E-CRM Needs More Than Technology

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I arrived home last Friday to demands from my kids for pizza. I called our usual pizza shop, ordered two large pies and said I would be by shortly to pick them up.


The guys at this pizza shop are friendly, but I do not know any of them by name. When I arrived, an older Greek gentleman who I presume to be the owner said, "Ah, yes sir, you had the two large pies, a plain and a pepperoni. Good to see you again."


Simple enough, but I had not yet told him my order number. He had recognized my voice from over the phone.


Here is another one.


I visit a particular Starbucks every morning that is across the street from my office. I often am served by the same young woman from whom I order in Starbucks-speak "a tall decaf, leave room."


Well, she first started simply asking me each day, "the usual, sir?" Now she usually has my coffee on the counter just as I am stepping up. All I need now is to arrange for the $1.47 cost to be automatically deducted from my bank account.


Speak my language. Speaking of banks, here is one final case. I have been a Fleet Bank customer for more than 20 years. Every time I stick my card in one of its ATMs, it asks whether I speak English or Spanish. I would certainly like to learn to speak Spanish, but wouldn't you think my friends at Fleet would take the time to learn just a little bit about me - like knowing the language in which I like to do my banking business?


As these scenarios rolled in my mind, I wondered why a mega-bank like Fleet, with the hundreds of millions of dollars it spends on technology each year, could not make some simple enhancements to personalize its electronic interaction with me. And I thought about why my local pizza shop, with a technology budget of "goose egg," was able not only to personalize its interactions with me, but add value to those transactions.


But then I was pleasantly surprised by Fleet. During the time I spent writing this article, the bank started allowing its ATM users to permanently select their language of choice.


Making it work. Then I realized that effective customer relationship management is not necessarily about technology. An effective e-CRM technology platform is usually a necessary element of supporting your customers in a large-scale enterprise, but it is certainly not sufficient. The critical factor in e-CRM success has much less to do with technology and everything to do with how, or whether, you apply it effectively.


A recent Gartner report, "2000 CRM services Worldwide Market Size and Forecast," noted that as Global 2000-type companies are increasingly automating and personalizing their customer interactions, it is no surprise that the market for CRM software and services is booming, particularly in the United States and Europe.


The report by Gartner, Stamford, CT, dissected the market for CRM into a series of service lines, with the top three being development and integration, information technology management and business management.


Enter the human touch. In Gartner's view, development and integration services establish a platform and integrate it with legacy systems. IT management keeps the computers up and customer service representatives on the phone talking to customers. Business management provides business transformational knowledge, logistics and procurement. The largest service category was development and integration, which is expected to generate more than $7 billion in services and grow at a compound annual rate of more than 25 percent during the next five years.


The key question is where do you build in the folks who are going to recognize your voice when you order and hand you your pizzas when you walk in? Where is the capability that recognizes you and has your coffee poured when you get up to the counter? How do you ensure, once and for all, that you do not have to tell a computer what language you speak? So where is the heart and soul of truly personalized e-CRM initiatives built in and maintained?


Finding a champion. It is one thing to be able to create a dynamic, data-driven Web site, but if all you create is a page that spits back the user's name at the top, you have wasted time and money. It is one thing to establish a personalized e-mail broadcast engine, but if you do not use it to publish fresh content to your customers keyed to their particular interests, you have missed a huge opportunity to keep them returning to your site.


One answer is e-CRM leaders within the company itself. So much has been written that successful CRM is less about buying and implementing great technology and everything about establishing the right corporate culture in which it can survive.


Agencies on the spot. But the other answer is the marketing agencies that serve these firms. Too often companies get caught up with implementing just the right (and highly expensive) CRM technology, connecting it to their existing systems and allowing the creative and content aspects to become an afterthought. Today's digital marketing agencies should be tasked with assessing clients' target audiences and building the all-important creative and fresh content that drives online relationships between them and their clients.


Successful e-CRM is far more than a slick e-business strategy or an expensive campaign management system or lightning-fast hardware. Winning e-CRM is about applying and profiting from creative, personal connections with each customer individually.


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