Myth versus reality

Your company is investing heavily in customer relationship management (CRM) tools, but is it customer-centric?

Answer these four simple, informal questions that - for me - distinguish customer-centric mantra from reality. If your company scores fewer than four 'yes' answers, then it's kidding itself. It may have a great CRM strategy, but it doesn't have a true customer relationship perspective.

1. Are all customer e-mail messages automatically acknowledged and answered, with each query or problem fully and personally responded to by knowledgeable staff?

2. Is online handling of credit and payment terms for new customers an integral component of your CRM base?

3. Are at least 25 per cent of bonuses and related performance incentives based on customer satisfaction metrics?

4. Is your call centre staffed by well-trained people who are rewarded on the basis of the quality of the customer relationship?

There's a single, common link among these four questions: the quality of the customer experience. A company can't be customer-centric if it ignores the foundations of the experience. Not answering e-mails is saying, "Don't bother us; we're not interested". Surveys routinely show that more than half of all e-business sites send this signal. But they boast about how much they care about the customer.

The second question is perhaps the most revealing about turning customer 'focus' into customer relationships. Credit is at the very core of every commercial relationship.

The third question falls outside the control and possibly the influence of most people. But the way it's answered sends a very clear signal about the priority that top management really places on the customer relationship.

The fourth question deals with an area in which we all have experience, and probably bad memories as well. The call centre is often the point of first impression for a customer. But what's a "problem" to the vendor is actually more often a crisis to the customer. For the customer, how this is handled defines the relationship. In that situation, a firm wants the best-trained, most responsive people on the phones. And it should treat them well.

IT is very much at the centre of CRM. So it should play a real role in helping design the customer experience, not just the technology platform. If your company scored 0-for-4 in these questions and you feel you can't do much to change those answers, you'd better try, because otherwise, all that CRM work is literally a waste of time and money.

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