Rx for CRM: Build for Trust

The bottom line is that despite promising a 360 degree view of the customer, and all the benefits of that level of visibility into customer relationships, CRM systems continue to suffer from lack of the one essential element that would make all these applications come together: trust.

It’s not the lack of trust in the technology. Every vendor finds that the quickest and surest path to feeling differentiated from their too common competitors is more software widgets, switches, dials and features. In that rush to differentiate, the user gets left behind. The success of hosted and even open-source CRM is that the organic growth of these applications has started with the user — not just technology.

Trust Got Left Behind

When CRM vendors took the path of least resistance to differentiation through features alone, they missed a critical point. That point is in answering the question: How can we build systems that infuse our customers with more trust from those whom they serve? It just never occurred to anyone to look into that question. Now some of the vendors are paying for ignoring the most precious commodity of all to their customers — the glue that keeps companies and people coming back to buy — trust.

Traditional CRM vendors are getting blindsided by upstart vendors that are tackling the trust issue head-on. What’s happening is that this next generation of CRM vendors is finding ways to capitalize on the trust that a brand conveys, rather than on the traditional argument of having total and complete integration to all databases.

Let’s face it; many companies believe they are doing great if they get three systems talking with each other. Total integration is present in certain companies but for the most part, companies are not even close to that idealized state. So, trusting in total integration and in data is a dubious value proposition at best. Ironically, many users don’t trust vendors that make that claim — and worst of all, it doesn’t move the user closer to the goal of giving their customers more reasons to trust them.

Your Prospects’ Reality Today: Insecurity

For any manufacturer or service company approaching their prospects and customer base for the first time, there is an incredible lack of trust — especially in giving up personal data online. Surveys completed by all the major pollsters, including Gallup, Roper, and others, show the sense of insecurity. Given the nearly weekly disclosures of personal data being compromised, the trend towards lack of trust is growing. So leading with technology is getting tougher as a result.

Following are some approaches to overcoming lack of trust in your CRM strategies:

  1. Focus on each moment of truth with your prospects and customers. All of us in the industry love the concept of being able to call, click or come into a store or business, and every person we talk to is up to speed with our concerns. However, let’s get real with each other: We are shocked when we get that service in real life, and that’s why the allure of the vision is so powerful. Reality is too often just the opposite.
  2. Quit trumpeting CRM technology as the cure-all. In fact prospects, customers and channel partners will trust you less if you think CRM systems — many partially integrated — are the cure-all for support and service.
  3. Plug into the real word-of-mouth about your company. Feeling courageous? Try starting a blog about complaints about your company. Be sure to get the logos and color scheme off of it so you can get the truth. Sure, it’s tough to take criticism, but that is the only way to grow your customer-facing strategies. And if you need a “blind” blog to do it, so be it.
  4. Track and reward referral business with a passion. This metric can tell you tons about the level of trust you are really generating out there. The logic here is pretty straightforward: referrals correlate to the trust your existing customers have in your ability to execute and deliver value.
  5. Brand performance equates to profitability, and that should be one of the key goals for integration of systems. If you’re in marketing or sales and looking at a CRM system, you need to think about how these systems capture your brands’ moment of truth first, and the name of your prospects’ golden retriever second. Seriously, if you are going to go to all the trouble of integrating CRM systems, make it count: Masure your brand’s impact on trust and referrals.

Bottom line: If you have a CRM system installed today and are suffering from a lack of repeat business, it’s because your customers don’t trust you enough to refer you to their associates. Look for ways to use CRM to instill trust in relationships; don’t exploit current customers, instead develop trust.

For CRM vendors, the trouble with feature-based differentiation is like telling someone how fast a car goes when there isn’t a reliable steering wheel on the dashboard.

Louis Columbus, a CRM Buyer columnist, is a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He recently completed the book Getting Results from Your Analyst Relations Strategies, which is available on

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