This question was recently posted by Philip Smith of Blueberry Quill in a LinkedIn forum. It was prompted by Colin Shaw's recent article on the subject. Referring to it, Philip asked:
"Do you agree that CRM and CEM are two different, albeit related, disciplines? Or is CEM the updated, business-centric version of the old IT-driven CRM?"
Here is my unedited response:
The headline question is a hard one - almost like "What is the difference between the Origin of the Universe, and the Purpose of Life?"
I don't mean CRM and CEM (or any 3-letter acronym for that matter) are anywhere as important as the above, but they are as fuzzy and undefined, making comparisons impossible.
What is CRM? What is CEM? Ask 10 people and you'll get 11 different answers. Thousands of 'gurus' have their own definitions, some overlapping, some ridiculously different. No consensus and no central 'authority' to establish a standard definition (although many organisations and individuals would like to believe they are THE authority). Having published a book (or 100 articles) doesn't make one an authority, hence I refuse to accept quotations as arguments. I'm venting this just as a starting point for some thinking! :)
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To the more specific, binary questions at the end of the opening post: Yes, and No. Yes, they are two different disciplines, and yes they are related. No, CEM is not an updated version of CRM. Neither is one business-centric or the other - IT-driven.
In my very personal (!) view, both disciplines are business disciplines, not technology (technology disciplines are object-oriented programming or relational databases). Both of them can be significantly assisted by technology, like any business discipline - from accounting to recruitment.
Both CRM and CEM are part of a higher-order, strategic business discipline, which I prefer to call Customer Centricity. In its early days CRM was synonymous with Customer Centricity, while it remained a purely business discipline and was all-encompassing: from a high-level customer strategy to customer-centric operations and processes, to underpinning customer intelligence (and information architectures). As the vendor community usurped the acronym to denote a class of software, and focused on the front-end functions, the discipline lost strategic ground, becoming purely operational and even tactical.
CEM emerged in the vacuum left by the chosen focus of CRM, bringing back the 'R' in CRM (for which Siebel & friends do little or nothing). As relationships are 2-way affairs, CEM (re)introduced an interest in the Customer perspective and dived even deeper into the least manageable aspect of relationships: perceptions and emotions. I repeat: I am not pushing definitions or trying to claim any authority - just (reluctantly) accepting the most widely practised flavours of these disciplines, Not a consensus, but a little better than chaos.
To describe the place and role of each discipline within the bigger customer-centric picture is beyond this question and discussion thread. I would only like to (strongly) declare my personal (!) view that they are semantically subordinate to a bigger, more encompassing discipline (call it whatever you want), and none of the two is 'above' or 'below' the other - or chronologically should precede or follow in the maturity journey of a business. Therefore I consider all attempts to position any of these disciplines as 'superior' or 'better' than the other as unfounded, unprofessional, and a pathetic marketing effort by the respective proponents.