Learning Something CRM-ish From Brexit

This summer has started out to be anything but a somnolent day at the beach. The Brexit vote for the UK to leave the EU is enough to disturb your slumber, and that’s not the only thing on the plate.

To be frank, it appears we are at one of those major historical transition points that might happen a few times in any of our lives. Without being overly dramatic and without stirring up a hornet’s nest of political debate, I would still like to discuss CRM in all of this.

You might think that CRM is the furthest thing from the central issue confronting the unhappy European divorce — and you might be right — but please bear with me. As one who studies the intricacies of the interactions of two species of humans — vendors and customers — I have to say that the incipient breakup looks an awful lot like dissatisfied customers taking agency and leaving the established structures that those in authority have set up. I’ve written two books on this theme and will not try to recount them here, but following are some parallels:

  • A customer attrition rate that makes the going concern unable to function properly;
  • Bad word of mouth by customers about the vendor leading to rumors and half-truths ricocheting around the installed base and amplifying the problem; and
  • A vendor community surprised by the outcome. No one ever thought things were so bad. (This is pretty much what Marie Antoinette was thinking.)

If any of this sounds like the kind of thing you work assiduously to avoid in your job, that’s good. It also signals what’s so CRM-ish about the Brexit vote.

A World Without CRM

The Brexit vote is both a vivid reminder of what life could be like if CRM never happened, and a reflection of how much better things between vendors and their customers are now.

Note, I didn’t say things are perfect between vendors and customers — at least, not yet — but I doubt there are very many people who think things are much worse because of CRM. Let’s just say that at least through making the attempt to reach out to customers through many channels and to understand what’s important to them, the vendor community at large has dodged the bullet that struck Europe in its body politic.

If the British were the only people on Earth unhappy with the EU arrangement, then there would be reason to dismiss them as a bunch of cranks. However, the Brexit vote exposed fault lines in other members of the trading sphere as well. France and the Netherlands are talking openly about their own referenda on leaving the EU for instance.

If CRM had never happened, things might have been marginally better in the UK; at least no one would have been conditioned to think that leaving a vendor could be as simple as voting out and moving on. We see this all the time these days in the subscription business model. Those vendors work like dogs to prevent the revenue losses associated with customer attrition. That’s at a microeconomic level, though, and Brexit is at the macro level, so the fallout is much more severe.

There’s no government outreach to citizens that is similar to CRM. That’s in part because where are citizens going to go? They can vote politicians out of office — but how often do they vote a government out?

Now that Brexit has happened, there’s a new possibility for citizen behavior, and customers — or citizens — have to be listened to in whole new ways. In my humble opinion, this is when CRM becomes an indispensable tool for government. All of the advanced social, mobile, and analytic tools accessible by vendors need to be tailored to governments and citizens. CRM for government changes any democracy from a representative one to a participatory one without even a word change in any constitution. How?

CRM Bonanza

The Brexit referendum was supposed to be nonbinding — and frankly, it would be best if someone remembered that, but it’s now beside the point. If Brexit is nonbinding but politicians are beginning to implement it, then it says quite frankly that any such future vote could be as disruptive. This means that politicians and others involved in government never can get so far out of sync with constituents again.

For CRM vendors, this could be a bonanza, of course. It comes at an especially good time. If the same need for CRM had developed at the turn of the century, implementing services for billions of people would have proven impossible. However, with today’s good, fast cloud computing and a plethora of supporting technologies like analytics, social media and mobile delivery systems, the stage is set for the blooming of very different approaches to living together. Phrases like “What would Watson do?” must be just around the corner.

I was never a fan of Brexit, and the news seems to be full of reports that the winners (the somewhat loyal opposition) had padded their case for leaving with a few stories that were not exactly factual, which is disappointing.

However, I doubt that cigarette can be unsmoked at this point. Had CRM been in place before the vote, the government might have had a chance to steer public opinion. That’s water under the bridge at this point, and the learning from this debacle is that we need to apply the same CRM strategies in government that we’ve honed in business these last 20 years or so.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can't Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. He can be reached at [email protected].

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