• May 2, 2005
  • By David Myron, Editorial Director, CRM and Speech Technology magazines and SmartCustomerService.com

Right Channel, Right Time

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Around this time last year I received an early birthday present, my first of the year, in fact. It was a lighter sheathed in a rugged pewter case with a western motif. It was not the first gift I'd received from Marlboro. I'm an on-again, off-again social smoker, but Marlboro nabbed me about seven years ago at a nightclub when I put my name on a list during a promotional event for Parliament cigarettes. Little did I know that Marlboro had in mind a first step toward amazing customer relationship management. Clearly, Marlboro executives knew then that CRM efforts were vital for its survival. One could convincingly argue that no other industry has been dragged through the mud as much as the tobacco industry. I'm not saying that's unwarranted, but consider what the industry has been up against: Most adults know that smoking is bad for their health. Bad press, scandals, and cover-ups around accusations of tobacco companies putting additives in cigarettes to make them more addictive severely damaged consumer trust. Legislative requirements and restrictions on advertising cigarettes have also plagued branding efforts. Plus, New York City raised cigarette taxes a few years ago, bringing the cost of cigarettes well above $6 a pack, and subsequently banned smoking in bars and restaurants. With these types of hurdles, it's no wonder Marlboro reached out to me in creative ways. Over the years I've received various gifts from the company: a music CD, a wood-handled soup spoon, and a cookbook with barbecue recipes, to name a few. When I moved to my current home about two years ago, Marlboro was one of the first to send me mail. I don't conduct any digital transactions with Marlboro, nor do I buy its products regularly, but I was receiving mail from Marlboro even before my bank and car insurance companies wrote, and they conduct digital transactions with me on a monthly basis. I was a little uncomfortable with Marlboro's level of communication, but I knew it wouldn't escalate--knowing where to draw the line in customer communication is absolutely critical. To create environments that foster positive experiences it is essential to interact with customers the way they prefer to interact, otherwise they become frustrated and turned off. I don't want Marlboro communicating with me through any channel other than regular mail. I want my bank to be accessible to me every single day, whether by the phone, an ATM, or the Internet. In our cover story, Making A Clear Connection (page 30), Coreen Bailor quotes an analyst who says, "Customers want to be able to interact in their channels of choice when they want, and those organizations that don't do that will be disappointing their customers." Bailor offers five tips for integrating your multichannel operations and seven tips for putting the pieces together. We also highlight how manufacturers are relying on CRM to improve relationships with customers and dealers (page 44). Kawasaki, for example, is one of only two motorcycle manufacturers to provide an e-commerce Web site where customers can buy and sell aftermarket products, a more than $1 billion industry in the U.S. alone. Last, in this issue we underscore that CRM is a journey, not a destination (page 38), and present five companies that have worked for years to refine, realign, and improve their customer relationships, long after the project first went live. Most industries do not have to clear the same hurdles as the tobacco industry, but new channels of communication will develop, more products like TiVo and TeleZapper will be designed to thwart your communication attempts, and more legislation like Do Not Call will likely be passed to protect consumers. Consider how some of the companies in this issue are adapting to change. And never stop improving your CRM efforts. David Myron Editor-in-Chief dmyron@destinationCRM.com
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