I recently started a conversation on my blog, PGreenblog (the56group.typepad.com), a conversation that should be had by any firm interested in its customers: At this point, a CRM practitioner needs to get into the minds of those customers -- and, after figuring them out, needs to take the necessary measures or risk losing them to someone who did.
Today’s most common trusted source is "someone like me": I trust those who are most similar to me. That’s easy enough to handle on a person-to-person level. But what about person-to-company? I’d need to see that the company’s persona is "like me" and that it is able to institutionally reproduce that state -- meaning that if the employee with whom I feel a kinship leaves, I might miss him, but my relationship with or feeling about that company wouldn’t be damaged at all. How can a company achieve this? It ain’t easy to operate with all the necessary day-to-day processes, technologies, and decisions, and still come across as a peer to the customer.
A combination of CRM and personalization might do the trick. CRM 1.0 has been a series of processes, technologies, and methodologies organized around the operational tasks that were designed to institutionalize a way of managing customer-company interaction.
CRM 2.0, while incorporating what CRM 1.0 does, also incorporates the personalization of those interactions and the integration of the customer into the planning, strategies, and direction of the company through the use of tools, products, services, and experiences so that the customer feels a sense of participation in the process.
CRM 1.0 concerned itself with the customer as the object of a satisfactory sale. CRM 2.0 concerns itself with the customer as the subject of a satisfactory experience.
Both attempt to institutionalize practices to improve customer-company interaction. Their respective visions are driven by the expectations of the social forces guiding the contemporary business ecosystem of each era. In CRM 1.0 that was the company and the associated enterprise value chain. In CRM 2.0 -- right now -- that’s the empowered customers and the associated peer-to-peer social networks.
Yet there’s one facet that can’t be ignored for CRM 2.0—to wit, that we’re not just talking about personalization; we’re talking about humanization. Because today’s empowered customers are enmeshed in some way with a network of peers, their expectations are dramatically changed:
- Customers expect that they can interact with a company the same way that they interact with a friend or a peer whom they trust.
- They expect a personal relationship with the company, not just with a person in the company, though that’s how the relationship often manifests.
- They expect that interactions with the company will have the attributes and traits of that deeply personal connection they have to a peer.
- They expect trustworthiness and transparency to permeate the company’s DNA.
- They expect that the company is, by some measure, distinctive.
- They expect the company to converse with them, not push corporate hype at them. Marketing needs to aim for word of mouth -- engaging customers in conversation through use of social media like blogs, or engaging internal customers in a conversation through a wiki.
- They expect coolness and style to be factors in that conversation between customer and company -- because they’re intimate factors in conversations between friends.
This level of humanization may not be defining for all companies. Customers will still make some purchases in a utilitarian fashion from a plurality of companies they deal with. (And the shoe is now on the other foot: Those companies are now seen by customers as the objects of a purchase.) The result to be desired is not just a repeat buyer (though that’s certainly good), but an advocate who’s going to say, "This company loves me the way I love it." You have to gear your strategies toward that kind of customer -- and settle for the one who merely returns to buy. Your performance as a peer has to meet or exceed your customer’s expectations of that performance. Or you lose.
Paul Greenberg is president of The 56 Group (the56group.typepad.com), a strategic CRM consulting services firm, and a cofounder of CRM training company BPT Partners. The fourth edition of his best-selling book, CRM at the Speed of Light, will be out in December 2008.