Required Reading: We Need to Start Speaking Frankly About Customer Relationship Management

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Within an enterprise, separate departments are assigned separate responsibilities in relation to customers, but that doesn’t change the fact that people experience brand interactions as if they’re emanating from a single source. In his new book, Speaking Frankly About Customer Relationship Management, author JC Quintana delves into this reality and its implications for businesses. Associate Editor Oren Smilansky spoke to Quintana about why it is time to get serious about applying firm-wide collaboration methods.

CRM: You’re a big proponent of comparing customer relationships to personal relationships. Why is that?

JC Quintana: The idea of identifying what’s of value to individuals—that people need to create value together, to see the balance of risk and rewards before they make a decision to consolidate the relationship—is a pattern that’s almost identical in business and personal life. As I started digging [into my research for the book], I realized that every phase from that point on—the way we make decisions and definitions about relationships; the way we ask that the relationship be personalized for us to see relevance in it; the way we need a positive communication climate before we can engage; and our need for people to keep their promises about our relationships and be transparent about them—was identical.

What is the biggest difference between the two?

In businesses, different organizations may take on different components of the relationship. Some people—like sales—tend to define and consolidate the relationship. People from support tend to be more about promises and commitment to service. Marketing can be more about communication. In personal life, we’re the ones to power the relationship from beginning to end; in business life, we’ve got many more people involved in the process.

How does CRM technology fit with helping companies stay informed across the board?

I like to joke that in the business world, CRM basically becomes Mom. Mom knows everything. Mom knows when the child needs to go to school, when an assignment is due, how their teachers and communities are helping. For all those things, typically Mom is the central intelligence of the family. And in business, a lot of the time it ends up being CRM. CRM is our mother in connecting us to how we’re doing with our customers.

What major challenges do businesses face when implementing CRM strategies and technologies?

One of them is that we’ve gone beyond making a transition from CRM being a strategy and technology to where, in the minds of people, CRM is really only the technology. People stop thinking about relationships in terms of the things they have to do to build them and start thinking more in relational terms: “This contact is connected to this activity; this activity is connected to this opportunity; this opportunity is connected to this pipeline; and this pipeline generates such and such report.”

How can companies begin to move away from the transactional mind-set toward a more unified approach that incorporates the relationship elements you emphasize?

We’ve got to have a common understanding of how we build relationships. If you can do that, and always look for those things in your relationships with clients, then you will begin to mold CRM to have screens, activities, and workflows that require that information.

The good news is we don’t have to re-engineer CRM applications. It’s just a matter of making sure we are following through the right processes, and documenting them in CRM so that later we can [assess] the health of the relationship.

Can you think of any companies who are doing this to good effect?

Companies like USAA and GEICO have high success in using CRM to manage customer experience, and the reason why they’re successful is because they see interactions with customers as an experience they need to measure. They incorporate customer experience measurements into everything they do in CRM. So when I call GEICO, and GEICO says, “Hi, Mr. Quintana—by the way, just wanted to thank you for being a valued member for the last 10 years,” they’re leveraging CRM to build an emotional connection through me enjoying that interaction, and connecting at a personal level. When at the end of the call, USAA’s system prompts agents to ask customers if they got what they needed, and are measuring whether they made this easy and connected emotionally, they are using CRM to deliver the customer experience.

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