Don't Use CRM to Automate Bad Behaviors

05/13/2014 05:47 pm ET | Updated Jul 13, 2014

Here's the good news about the state of CRM today: Most companies recognize the financial value resulting from improving their customer experience (CX) and are spending the necessary dollars to acquire CRM technology and build preference centers.

Now the bad news: Many companies are focusing so heavily on their CRM technology that they are losing focus on why they embarked on CRM and preference-center initiatives in the first place -- to deliver improved customer experiences.

Two quotes from recent conversations my firm, Ernan Roman Direct Marketing, had with CMOs say it all:

  • "I've come to the realization that we are using new technology to automate our existing bad behaviors. We will be simply be increasing our ability to do more brand damaging 'spray and pray' due to installing the latest high-capacity CRM technology."
  • "We've invested millions in new customer engagement technology and just realized that we never actually asked our customers how they define more relevant communications and experiences."

In the course of working with many Fortune leaders on CX initiatives, we have learned that their major problems have little to do with inadequate CRM or preference-center technology.
Their major problem is, not having an in-depth understanding of how their customers define meaningful customer experiences.

Therefore, we recommend that CRM and preference-center initiatives should be based on understanding how your customers define the customer experiences they want to have with your specific brand and products.

Our recommendation is based on more than 10,000 hours of Voice of the Customer (VoC) research for clients including MassMutual, Norton AntiVirus, NBC Universal, IBM, QVC and Microsoft.

Research findings from in-depth interviews with B2B and B2C decision makers indicate that the following six points comprise a competitively differentiating customer experience:

  1. Improve the customer experience across every point of contact with your organization. Mike Rude, managing director of customer experience at FedEx Corporate Services, provided this important insight: "Too often CRM and preference-center initiatives focus on technology and process. We work hard to first understand the needs of the customer. This enables us to ensure that technology deployment will focus on delivering the optimal customer experience at every point of contact and every channel important to our customers."
  2. "Improve the customer experience" applies to all elements of the media mix and all departments in your organization. CRM success truly hinges on effective change management. According to Forrester Research, the top "people" challenges when implementing a CRM solution include cultural resistance to adopting new ways of working (45 percent), difficulties in achieving user adoption (44 percent), insufficient planning and attention given to change management (42 percent), and inadequate leadership (38 percent).
  3. High-quality experiences must be maintained throughout the relationship--not just when you are selling. "We need to think in terms of engaging customers at every stage of the customer life cycle. This causes a shift from one-way communications to conversations and thinking about content differently," said Eric Nystrom, director of Dell's Social Media Services Group. "Customers expect to engage with subject-matter experts and empowered employees, not corporate spokespeople. Therefore, content needs to be relevant, interesting engaging, and always on."
  4. Customer experiences must be driven by individual preferences regarding message, timing, frequency, and media mix. Said Jennifer Downes, director of direct response marketing at Lenovo NA, "For customers, the preference center is the mechanism to voice how they wish to interact with a brand. For marketers, it allows them to develop a deeper understanding of their customers. That said, the reality is that marketers as business people have metrics to meet, which may be at odds with providing the best customer experience. The key to success is for the marketer to find creative ways to meet these metrics without creating a conflict with the customer's desire for relevant engagement."
  5. Preferences must drive high-quality personalization of communications and experiences. Per VoC research findings, customers and prospects view personalization as the next step in a company's commitment to service excellence. Personalization is viewed as a service and benefit, not just a sales tool. However, consumers are very clear in defining personalization as much more than "those old-fashioned" transaction-based communications. This research quote says it all; "With today's technology, I expect the experiences and emails to reflect my individual preferences".
  6. Privacy of preference information is essential. "Start with the end in mind," advised Scott Frey, president and CEO of PossibleNOW. "Creating a plan for how the information is collected through the preference center and safeguarded will impact marketing campaigns and customer correspondence."

Key Takeaways

Jeff Howell, director, subscriber communications and engagement/CRM, at SiriusXM, offered four important takeaways regarding technology, preferences centers and delivering an improved customer experience:

  • Many marketers are missing the full value of a preference center. They are viewing it as a means of fulfilling compliance requirements and capturing simplistic preferences, such as email versus mail, or Product A versus Product B.
  • The real value of a preference center is to serve as a portal to engage the customer and capture information regarding issues of importance to the customer.
  • Opt-in preference information should enable a customer to define his relationship with the company across multiple devices, channels, and key points in the customer's life cycle.
  • "Marketers have to become smarter about using technology not as a silver bullet, but simply an enabler to deliver on a competitively differentiating customer experience," Howell said. "Too often marketers lose focus on the customer and get distracted by the operational requirements and capabilities of the technology."

Another takeaway, courtesy of FedEx's Rude, is to avoid the mistake of becoming enamored by technology's promise. Focus on understanding what the customer wants and how to use technology to deliver on those expectations, he told us.

We'd like to add one final takeaway: Internal decisions about technology need to be guided by external customer insights. Installing CRM technology without understanding how customers define relevance, engagement, and preferences will simply result in getting the latest technology to automate existing bad behaviors.

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Ernan Roman is recognized as a Customer Experience innovator and was inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame for creating three transformational methodologies: Voice of Customer Relationship Research, Integrated Direct Marketing, and Opt-in Marketing.