tesco-check-out.jpgOn the Tom Peters web site Steve Yastrow challenges us to define “Customer Relationship Management” without using the words “software”, “application”, “system” or “database”. Harald Felgner pitches in with his response on Harald Felgner and the Red Fez, although I’m not too sure that he hasn’t deviated a little. Now, I may be being simplistic here, but personally I don’t have a problem with this challenge. However, I think I see where Steve is coming from.

We humans are a complex mess of contradiction. On one hand we thrive on community yet on another we avoid relationships. We want to belong, but we strive for individualism. Throughout our lives, as Kevin Roberts explores in his Lovemarks idea, we struggle with the dilemma of rational over emotional responses, left-brain/right-brain thinking and a common manifestation of this is the way we use technology as a means of avoiding relationships.

You’ve undoubtedly done it yourself. Want to pass on some bad news? Need to talk to someone you don’t particularly like? Use e-mail. In fact we use e-mail all the time to avoid making a phone call or even popping down the corridor to talk to somebody. We use the rational/left-brain excuse for doing so – its “less expensive than a phone call” or “I don’t have time to get up and schlep all the way down there”, but the truth is that our emotional/right-brain wins every time and we just can’t be bothered to “relate”.

It’s worth highlighting the fact that relationships aren’t always good or positive. A relationship is nothing more than a connection between things or people (or things and people) and it can be difficult or even downright bad – its just a connection after all!

cnharris24.jpgBusinesses do the same thing on a larger scale. One of my business heroes is Lord Harris of Peckham, known to most of us as Phil Harris the founder of Queensway Carpets (Once the UK’s biggest carpet store chain) and more latterly the man behind Carpetright, which I think is the biggest carpet retailer in Europe. I was lucky enough to work with Phil for a while and discovered, what I believe is the main reason for his success. Sure, he’s definitely one of the smartest businessmen I know, certainly he demonstrates what Jack Welch describs as “candour” (one of my top ten requirements of any manager), but above all, he makes contact with people on a personal level. He could send mails to his store managers to ask them what was the buzz in their town this week, but when I worked with him he would instead, get in his car and travel the length and breadth of the UK turning up unannounced, at stores on any day of the week (including Sundays) to get on the shop floor and sell! And sell he does! His explanation for this behaviour (if it isn’t obvious) was that it puts him in touch with both his store staff (He seems to know them all by first name) and his customers. In other words, an important reason I believe, for his success is that he builds relationships – and he does so on all levels not just these two.

Most organisations understand the need for building customer relationships – they are good for business! – but most managers lack real commitment and see the task as just part of the job. They merely pay lip-service to the notion of CRM and because they adopt this attitude its very easy for them to slip into the left-brain/rational mind-set and use technology to tick the Customer Relationship Management boxes for them. The fact is of course that this is barely a relationship let alone relationship building,which is about emotional stuff at least as much as rational, it is purely doing the minimum required to maintain a status quo.

Technology can’t build relationships, its just a tool that you can use, with great effect, to help you organise yourself. I believe, and I think its Steve’s point too, that far too many of us confuse the “process” with the “tools”, which is why when asked, most managers will define CRM in terms that lean heavily on the use of words like “software”, “application”, “system”, and “database”.

So, to get to the point, at last – My definition of Customer Relationship Management would be …

“the process of staying in touch with, anticipating and responding to your customers’ needs”.

What tools you choose is up to you!

Michael Weaver
January 4, 2008

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