In my last post, Why Your CRM Strategy Should Not Focus On Your Customers, I attempted to make the case for emphasizing building relationships over identifying customers’ needs. It didn’t take long for several CRM experts whom I respect, first Wim Rampin, then Graham Hill, to disagree with me.
My argument, in a nutshell, was that it’s called “Customer Relationship Management,” not “Customer Needs Management,” therefore you should emphasize building relationships rather than focusing on the customers’ needs. I suggested that we focus on relationships linked to communication preferences in order to be able to meet or exceed customers’ needs.
Both Wim and Graham took time out of their busy schedules to reply to me arguing that I was wrong, that, in fact, it should be the customers’ needs that are paramount.
Channeling President Bill Clinton, Graham titled his comment, “It’s The Customer St*p*d!” and argued that
Rather than wasting time on building spurious relationships, companies like AT&T should focus on understanding customers’ needs, in developing their capabilities to meet them and in doing so in a way that co-creates value for both.
I’m making an assumption that he was referring to Bill Clinton legendary slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid!” and not calling me stupid. (smile) I’d mentioned AT & T because Mitch Lieberman had mentioned it in a reply to an earlier post of mine. Using any cellular company is probably not a good idea when discussing CRM.
Let me respond to their comments with three points:
- I realize that the acronymn “CRM” has grown to include more than just relationship management. To draw a parallel with constitutional scholars, I was being a strict constructionist in defining the term so literally. That was a poor foundation upon which to build my argument.
- In his comment Graham responded that relationships are two-sided. I will agree to that when the subject is personal relationships, but I disagree when we’re discussing customer behavior. An organization needs to know which customers want relationships and which don’t. If you don’t want a relationship with my business, yet you continually purchase from me, I might want to know that you are a repeat customer so that my sales staff recognize you when you return. I’d also like to know that for marketing reasons, I need to know that you don’t want me reaching out to you. You, the customer may not want a relationship, but for business reasons, we need to segment you so that we respond to your wishes. “What type of relationship does the customer want with my business?” “No relationship.” To a business, unlike a person, “no relationship” can be a relationship.
- Wim commented that “customers do not value a relationship; they value the product or service…” Sometimes yes; sometimes no. This brings up an issue I have with CRM thought leaders. I’m not picking on Wim here whom I admire, but I intensely dislike blanket statements that imply all customers are the same in all industries. They’re not. All too often, I see blanket statements like this made by CRM’ers I admire and respect. Perhaps it’s the character limitation of Twitter or the short length of blog posts. But one thing I do know about customers is that they are not all alike.(Whoops! There’s a blanket statement. Let me rephrase: In nearly all industries they’re not alike.)
Thanks to Spiro, Wim, Graham and Mitch for commenting. You stretched my brain muscles and caused me to rethink my paradigms and that’s a good thing. Here’s what I believe now.
If you want to meet and exceed customers’ needs, one strategy is to focus on relationships as a means to an end. The foundation of any good relationship is trust. To gain trust you must be able to effectively communicate with your customers to ascertain their needs. Therefore, before you focus on their needs, focus on creating those communication channels that will be most effective in establishing trust and identifying their needs. Doing so will make it easier to ascertain their needs and then to meet them.
Then, focus on their needs.
I’ll use one of Graham’s closing comments where he quoted British Economist John Kay in his book “Obliquity”:
“…the key to many things in life is not focus directly on the goal you want to achieve but on all the little things that together allow the goal to be achieved.”
That’s why, Graham, our unofficial CRM slogan in my division is, “It’s The Relationships Y’all!” (smile)
Again, my thanks to Mitch, Wim, and Graham for chiming in with erudite comments.
Hey, you can build better relationships with us by following all of us on Twitter.
Mitch is @mjayliebs
Wim is @wimrampen
Graham is @grahamhill
Spiro is @spirospilliades