"Is CRM Destroying the Customer Service Experience (CRE)?"

David B. Polinchock, Chief Ideator, Creative Strategies

"Tell me and I will forget, Show me and I will remember, Involve me and I will understand." -- Confucius

Like many people, I have a Palm Pilot that keeps track of all of my important contact information. It tells me about upcoming events & reminds me of all family/friend birthdays, anniversaries and the like. The reason I bring this up is to illustrate the difference between CRM and what I call CRE - Customer Relationship Experience. My Palm is CRM. All of the data is there, my contact logs, important dates, all of my history with my people. Having all of the information available is CRM. Using the information to make sure that Mom gets her Mother's Day card on time is creating the right CRE.

Right now, CRM is all the rage. Companies are spending millions of dollars to create CRM software, data mining, voice recognition tools. Companies are building immense databases that combine a persons multiple experience (online/offline buying, surfing habits, etc.) into one single record, so that the company can provide better service. New wireless technologies will allow companies to track where you go and deliver location based advertising to you in real time. Sophisticated tracking tools can give you detailed and accurate information about where your package is & when it will get to you.

However, one of the problems with CRM is that many times it is being used as a tool to help the company touch the customer. Unfortunately, customer service is all about the customer touching the company! And if you want to know the difference, ask your company to describe the reason behind their CRM implementation. My guess is that many companies will start by discussing the bottom-line savings to the company. Somewhere up toward the top, they will also talk about the companies' ability to sell better, or at least provide better sales opportunities. If that's the case, your company is not using CRM for the benefit of its customers, but to benefit their bottom line. It should really be called PRM -- Profit Relationship Management!

With products becoming commodities and customer service at an all time low, putting in a multimillion dollar CRM system while paying employees minimum wage can only serve to devalue a companies products and/or services. Think about it, what separates many products today? Usually it's the price. And as companies lower their prices simply to compete on a pricing basis, everything else is bound to suffer.

Companies today need to look at their total business model and see where the customer experience really comes into play. In your every day life, think of how you relate to a better customer relationship experience. Do you travel out of your way to go to a dry cleaner that not only does a better job, but remembers exactly how you like your shirts? Do you go to the grocery store that's more expensive, but provides better quality products and services? Do you sell your customers short by continually reducing services to lower prices?

I traveled last year and sadly, my luggage didn't make the same trip that I did. Now, ask yourself, isn't this a time when an airline wants to be at it's best? I'm at my destination without clothes, a toothbrush and clean underwear. Since I had taken two different airlines, I spent the first several hours of conversations with the customer service reps of both airlines no to solve the problem, but to correctly assess the blame and responsibility. I was directed to call the United Lost Baggage number, which uses the latest in voice recognition technology to help you. Saved them money I'm sure and, after all, isn't that what good customer service is all about? Have you ever used voice recognition technology over the phone? Let me tell you, it's a long way off from being used in an application like this!

The sweet voice would ask "What airport did you depart from" and I would say "San Francisco, CA." In a very sweet voice, she would say, "I think that you said London, is that correct." I spent HOURS doing this. I started using words that I'm sure were not programmed into its database. It would ask "What airport did you depart from and I would respond ###***@@@@!!!! "I think you said Honolulu, Hawaii," she would calmly reply. I would call the United reservations line and each time was told that they could not help me, that I had to call the lost baggage number and, oh well, sorry for your troubles!

I finally reached a reservation agent named Linda, who was one of the best customer service people I have ever dealt with. "Of course I will try to help you," she said gladly and sincerely. She got all of my information and then spent the requisite time in hell in their voice-activated mess before she found a way to get a human being. She then got back on to give me the complete details about my luggage and to apologize for everything I had been through. She spent at least 15 minutes on the phone with me, dealing with a problem that was not hers; that she had no control over and she had to use the same crappy lost baggage system they were forcing me to use! Not once, was she anything put polite, apologetic and extremely helpful. She, on her own, took complete responsibility for helping me, a customer who by that point was clearly on the verge of a nervous breakdown! She didn't pass me off; she went above and beyond the call of duty and throughout the entire process, she was genuinely concerned and apologetic. I made sure that I was transferred immediately to her supervisor so that I could give her the recognition she deserved. She was, after 14 or so hours of trying to deal with the problem, was the 1st United employee that I had dealt with who actually acted like the "Owner-employees" they claim to be.

Later during that trip I arrived at a beautiful Hilton Hotel at about 11:30 at night. While I checked in, I asked about food options and I was told that they didn't have any food service available after 11 PM. When I asked why, I was told that it was inconvenient for them to provide those services after 11. Hmm, I asked back, isn't their job to provide hospitality for me, not for me to travel on a more convenient schedule for them?

My worst experience? Being told by Jim Keating, a Customer Service Supervisor at AT&T Wireless who actually said to me, "It's not our responsibility to meet your customer service expectations!" With all of the CRM technology that AT&T uses, how long do you think it took before I found another company who would meet my expectations and provide a customer service experience that was worth my business?

There's a great dog-grooming place here in Montclair called the Grooming Gallery. Now, if they had a big CRM system and database, it would show that we don't get there all that often and rarely do we do more then have our dogs nails trimmed. We don't spend much, but we are consistent. Once, after dropping our dogs off for a nail trim, we didn't have the right change to pay for the service. "Just pay me the next time you come in," they said. And you can bet that simple courtesy cemented our business relationship. Why would I take my dogs anywhere else for any service? For $10, he bought my loyalty for the life of my two dogs. That's CRE!

It used to be, that increased business value, however you define that, was a byproduct of good customer service. Today good customer service is a byproduct of trying to increase the business value first. Consumers are smart and they know who's giving them real service and who's just giving them lip service. If you want to look into a crystal ball to see where you'll company will be in the future, take a look at where you fall between real & lip service. If it's too close to lip service, start getting your resume out today. Your future doesn't look very good!

© 2001, Location Based Branding, Inc.

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