CRM, Yes, But Don’t Forget to MRC

Have you been bombarded, like I have been, with the latest buzz suggesting we should spend our time, resources, and money on online customer relationship management (CRM) software? Talk about putting the cart before the horse! Oh, the idea is pointed in the right direction, all right — but don’t you think first you need a satisfied customer base to manage?

Your goal, of course, is lots of satisfied customers — happy ones who become loyal, repeat buyers as well as active referrers. But just because they bought from you once doesn’t mean you have a relationship with them — yet. In fact, for all you know, they’re not coming back, and maybe for a very good reason.

First, you have to create an online shopping experience that plants the seeds of a real relationship. Then, you have to nurture those seeds with outstanding fulfillment and customer service. Building a relationship takes time. Shoving some tech-heavy CRM application at your customers is more likely to push them away than draw them in. If you want to get it right, you need to follow not CRM, but MRC: Manage your e-business correctly so that you can establish a relationship based on which you can develop a delighted and loyal customer. Only then can all the other stuff you do have the impact you want.

Lots of e-businesses have the software to facilitate CRM, and lots of software vendors would love to sell you some if you don’t have it yet. Nevertheless, most businesses don’t have the in-depth customer knowledge they need to use the technology effectively. They wind up getting carried away with trying to manage what they don’t actually have.

According to smart and commonsense customer relations guy David Sims: Everybody who profits from CRM has their own definition of what it is, but they’re agreed as to what it is not: CRM isn’t about technology any more than hospitality is about throwing a welcome mat on your front porch.

Properly understood, CRM is “a philosophy that puts the customer at the design point, it’s getting intimate with the customer,” [in the words of Liz Shahnam, CRM analyst with the META Group]. Mike Littell, president of the CRM division of EDS, agrees: “We view CRM more as a strategy than a process. It’s designed to understand and anticipate the needs of the current and potential customer base a company has.” Once you nail that, Littell says, there’s “a plethora of technology out there that helps capture customer data and external sources, and consolidate it in a central warehouse to add intelligence to the overall CRM strategy.”
In short, first get the happy customer base, and then you’ve got something to manage. To put it more bluntly, poor customer service can lose you a customer and leave you with nothing to manage.

Want some examples of how customer service failed in its efforts to establish a relationship? Here are some from my colleagues at Future Now.

One of my colleagues placed an order with BlueLight.com and sat back, naturally expecting to receive his merchandise. He waited. It didn’t come. He made an inquiry. BlueLight.com’s Customer Care Team responded, in a very chipper and clearly canned email, that his order regrettably had been cancelled and then proceeded to thank him for providing input that helped them achieve their goal: “the complete satisfaction of each of our customers.” More than a little dissatisfied and annoyed that his order had been cancelled, and that he had not been notified, he wrote again. He got another response. This time, the Customer Care Team informed him that the item was out of stock, thanked him for shopping with BlueLight.com, and suggested, blithely, that he should continue to keep checking out those BlueLight.com specials. Do you think he’s doing that?

Another one of my colleagues ordered from Circuit City’s Web site. He handed over his credit card information on a $200 purchase, then learned later in the checkout procedure that the software couldn’t handle the fact that his shipping, billing, and residential addresses were all different. He couldn’t complete the purchase online. Stalwart and still wanting to make the purchase, he called the prominently displayed customer service number. After holding forever and then talking with the representative on the phone (a total of 45 minutes!), he was informed that their order screens are the same as that online, they were only able to do what the Web site would allow, and, further, they didn’t have authority to process his order and credit card information over the phone at all! Needless to say, my colleague made his purchase elsewhere. Circuit City forfeited a $200 sale, and it definitely doesn’t have a customer, simply because its system was not able to accommodate the customer’s needs. It can fire at him all the CRM guns it has; he won’t be back.

And every one of us here has had the following problem: You go to a site, run into a snag making a purchase, and decide to call customer service. But the lines at customer service are all busy. Do they put you on hold? No! They tell you to go to the Web site! Didn’t you just come from there?

So, before you go spending your money on CRM, spend a little time — no, a LOT of time — considering how effective you are at MRC. That’s where it all starts, and if you get it wrong, that’s also where it all ends.

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