Tough Love
CRM tips for companies that love their customers but have trouble showing it.
For the rest of the August 2001 issue of CRM magazine please click here

Do they give awards for pissing off customers? In the April issue of this magazine, the editors presented the Customer Interaction Awards to companies who have made incredible strides in improving their customer relationships. If they ever hold Customer Aggravation Awards, I'll go straight to the top.

I am director of content for destinationCRM.com, this magazine's Web-based sister. Since we launched the site a year ago, we've learned about CRM the hard way. This digital medium gives us the opportunity to annoy more customers more quickly and more insidiously than ever before.

There was the time that our e-mail program went haywire in the middle of the night and sent tens of thousands of e-mails to certain lucky individuals. Someone at Vanderbilt University apparently got 15,000 of our e-newsletters, nearly crashing the school's servers. Then there was the time when someone asked to be removed from our e-mail database, but we couldn't find their name before the next blast went out. They responded by reporting us to the FBI, FCC and a few other federal acronyms. Great, now I've got a file in Langley.

As we're in the business of covering the CRM industry, we make it a point to respond to complaints within one working day at the latest, but usually that is too late for our readers. Often, the offended customer declares (usually in all caps) that they "NEVER WANT TO HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH YOU AGAIN!"

CRM pundits will tell you that CRM's Holy Grail is the ability to treat each customer individually. And yes, we would love to have the ability to personalize every viewer (customer) interaction. There is technology available today that could enable us to track the activities of visitors to our site, analyze their movements and give us the ability to respond to them--either actively or automatically--to help them navigate through our Web pages. To be honest, we don't have that technology, nor do we have the money to buy it any time soon. Of course we measure and analyze traffic in the aggregate and can paint a clear picture of the average viewer. But can we drill it down to individuals? No. Many times we don't find out about them until they rant.

So we have to always remind ourselves--and I hope this is what you'll take from my little epistle today--to look at the big picture. Our site traffic has been growing since day one. In April we recorded more than 670,000 page views and 91,000 unique visitors. We're becoming known within and outside the industry as an important place to go for original, unbiased content. We were recently reviewed positively by two of Italy's leading business Web sites and were named one of Fortune Small Business' sites to watch.

I don't in any way mean to brag; these examples are meant to illustrate the fact that our organization concentrates much more on the positive aspects of our business, rather than the complaints. E-mails from a relative handful of irate viewers are not going to push us off course. If you are attempting to run a progressive (and aggressive) business, you are bound to ruffle some feathers. Welcome the complaints, apologize for the errors, fix them--but then move on.

Yes, your customers are your business. But, no, they are not always right. And at the end of the day, are you going to have to look at them in the mirror?

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