CRM systems provide excellent customer tracking but do they convey the emotional transaction - something that is vital for brands embracing social media as a way to interact with consumers? Social media expert Jeremy Kent investigates.
Customer relationship management is at the very heart of sales and marketing yet it remains one of the most difficult disciplines of any organisation to master. Over the last few decades, companies have invested fortunes in progressive CRM programs designed to get to know, to understand and, ultimately, to sell more products and services over a longer period of time to an existing customer base - and that's where the problem lies.
Too much of CRM practice is designed to help businesses manage their relationships with their customers and fails to understand that the relationship works both ways.
Over the past 15 years, the internet and, more recently social media, has fundamentally re-engineered the way individuals interact with companies and organisations. In any relationship, one partner tends to be more dominant at any given time. Those of us in the commercial world must realise that we are very much in the servant's role now and we must listen intently to what our public are saying to us and about us.
Today's CRM systems provide excellent customer tracking across a long history of transactions with a business. What they don't do is convey the emotional transaction that individuals experience. For years, advertising and public relations have focused on the behaviour, the thoughts and the feelings of individuals at every point of contact with the brand and the company behind it. Very often, there is a disconnect between the marketing dream and the reality at point of sale.
Think for a moment about your own experiences with the financial services or utilities industries. With the arrival of Web 2.0 and social media, CRM must change so that is no longer ‘about us’ and becomes all about you. This requires a fundamental change in the way organisations think. CRM systems are by their very nature structured, scripted and computerised. Our customers are not so structured and they would never use database fields to describe themselves. The challenge in the social media age is to put the humanity back into customer relationships.
Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and a myriad of others provide organisations with an opportunity to listen not just to what's being said to them but what's being said about them. Whilst the marketing department may be tasked with engaging in that wider conversation, it is very important that the whole organisation listens to what people are saying in a wider context. Sometimes criticism may be harsh but companies must not hide from it because it highlights the hurdles which some individuals face when they try to do business with an organisation. Removing those hurdles and making things easy for people to do business with is a fundamental CRM tenet.
A case in point
Over the past few months, The Brand Counsel has been exploring new email systems for our own business. One of the companies we considered was Google corporate mail. Google is a highly creative and innovative company that has re-engineered so many aspects of our lives at both a personal and corporate level. We had an existing relationship with Google through cost per click campaigns for a number of clients and had used a variety of their services in the past. The trust in the brand was unparalleled and everything pointed to the fact that they would make a natural partner for the agency for our email needs.
However, we found it very hard to do business with them, although we really wanted to. The only way that Google would interact with us was through email and we wanted to talk to them over the phone. We engaged in a lengthy email exchange but the process was long winded, slow and we failed to obtain the answers we needed to enable us to make a purchase decision. Despite really wanting to work with Google, we found it impossible to do so and yet the frustration that was felt will never show on Google’s CRM system. For all its success in other areas, Google appeared to us to be remote, inaccessible and not listening.
Let's contrast that with a more personal experience with Plaxo, the online networking service. For months, Plaxo emailed me suggesting other people on their network that I might know and should connect with. One of those individuals was a voice-over artist that I had enjoyed a working relationship with over a period of years. Sadly, he had passed away about nine months earlier. There didn't appear to be an immediate way to correct the information that came through from Plaxo every week.
On the last time that he was suggested as someone I might know, I posted a sarcastic comment on Twitter highlighting the error. Within minutes Plaxo had responded to that tweet and provided a link that I could use to provide details of the error so that they might fix the problem.
In the social media age, customer relationship management must engage with individuals in a far more expansive way than ever before. Good CRM practice enables individuals to engage with the company on their terms. The new advertising campaign for Aviva expressly focuses on this idea and if the company’s employees and CRM system can deliver on the promise, we should see a new standard in customer engagement.
Jeremy Kent is CEO of The Brand Counsel