective messages and compelling offers and have too much information that provides little value for marketers charged with increasing revenue. An example of which is the large volumes of transactional data that can be found with many catalogers. Most catalog operations can tell that a customer had purchased 25 pairs of blue shoes, but they often can’t make the correlation between those blue shoes and other blue things that this customer may have bought. If this correlation could be established, they would be able to determine what blue things the customer has already, and what blue things it could offer next.

Customer Relationship Marketing then is a term that describes a more deliberate approach to delivering the right products, to the right customer, at the appropriate time based on the data and information-purchase history, personal information, channel preferences, and the more–an organization has been able to collect. Is it anything more than glorified database marketing? Probably not as it’s now practiced. But, it has the potential to be so much more.

Can we hope to manage a relationship with the customer? Not in our wildest dreams. Customers can be identified, developed and nurtured, but never actually managed based on the data that we collect. Unlike personal relationships with family or friends, organizations don’t have the personal context for the data collected. Organizations can’t look at Ms. Jane Doe and know that she doesn’t like high-heeled shoes because she has problems with her feet. At best, it may only know that she never buys high-heeled shoes. That’s not–and never was intended to the be–a relationship from the customer’s perspective. It’s a business transaction, and that’s all.

In today’s world, most organizations require systems and technology to manage the vast of amounts of customer data we now collect. These systems, though, have nothing to do with managing the actual customer. Since most organizations now have this data, the focus should be on how to turn it into information to better deliver value to our customers, which will with any luck help create more revenue for the organization.

On the other hand, maybe organizations should stop trying to manage relationships with customers and began providing value for prices paid, along with a little friendly, helpful customer service. It would probably go a long way toward improving revenue. This approach worked long before the CRM acronym appeared, and will undoubtedly work long after it’s gone.

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Overcome CRM Challanges: Address People, Process, and Technology

Adopting a customer-centered marketing strategy sounds simple. Focusing on the customer’s needs, values, and expectations, and subsequently providing value for the customer, is a goal to which many companies aspire, but far too few deliver. The key to successful implementation of a customer-centered strategy comes with the realization that technology alone cannot solve any problem without the people and processes in place to make it actionable. The reality is most companies don’t have an integrated infrastructure–technology, people and process–in place to support such an initiative.

Nearly every company focuses on the technology component of the infrastructure and assigns the people and process portions to a lesser level of importance. Technology rarely prevents a customer-centered initiative from being successful. More often than not, human behavior and organizational process are the inhibitors to success.

So, how can you ensure success with such an initiative?

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Have your employees proven themselves willing change the way they work, if necessary, to provide better service to the customer?
  • Is your entire company well-trained in the art of customer service, and is everyone customer-focused-regardless of their contact frequency with the customer?
  • Do you have all the data about your customers that you need?
  • Are your systems capable of supporting your goals and objectives, in line with your customer’s expectations?

If you have found that you can’t answer “yes” to each of these questions, you are not alone. Nevertheless, you have taken the first step in recognizing and accepting your company’s shortfall, as it relates to your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) capabilities. To get back on track, keep in mind the three dimensions of CRM: technology, human behavior, and organizational process.

Technology: Data, Systems, and Information.

If you are going to be effective in implementing a CRM strategy, you’re going to need many different datasets. Data not just about your customers and their purchase patterns, but also data about your products and services, your prospective customers, your competitors, the market, the economy and perhaps the regulatory environment. Next, quality technical capabilities are a must. To be most effective in accomplishing your strategies, you will need to be able to gather, move and mine the data for relevant information. Your systems must be integrated to the degree that data sharing is dynamic according to your business needs. Many companies have transactional systems such as point-of-sale, telemarketing/telesales or customer service, but few have built in the degree of data integration necessary to truly assist the organization meeting the needs of the customer. Ask yourself, how does the information collected at these points of customer contact make its way through your company? Can product and market managers, market research, database marketing, and senior executives have access to this information–at the appropriate summary or detail level–to allow for sound business decision-making?

Finally, most data has some value in and of itself, but it is the combination of the data and system capability and know-how that provides the actionable information needed to create a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

For example, let’s assume that you know which customers buy which products or services you offer. Useful information to have, but ask yourself a few more questions:

  • Do you know why your customers buy from you? Can you find prospective customers just like your current customers?
  • Can you match your key products and services against products and services of your competitors? What are the strengths and weaknesses? Are you selling against them?
  • Who are future purchasers of your products and services? What do they look like?
  • Do you know why your customers are not buying from your competitors?
  • Will changes in the economy have and influence your customer’s ability to purchase your products and services? How?
  • Will changing demographics have an impact on your business? How?
  • If your product or service is regulated will pending changes in legislation affect your profitability? How?

If pressed, many companies can answer these questions on some level; however, the information needed for the answers is often spread throughout the organization on computer disks, in file drawers and in employees’ heads, which takes weeks or months to assemble. With such disparate and decentralized information in an organization, decisions tend to be made without a complete understanding of the big picture.

Of course, reliable, consistent; data and systems must be in place to maintain the integrity and credibility of the information. Without such, the ability to make sound decisions based on the information becomes suspect, and therefore will not be used. Technology is the easy part of this equation. Systems and technology can provide virtually any capability that is needed to manage the data and information. The tricky part comes with understanding the data and applying it to everyday situations. Most often, the creation of actionable information is not “rule-based”-generated solely by a computer-but rather, “expert-based”-requiring human intervention for interpretation.

Human Behavior

Human behavior is critical to the successful implementation of a CRM strategy. The biggest challenge companies’ face is getting an enterprise-wide focus on the customer. Outside of the sales or customer service areas, most individuals within an organization are often not directly exposed to customers. These individuals make vital decisions affecting the customer. Everyone in the organization–from the CEO to the line-worker–must be focused on the fact that the customer signs the paycheck.

