CRM and brain implants

Enrique Dans. Professor. Instituto de Empresa

24 November 2003

The author examines the two sides of Customer Relationship Management, or CRM.

It’s strange how people associate the term CRM (Customer Relationship Management) with computer programs. This is no doubt due to their perception of the term. “Just another acronym from the computer world, another program I’ll have to buy and get consultants to install for me”.

“Install for me” - as though it were a prodigious chip that would convert me into a client-centric adept just by connecting it. Or a pacemaker that, from the moment it is implanted, could guide my actions so my clients may be happier.

We have had enough time and experience, and are doing enough research to know something of this tempestuous world of CRM. Some things are starting to become clear. One is that this CRM thing seems to consist of two dimensions: one technological, the other mental. Each involves a degree of complexity; each moves in accordance with different factors and variables that we are still studying. But one thing is sure: they are profoundly different. Whoever thinks this is not so fails miserably. If someone attempts to develop a client-centric mentality in their organization, based on business culture, leadership and ranting on about the “formation of the national spirit,” yet lacks the technology to support those processes, it flops.

The obvious exception is the corner store, where a small number of customers and simpler processes allow us to maintain a CRM in that hard disk workers lug around on their shoulders. And, on the contrary, when someone attempts to implant CRM technology in an organization that does not see itself as client-centric (with people and attitudes centered on the client), the same thing happens. The technology is implanted, but people refuse to use it, for fear of furnishing information they consider their own, or for the sensation of excessive control. We have cases and anecdotes illustrating the two extremes, as well as a wide range of intermediate situations.

Pieces of a complex whole

So far as we can see, what is needed is similar development of both areas. Technological CRM refers to the series of tools a company places at the disposal of its employees, channels and customers, to introduce information, carry on relations with the company, store their preferences or interact through diverse channels. It includes innumerable technologies and tools: databases, data-mining, statistical programs, contact centers, loyalty cards, portals. None is, in itself, CRM; they are simply pieces of a complex whole.

Mental CRM, or the CRM mentality, has nothing to do with technology. It is cultivated by tools of another kind, such as business culture and leadership, the human-resources policy or client focus. It is difficult, for example, to convert employees of a firm where jobs are highly precarious to the client-centric approach. Most will feel the information they treasure is, precisely, what enables them to keep their jobs, and will not want to give it up to any system, no matter how sophisticated. We cannot implant a chip in them, so we’ll have to offer security and align their goals with the company’s instead. It is not possible to convert a firm to the client-centric approach if its marketing vision is profoundly product centric, with the overriding mentality of pushing products. Such a firm will take the tools and pervert them, turning them into more precise, efficient instruments for chasing and hunting down clients.

The successful cases – yes, they do exist – concern companies which have analyzed their capabilities and attitudes, and have acted in consequence. They have developed one dimension, or both, depending on who they were, where they were and where they wanted to go. The era of brain implants is not with us yet; it’s probably better if it never comes.

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