Social CRM


The Opposite of CRM

Ever wonder what the opposite of CRM would be? I have. In my ruminations it’s not as simple as matter and antimatter, up and down, left and right — though few of us would consider antimatter very simple. If I gave you written directions to my house, you couldn’t get home simply by turning the sheet upside down. Opposite isn’t simply backward.

We have been treated to several examples of anti-CRM recently in news items involving Versace, Silvio Berlusconi and the now-defunct British weekly, The News of the World. Let’s start with Versace.

Blasts of Foul Air

Last week, news broke that some Versace jeans customers had mounted a protest on the company’s Facebook page over its technique for sandblasting its jeans. It seems microparticles of the blasting material, while airborne, could lodge in the lungs of exposed workers endangering their health.

Rather than deal with the tempest, the company decided to sandblast its Facebook page, removing all mention of the protest. The subsequent uproar over the second sandblasting caused a minor stir and left Versace looking like anything but a responsible, socially engaged vendor.

Silvio Berlusconi and The News of the World (a Rupert Murdoch brand) are a bit different, but all are related. Berlusconi, once a cruise ship troubadour, worked his way up to become a media mogul and then used his access to the public airwaves to become Italy’s prime minister.

The News was a weekly scandal sheet until it was exposed for hacking into private voice mail to gather material for its “reporting.”

Berlusconi built a media empire by cobbling together local TV stations into a national network and — according to articles in The New Yorker and the August edition of Vanity Fair — bribing a horde of politicians to skirt laws against what he wanted to do. He built an empire of most of the Italian TV outlets, newspapers and magazines so that the truth available to most Italians became what Berlusconi wanted the truth to be, and it usually reflected well on him.

To sidetrack any dissent by the citizenry, Berlusconi also filled his airwaves with some of the most beautiful women in Italy, scantily clad, of course, and no one really noticed the coup. It was easier than boiling a frog.

Evil Empires

Berlusconi combined the business acumen of Ted Turner and the ethics of Rupert Murdoch, which is not to say that Murdoch is a slouch in those departments. It was more than a little bit surprising that the actor Hugh Grant became a hero of sorts for exposing The News’ sleazy practices.

According to an interview I saw on YouTube, Grant surreptitiously taped an interview with a former editor at The News who laid out the paper’s practices. Grant wrote up his notes, got them published, and a paper that had roots in the Fleet Street of old is no more. Murdoch decided it was better to fold the tent in an attempt to quell criticism of his other businesses and his business practices.

In these examples, I can see the outlines of anti-CRM and the outlines are rooted in transparency — or more precisely, its lack. It might seem unfair, but I would not give a free pass to any corporation where transparency is concerned. Versace’s overreach can be called banal, but the Berlusconi and The News incidents are criminal.

Berlusconi has been under indictment and prosecution for much of his term in power. He is currently fighting accusations of paying for sex with an exotic dancer whose age was young enough to have made the charge rape instead of prostitution in other countries.

The link I see in all of this is transparency. Versace didn’t have the wits to triage the sandblasting situation and turn it into a learning experience or a way to reach out to customers. Its leaders didn’t care about customers, they cared about the brand — and the trajectory of the cover-up, like all cover-ups, shows that the original mistake pales in comparison to the flare-up over the cover-up.

In the other cases, I see not only anti-CRM but real evil covered up by silence and complicity. By controlling Italian media so thoroughly, Berlusconi has become the embodiment of Orwellian mind control in Italy.

And what can you say about some of Murdoch’s brands? By hacking into private voice mail accounts, I guess you can say that what was reported was at least factual — maybe even fair and balanced. It was also obtained through a clear invasion of privacy.

In another age, much of this would have gone down without comment. Versace tried to change the subject rather than deal with criticism, but lots of organizations have done that.

The News got the goods, albeit against journalistic ethics and probably the law, and Berlusconi built a propaganda machine that would be the envy of Hitler or Stalin.

The Transparency Revolution

But today is different. We have each other, social media and the Internet. Other regimes — for instance, in China and some Arab countries — have shown they can take away the Web, but they can’t stay below the radar any more.

The power of the Internet and of social media stems from you and me. We’re the ones causing more than a CRM revolution. It’s a communications revolution — no, a transparency revolution.

So, as I see it, the opposite of CRM, anti-CRM perhaps, is a lack of transparency in a vendor’s dealings with its customers. Transparency doesn’t need regulations to be enforceable; when it recedes, so should customers.

We’re not at that point yet, but every post and tweet brings us closer. It’s important to be conscious of this and to never take it for granted, because with all this freedom, there’s also responsibility.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant's research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and website. He is the author of Hello, Ladies! Dispatches from the Social CRM Frontier and can be reached at [email protected].

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