CRM: It's the 'R' That Matters Most

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Remember the promise of CRM? It would increase the effectiveness of our marketing and customer relationships and make us more profitable. It would help solve the customer's problems on the spot. It would give us the chance to treat our "best" customers even better than the rest. It would help create a better customer experience. Or something like that.


CRM was supposed to help companies create more value for customers. It was supposed to make the customer's life easier, right? Billions of dollars have been spent on CRM and billions more predicted, yet it seems we're not getting the results we hoped for.


Where's the profit, where's the ease, where's the improvement? Some firms do see world-class performance improvement after implementing CRM, but most don't. The majority of CRM projects, 55 percent to 75 percent, fail to meet their objectives. They fail to live up to the promise.


According to Bob Thompson at CRMguru.com, CRM is "a business strategy to select and manage the most valuable customer relationships. CRM requires a customer-centric business philosophy and culture to support effective marketing, sales and service processes." Organizations "can enable effective customer relationship management, provided that an enterprise has the right leadership, strategy and culture."


Uh-oh. Philosophy, culture, leadership, strategy - seems the things we make the least amount of time for count for a lot in a CRM integration. The consideration of some of these topics is considered to be "soft" in many organizations, unworthy of time, energy or money. It never ceases to amaze me that people will dump boatloads of money and technology at a problem before they will invest in understanding the underlying issues that support or destroy the effort.


Technology is only a tool. Relationships are the key. Cross-functional collaboration is essential in making any process seamless to the customer. It's necessary to break down the barriers that keep the departmental silos intact before CRM will work the way we want it to.


The culture must support the open, honest discussion of creating value. Where and how do we do it, where and how don't we do it, and what needs to change so we can do more of it? The conversation that precedes the implementation must include the voices of many people all along the value chain. To see how the processes interact, we need to know how the people interact.


A great way to start the conversation about how your company already deals with relationships is to ask yourself, "What qualities are most important in the 'care and feeding' of any relationship?"


If you are like the thousands of people I've asked in audiences during the past 14 years, you'll list qualities such as trust, respect, communication, understanding, caring, appreciation and honesty. I've asked that question so many times I've distilled it to an acronym I use with clients to look at some of the more intangible aspects of the culture and see how they manifest in the tangible systems and behaviors. We use it to see whether they are on T.R.A.C.K.


We look at how each of these qualities is either supported or not supported in the culture. We look at what behaviors, systems or activities enhance or erode the building of that relationship quality. Here are the five items I start with. We add any of the other qualities the client thinks is in line with its values. Add yours to it and give it a try.


It all starts with trust. It's needed to make teams work and relationships thrive. Without it, it's challenging to build loyalty. Neither customers nor employees will sign on for the long haul if this important relationship quality is not intact. What are the things you do or say to build it or break it?


Then we move to respect. Respect is shown in subtle ways from how quickly you answer your phone to how you address a new customer. There are practices that support it (like changing your phone messages daily) and ones that erode it (like continually showing up late for meetings). Examine where it shows up or doesn't.


Appreciation is key to ensuring people stay engaged in the conversation. It's one of the deepest human needs, and it often goes unfulfilled. Employees and customers need to know they are cared about and appreciated. What are the things you do, or don't do, in this area?


Communication: How is yours - clear, concise, truthful? Too much, too little, too often, not often enough? The installation of CRM for most companies is a major change. Open communication is the stabilizing factor in any change. CRM has a better chance to succeed if people are "in the loop" and "in the know."


Kindness. I added this one. It's a tough business world, and we all benefit when we deal with kindness and compassion.


Often the intangibles in the business are the things that add real value. As you examine your CRM projects, look closely at your skills in dealing with intangibles and in building the all-important "R" of customer relationship management. Master that piece, and the other pieces might fall into place more easily.


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