Getting to Customer-Centric CRM... Or Else.

David Sims : First Coffee
David Sims
| CRM, ERP, Contact Center, Turkish Coffee and Astroichthiology:

Getting to Customer-Centric CRM... Or Else.

By David Sims
David at firstcoffee d*t biz

The news as of the first coffee this morning, and the music is the Stones' Let It Bleed:

Sitting down to work here in Istanbul on a beautiful sunny morning, about ten o'clock, I hear a marching band outside. Of course I go to check it out.

First there's a girl with a large Turkish flag. Next comes a boy with a slightly smaller flag, both stepping drum-major style. Next is a girl holding a large framed portrait of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the secular Republic of Turkey in 1922.

Then come a few dozen kids in smart band uniforms, marching mostly in step, playing a tuneless song (like most traditional Turkish music) heavy on the drums and cymbals. Behind them come hundreds of other kids and their parents and other assorted adults. All waving little Turkish flags. The symbol of secularism in Turkey.

Cars passing in the single lane open on the street honk their support for the flag, the secular republic for which it stands and the little parade meant to show how strongly Turks value their secular republic. Since the Turkish flag is a white Islamic crescent and star on a field of red, the irony is the anti-Islamist secularists fervently waving an Islamic crescent to show their opposition to an Islamist government.

The problem is that the dominant party in Parliament, the AKP, is mildly Islamist. The AKP party appeals to the rural and conservative vote, not inconsiderable, but also to those who simply want government to run things more or less efficiently and keep the corruption down to tolerable levels.

Which it does. First Coffee lived in Istanbul in the mid-1990s when Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, a fire-breathing Islamist radical in his younger days, was mayor here, and he did a good job on the pothole issues, didn't try to ban alcohol and kept his mouth shut about the streets running red with the blood of infidel enemies of Islam.

He was widely seen as the only non-corrupt, reasonably competent national politician, so he was elected with not a few secular votes in the hope that he'd run the nuts and bolts efficiently, and with the knowledge that if he tried to take his Islamism too far, the military would step in, as they've done four times since 1960, to keep things secular by  suggesting that Erdogan either find another line of work of get used to a military prison.

Secular politicians are irrelevant -- hopelessly splintered into multiple parties, hopelessly corrupt, hopelessly inefficient and bogged down in internal squabbling. Nobody counts on them for anything. The real face-off is between the Islamists and their concentrated political strength on the one side, and the secularists with the military on the other.

It's not exactly Jeffersonian democracy when the military has to come in, call time out and start the game over with different rules. But with Iran as their next-door neighbor, Turks don't care. They'll take a military-guaranteed secular republic over a democratic Islamist one. And the schoolchildren parades that go with it are kind of nice, too.

Volker Hildebrand, SAP's VP for CRM, wrote this week that "investments in CRM applications have produced a broad spectrum of results. Some companies experienced dramatic increases in revenue and customer satisfaction along with significant cost savings, while other companies have seen limited returns and disappointing results."

Well, emphasis on the latter, but there have been successes, too, yes. "The benefits would be greater," Hildebrand writes, "if more companies took CRM to the next level by designing their CRM strategy for future aspirations instead of just implementing software to support current capabilities."

Translated into English, this means that companies would get more out of CRM if they used it as a way to get to where they wanted to be, instead of just souping up current practices. In other words, using an analogy we like a lot here in CRMLand, use the tools as a way to  build new highways instead of simply paving the goat paths you've got now.

"Focusing on bottom-line costs and departmental goals limits the top-line potential of CRM investments," Hildebrand writes, identifying one of the biggest frustrations of companies who plunk down a lot of money for CRM tools: "I thought this stuff was gonna save us money -- this quarter."

No, it might not save you money this quarter. Done correctly, it'll save you a whole lot of money in coming quarters. But granted, that's a hard sell to a below-C-level manager who doesn't have ironclad assurances that he'll be around when the stuff pays off. His name's on the investment, he needs his name on a return on that investment ASAP.

This is why one thing we CRMers grow hoarse shouting is "Get C-level support! You must get C-level buy-in!" If CRM's seen as some middle-management or vice president's tech thing it has no chance, it'll wilt the second quarter it doesn't have identifiable ROI. But if it's the pet project of the CEO or CIO, well, that'll give it time to find its legs.

What Hildebrand's saying is sure, you can "do CRM" to show return this quarter -- automate the call center, ramp up the proactive e-mailing, both low-cost efforts that can show "savings" and "return" pretty quickly. But you're splashing around in the shallows with that. There's a lot more to CRM than shaving nickels off your overhead.

Hey, not that we're opposed to shaving nickels. Shave enough of them and you've done your company a great service. But as Hildebrand notes, "driving growth has replaced cutting costs as the most important goal for CEOs. Organizations are beginning to explore a more disciplined approach to exploit untapped opportunities and to make the most of relationships with customers."

So it’s not about how can you save a few dollars on operating expenses here and there. It's about how can you improve your relationships with your customers to turn them into  more profitable customers. Hildebrand throws out a few "business imperatives" to accomplish this, the best one he mentions is "customer centricity."

"It’s the customer’s perception of everything a company does that creates an image of its brand and eventually determines its success or failure as a business," Hildebrand correctly notes. Everything -- if your money-saving automated phone system is irritating customers to the point where they're frustrated that doesn't bode well for your future, and it isn't practicing correct CRM, although you might be saving money.

Practicing correct CRM is responding quickly to changing customer needs, Hildebrand says, when a company strives "to become fully customer-centric, deliver superior customer value and consistently provide an exceptional customer experience across all customer touch points."

That's not something that happens next quarter. That's not something that sweetens the bottom line this year. But if you'd like to be in business a year or two from now, or longer, that's what you'll do.

When you're not, it shows. "I wish someone would introduce the Customer-Centric Worldview to Symantec, publishers of Norton Anti-Virus," a frustrated ex-customer of Symantec wrote recently on She tried calling customer service, "no phone number - anywhere." She's left with "the only option of filling in an e-mail form, to which I receive an automated response informing me that someone would get back with me within 4 -- yes, 4 -- business days."

The following Tuesday she received an e-mail telling her to call Customer Service, and giving me an 800 number. "ARGGGHHH! Couldn't they have just posted the number on their website?!?!" Things were dragged out another five days before being resolved.

The system, as the woman astutely deduced, "was built on the company's view and completely ignored the customer view. If Symantec had a Customer-Centric Worldview, they would have set up something similar to McAfee, whose firewall software I use. At the McAfee site, I was able to quickly log in, retrieve the needed software key and reinstall the firewall on my new computer. Total operation - less than 15 minutes."

Symantec may have a better product than McAfee, but who cares? First Coffee used to buy Symantec protection, but now uses McAfee for exactly the reasons outlined above. Symantec's not so much better they can get away with flipping the customer the bird.

There's no science to creating a customer-centric worldview, no hard numbers to guide you, it's more an art, an intuitive understanding that how you'd like to be treated as a customer is pretty much how your customers would like to be treated. Do that and it'll start showing up on the balance sheet. For starters you'll keep having balance sheets.

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