One of the largest banks in the United States recently executed a simplification process that included the elimination of a large amount of contact phone numbers. Now, due to this simplification, the bank's Web site no longer contains phone numbers assigned to any of its branches. Every customer must contact a single, central toll free number. The result? Customers interact with bank employees who have very limited knowledge with which to solve customer problems. In fact, most of the requests are simply recorded and sent to other employees to handle. The bank's consolidation and simplification process did not help customers. It helped the bank, by allowing it to apply a-one-size-fits-all solution to an extremely diverse customer base and its many different problems.
It is time that companies wake up and recognize the inherit complexity in serving a diverse customer base. CRM process complexity is as natural as the multitude of tastes and faces of your customers, yet many CRM industry experts still tout the illusion of streamlining customer relationships. It's important to remember that consolidation and simplification efforts can come with a price--an increased number of exceptions, escalations, and repeat interactions with customers, as well as customer complaints.
By attempting to avoid the complexity inherent in customer interactions, companies end up dealing with a growing number of exceptions. Customers are individuals, each with different consumer needs. You would not ask all your customers to be called John Smith or Amy Roth, although it would be much easier to welcome them personally whenever they call. Your employees would always be able to courteously welcome customers with a "Hi Amy," or a "Hi John." (It would also be easier to train employees with this method.) But while your customer database will be much cleaner--after all, you will have the correct names of all your customers--it is a ridiculous premise.
Trying to force customers into a predefined mold for the sake of simplifying your enterprise's processes will only end up costing you more in the long run. The price is higher transaction costs and lower loyalty and profitability.
Companies are a reflection of the experiences they deliver to customers. They do not have one value proposition, but millions of value propositions. Each customer determines his own value proposition based on the value he derives from the products or services.
Each customer experiences the company and its products differently. Companies must recognize this, embrace the complexity, and design themselves accordingly. Designing for complexity starts by resisting the temptation to turn all customers into John or Amy. It allows the flexibility to conduct business with customers the way they want to do business. The implication is significant: It is a shift from optimized processes to empowered employees. In the simplification and Six Sigma models, employees are merely subservient to predefined, optimized processes. The processes rule, the employees execute. In a complexity-embracing method, processes are merely tools. If they work, then employees use them. If they do not fit a certain situation, then employees break them and use common sense to adapt to the customer's way of doing business and to his needs.
Embracing complexity is not merely a choice for companies that seek to differentiate themselves based on customer relationship excellence, but a necessity. Experiences are as diverse as your customer base, and trying to force customers into predefined processes and ways of doing business is only a return to the days of efficiency and one size fits all as product manufacturing viewpoints.
Run your business from a customer perspective. Not all your customers are named John Smith. If you are willing to accept this simple fact, you are on the right path. The ability to increase customers' repeat business and achieve corporate profitability is directly linked to the ability to embrace and design your business for complexity.
Lior Arussy is the president of Strativity Group and the author of several books. His latest book is
Passionate & Profitable: Why Customer Strategies Fail and 10 Steps to Do Them Right! (John Wiley & Sons, 2005).