This type of focus is difficult to achieve; as individuals within an organization are often focused on completing the task at hand and often have difficulty in seeing how their duties link to the big picture–the satisfied customer. The good news is that overcoming human behavior challenges start with a simple act-communication.

Communicating change to all employees is essential, but often-overlooked part of any corporate initiative. Here are a few ways to keep your employees interested, involved and more adaptable to the many changes required to implement a total customer relationship strategy successfully:

  • Get the individuals who will be affected by the change involved from the beginning of the project. Tell them about the initiative, what the organization is expecting to accomplish the change, how the customer will be affected, and, most importantly, how the change will affect their work. Ask for their input into the project, not only at the beginning but also throughout the project.
  • Communicate regularly, with appropriate messages and provide an easy way for employees to submit comments. You will have many audiences–from senior executives to telemarketers–within your organization. Each audience will likely need a different slant frequency of information.
  • Prepare for and provide sufficient training, giving your employees the skill sets necessary for the new systems and processes you will be implementing. Use this as an opportunity to re-assess communication skills and provide additional training in this area if needed. While these three points will not solve all of your change challenges, you will be on the road to a smoother transition from merely having a CRM strategy, to delivering on
    your customer’s needs and expectations.

Organizational Process

Organizations are often their worst enemy when it comes to implementing a CRM strategy. In some organizations, the culture and processes are so ingrained that it is difficult to facilitate change, even if you have adequately addressed issues of technology and human behavior. Moreover, the mindset that permeates the organization’s processes is often based on the limitations of technology in place at the time a particular process or procedure is developed. What has been done in the past may no longer be the best guide for what to do in the future. Organizations must prove themselves adaptable with processes and procedures that are designed with the customer in mind.

To better understand the effectiveness of your organization’s customer-focused processes, consider the following questions:

  • Are your organization’s overall customer goals in-sync enterprise-wide? In many organizations, there isn’t alignment through divisions and business units. For example, senior executives may want the organization focused on increased customer satisfaction and loyalty (retention), but the sales department is charged with increasing units sold or increasing the number of new customers–purely a numbers-driven approach–and the compensation structures are designed to support a new business model. Insurance companies, among others, have typically followed this model, paying more commission on products sold to new customers than commissions on renewals or cross-sell/upsell to existing customers.
  • Do your processes to make life easier for you or your customers? Not surprisingly, most organizations design processes to streamline operations for internal efficiency. However, keep in mind that processes and procedures that engage the customer should be designed more for the customer’s benefit. It should be easy for the customer to buy products/services, return products/services, or otherwise interact with your organization.
  • Have you established baselines and measures for optimal process performance? In other words, how long are your customers waiting on hold when they call in? How long should they wait? Are you telling them in the on-hold messages the expected wait time or better still, the best time to call when the wait time is the shortest?
  • Are your processes and technology seamlessly integrated to streamline customer interactions and satisfaction? Nothing’s worse than being stuck in an endless telephone loop because the process for handling various call types wasn’t thoroughly designed before implementing the supporting technology. Think about your customer-facing technology from a customer point of view. Have you walked through the process that the technology enables from your customer’s perspective? What are their needs and expectations and how can your technology enable, rather than disable, support?

Managing the total customer relationship is dependent upon how well these dimensions–technology, human behavior, and organizational process–are developed, managed and integrated. For success, equal attention must be given to all three dimensions.

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Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Playing Games with Wireless Advertising

I read an interesting article the other day about wireless advertising. The article featured a firm called Mobliss (now PressOK Entertainment) that is fast becoming what some industry experts believe to be one of the leaders in the delivery of wireless advertising. They may very well be on to something.

Mobliss founders have developed a pretty unique business model that delivers advertising, with permission, to those looking to “save time or to kill time.” Mobliss, which views itself as a media company, has bet on the “kill time” approach to engaging the consumer. Through the use of gaming and entertainment-oriented content, Mobliss can deliver promotional messages with to wireless devices. These promotions can also be targeted, relevant and location-based. The firm has partnered with gaming and entertainment providers-Group Lotto and Tribune Media Services, among them– for branded content.

It works by offering a variety of message opportunities–from contextual advertising to mobile alerts–to those accessing the Mobliss servers. One example is their recent partnership with 1-800 Contacts where users, after playing the word unscramble game, Jumble, are presented with an opportunity to call 1-800 Contacts to order contact lenses. In this case, the campaign is even integrated into the game, with the word “vision” as one of the jumbled words. Like other web-based marketing programs, Mobliss promotions can be tracked and are measurable in a variety of ways.

As I read this article, I couldn’t imagine anyone sitting around playing games on their cell phones while killing time. I then remembered; the day prior I was sitting in the airport waiting to pick up a friend and found myself, for the first time, playing a game on my cell phone. The difference is that my game is loaded on the phone and doesn’t cost anything to play. To take advantage of these other games or entertainment, it requires a connection to a server, and that means I’m paying for the call and the data transfer. Call me cheap-make that “frugal”-but, I’d never do it as long as the wireless pricing models are as they are today. That does not mean, however, that others won’t. Or that future improvement in technology won’t make mobile gaming easier for everyone.

I understand that there are some 12 million wireless subscribers in the United States, with somewhere around 5.6 million who use their wireless devices for things other than phone calls. But are they using the devices for entertainment in this sense? Who knows? If they are, and I had an appropriate product for those folks, I would test the Mobliss approach.
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My thanks to Brian Levin, CEO at Mobliss for providing clarification and validation of his firm’s services, for this article.

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