CRM’s Stairway to Stardom

Although the acronym “CRM” has been around for a long time, most people have no idea what it means. That’s kind of a shame, because they brush up against the effects of CRM every day in their interactions with the businesses that market to them and those they patronize.

As a result, when I say I write about CRM, I’m often asked to explain what it is. That leads me to think a lot about a practical definition of “CRM.” In many cases, the best explanation has nothing to do with technology — it has to do with one-to-one interactions.

That may sound blasphemous, seeing as how CRM is essentially a database — but hear me out.

The Natural

Once in a while I run into an employee in sales, service or marketing who completely embodies the idea of building customer relationships. Usually, this person really enjoys the job and also really likes customers — that is, people, since that’s what customers really are. As a result, the employee regards information about customers as important and has an affinity for mentally storing and quickly recalling customer information.

I ran into an example of this when my Prius was sideswiped. This was not the first unfortunate event to befall the car; in its eight years, it’s also survived a bullet through the rear hatch and a freeway collision with a wild turkey. Because of this record of mishaps, the car’s been into the Toyota body shop in Berkeley, California, several times.

Each time, the car’s been handled there by Keith. Keith has just the right demeanor for a guy whose customers come in upset or frantic; he’s cheerful but businesslike, and knows enough about the insurance system to reassure customers that all will be handled well.

Shortly after the sideswiping occurred, Keith learned by phone that the Prius was coming in. When I appeared, he greeted me by name; he also remembered my previous incidents, and remembered enough about my specific circumstances to know to send updates on the repairs by email.

After the body shop inspection uncovered some damage the insurance adjuster missed, Keith gave me a call.

“Don’t worry about it — we’ll work it out with the insurance company,” he said. “We may get the extra check after you get the car, but we’ll handle it.”

When I picked the car up, Keith gave me a walkaround of the repairs, and he added one extra thing.

“Hmmm,” he said, squinting at the dashboard. “I don’t like the way our service apprentice cleaned the interior. I don’t have time now, but if you bring it back Saturday — or whenever — I’ll clean it again myself.” And that he did.

Here’s what Keith knows: He knows the customers, he knows the right attitude to deal with customers, he knows the triggers that make the customers both happy and apprehensive, and he knows how to react proactively to those triggers. When they happen, he doesn’t wait for the customer to react — he responds because he knows what to do and when to do it. He knows when customers will have a question, and he answers before the question’s even asked.

The result is impressive. One fellow customer I talked to said she planned to buy another Toyota simply because of the way Keith treated her.

The Next Best Thing

So, how does this apply to CRM? One reason you have CRM — with its data collection, event triggering and calendaring functionality, is so that all your employees can be the way Keith is naturally.

His abilities do not come naturally to many people. CRM technology can help raise the capabilities of your employees by making crucial data easy to access, and it can help draw connections between points of data to indicate how those employees should use it.

Of course, there’s a human skill to this, and CRM can’t make a customer relationship star out of an antisocial crank, but it can make the average salesperson more like your star salesperson, a so-so support pro more like your best support pro, or a middle-of-the-pack marketer more like your most masterful marketer.

So there’s a simple definition for CRM: It’s technology that helps all your customer-facing employees behave more like your stars. It’s not about the software; it’s about giving employees greater access and agility in using the information the software captures and organizes.

If you’re using CRM right, your stars will shine more brightly than before — but your rank-and-file employees will shine more brightly, too.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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