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Think BR: When acronyms get in the way of valuable relationships

CRM is evolving fast; we need to think differently about how things work in the digital age, writes Oliver Spalding, head of customer strategy, LBi.

Oliver Spalding, head of customer strategy, LBi

Oliver Spalding, head of customer strategy, LBi

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Brand-owners often refer to customer relationship management (CRM) through the lens of complex business processes, workflows and implementations. Instead of seeing the potential of converged media around their customers, many business-people and marketers perceive CRM as boring and, worse, financially risky.

In my experience a fundamental problem with CRM implementation is thinking of CRM as the end, not as the means to an end. By that I mean that starting with the wrong expectation affects the whole process from start to finish.

Too often the vendor selection process is over dominant. Identifying a platform and feature-set validates the project purpose, rather than what the platform is really for - customers and business.

However, this dynamic is changing, with CMOs having as much influence in technology decisions as the CIO.

Technical considerations are critical, but the relationship comes first. Relationship marketing was an attempt to unshackle us from the technical complexities of DR and CRM. Customer experience management (CXM) is an attempt to be less process-driven and more goal-driven. Is CRM different from CXM? Some practitioners say so, but really we’re all trying to figure out the same thing.

Our role now as marketers is to go deeper than marketing, considering the role of product, services, devices and technologies in people’s lives. We start from the point of view that digital is increasingly the connected customer’s lens on the world around them.

Where better to host the relationship then, than the media that’s in their pocket, on their desk or on their lap whilst watching the telly? We need to build intimacy, not information overload.

Here are some of the opportunities we can capitalise on:

  • Device optimisation - the way people use devices affects their purchase decisions. There are location-based, payment and physical behaviours to design for now. ‘Four-screen’ strategies (smart TV, computer, tablet and smartphone) create potential for a compelling relationship with customers and between channels, without the need for emails and DM. Is the Starbucks app CRM? It certainly has all the right characteristics; simple payment, on-going relevance and embedded loyalty rewards. Fits in my pocket too. 
  • Data - it’s big isn’t it? The problem with describing data like this is that it sounds even more difficult to get a handle on. Big data solutions are a lot more nimble than the databases of old, allowing us to use the cloud to store masses of information, with dashboards that make interpretation of that information easier and tools that help businesses automate and personalise at scale. Triggered communications become less back-breaking. There are many challenges for organisations, but we’re on the journey. When Target can identify women in their second trimester and serve them with baby care products, we know that something big is happening with data. 
  • Self-service - the 'inside-out strategy’ is a product of customers wanting to be able to look after more things online, meaning that businesses need to transform back-office services into front-line ones. This can mean anything from user-generated FAQs and click-to-call, to on-site instant messaging with a CS representative. In social media, we see the growth of customer care and C2C communities. Low-cost airline AirAsia is able to provide fast, consistent customer service across the web, Facebook and mobile channels, 24 hours a day, helping propel it to the accolade ‘The World’s Best Low-Cost Airline’ in 2012.

CRM is evolving fast in the information age. That doesn’t mean the old theories are no longer true - 'treating different customers differently’ as Seth Godin described it - but if our goal is to digitise the relationship we need to be thinking differently how things work.

These relationships are increasingly happening out in the open, accessible to countless thousands - a community of influence. What voice is more powerful in that context than the voice of the happy customer? How can we shape digital tools and services around customers to make sure that they are satisfied? How can CRM become the invisible force behind things that customers simply want to keep coming back to again and again?

Think about a service that has managed to weave its way into your routine and think again about what CRM has become.

Oliver Spalding, head of customer strategy, LBi


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