Many marketers work on the premise that consistent communication with the consumer is an essential part of successful customer relationship management (CRM).
For this to happen, technology needs to play a major role. However, an over-reliance on technology means companies can neglect the basic principals of marketing – the winning of customers through great ideas and creativity.
But getting the right mix between technology and marketing is a delicate balancing act as Clive McNamara, marketing director at CRM solution provider AIT Group, reveals.
He cites the example of a company AIT worked for last year called M Finance – the first online mortgage broker in the UK – which was too technology-led. He says: “It was launched with only 30 people so it was incredibly automated. But it didn’t get the marketing right. Nobody had heard of it so it rapidly went out of business. You can do a hell of a technology job, but if you don’t do the right marketing job you’ll end up going to the wall.”
McNamara suggests some of the best CRM projects he has had a hand in have included consultancies on one side, advising the client on how to get their business strategy right, underpinned by a company such as the AIT Group coming in with a technology solution.
A problem for CRM is that the whole concept appears to have been caught up in the hype surrounding new channels to market, and the headlong rush to deliver a consistent message across all communication platforms. In their haste, companies tend to focus too heavily on technology, and end up forgetting about the customer.
David Miller, client partner at consultancy Miller Bainbridge, argues that companies are failing to incorporate communications technology properly. “It’s the integration of technology with humanity that a lot of people forget about,” he says. “With many companies now, when you call them you have about five options to go through before you even speak to a human voice. Technology can end up putting distance between the company and its customers.
“Why are we using technology to dehumanise the entire relationship process? Companies are reducing their customer facing element to a commodity, and they do it at their peril.”
Miller suggests human contact is one of the fundamental differentiators between brands and something companies should not lose sight of in their pursuit of CRM solutions. Miller cites his client Lexus as an example where “technology and humanity have been combined”. The Lexus website, for example, has a “call me” button whereby the customer can ask the Lexus contact centre to call back at a time specified by the customer.
OgilvyOne Worldwide chairman and chief executive Reimer Thedens also believes there is a danger that the physical aspects of customer contact could be lost in the rush towards a technological solution.
Thedens says: “People believe they buy CRM when they buy a piece of software. CRM is driven by IT companies which encourage people to believe that all they need do is buy the software and everything is fine. But it’s like buying an engine. You still need a vehicle to use it.
“People forget that it takes few customers to make or break a brand. It’s usually the small group of heavy users that are loyal to your brand that can either make life easy for you or cause problems. You need to focus on those. That’s difficult because we have a hunting mentality and what is needed is more of a farming mentality.”
Richard Bagnall-Smith, managing director at CRM consultancy Impiric, argues that companies need to be customer-focused before they even consider implementing any technology.
“While business and IT consultancies will go from a business plan and implement a technical solution, the best way of working is to understand who your best customers are and then work out what underlying technology you need to support them,” he says.
Bagnall-Smith believes CRM is best practised by companies which come from a communications background and points out that a lot of IT and business consultancies which claim to have CRM expertise, usually have little understanding about a company’s customers.”
CRM appears to have become a much abused three-letter acronym, and a slightly more sophisticated way of talking about database marketing. Indeed, a lot of direct marketing companies are probably guilty of using the term merely in an attempt to move up the pecking order towards the status of consultancies.
Caught in a trap
The key issue with CRM is how companies, as Miller puts it, integrate technology with humanity. While creatives need to be free to develop campaigns, customer-facing elements such as contact centres require fast and accurate customer information – which only the best technology solutions can deliver.
A trap some companies fall into is that IT solutions are not interlinked with the customer-facing departments within a company. What is beginning to happen, however, is that CRM divisions are being set up across company departments to pull processes together.
Ideally, companies need to be investing in developing lots of skilled personnel – statistical analysts, marketers, IT developers and business strategists – all of whom need to work in combination for CRM to be truly effective.
There are some companies which are seemingly obsessed with e-communications to the detriment of everything else, when it should be about using each communication medium – be it phone, e-mail or direct mail – for what it is best at and choreographing the whole customer experience.
Technology is only an enabler and there should always be room for creativity and ideas in the CRM process. However, CRM should be viewed as a customer-centric business strategy because it is the people in contact with customers that really add value to a brand.
Softworld Sales, Markting & Customer Management
Now in its ninth year, Softworld Sales, Marketing & Customer Management is taking place at the NEC, Birmingham on November 1 – 2.
The show is the UK’s most established event focusing on the emerging technologies and the latest issues facing sales, marketing and customer management.
About 2,000 visitors are expected to attend the show which will feature 50 exhibitors. Businesses which want to take a fresh look at e-business and CRM solutions will find plenty of products, vendors and briefings – all aimed at providing solutions and filling the information gap.
There will also be a series of breakfast briefings and masterclasses. These sessions will have an e-business and CRM focus and will cover selecting and implementing e-business solutions, integrating e-CRM systems, developing e-Service strategy and making money from e-CRM.