• November 4, 2010
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

(Proactive) Service with a (Secret) Smile

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Proactive is a funny word. Many of us use it like filler—as an adjective (or, with -ly, an adverb) to round out a sentence and make it sound professional and erudite. 

It gets harder when proactive is applied to CRM. The wannabe motivational speaker in me wants to say something pithy, like “Proactive means pro(fessional) and active.” I could make an argument for why that’s a good way of looking at the problem, but it’s just too on-the-nose, so let’s save it for another day.

The core principle of proactive CRM takes social CRM and ratchets it up a notch. Social CRM uses everything a company knows about a customer or prospect from every available source, from transactional data to public comments, to determine what that customer is likely to want. But to be truly proactive, the company has to act before the customer has stated a preference—in essence, before the customer knows what she wants. That kind of CRM requires psychics. The local tarot-card readers will be glad to know they have a new career opportunity emerging.

Chances are, psychically proactive CRM will never come to pass. It’s creepy enough when friends know what we’re thinking before we do. When a business does this, customers will start looking for hidden microphones, cameras, and keyloggers. Tracking cookies already got a bad rap once (unfairly), and the uproar accompanying a round of scary-accurate CRM guesses will bring out the pitchfork-and-torch crowd right quick.

Thinking more deeply about proactive CRM, I realized that I was ignoring something. When you’re at a restaurant, you don’t want to have to ask the waiter to refill your water glass. At the same time, though, you don’t want him to interrupt your meal and ask, “Hey, how’d that most recent water-delivery interaction optimization go for ya, buddy?” The best customer service (or marketing campaign, for that matter, or sales pitch) is the kind you don’t notice—the glass just gets filled.

It’s not always possible to lay out what’s needed before it’s requested, but today’s customer-facing workers have at least figured out that offering alternatives is better than waiting to be yelled at. When it’s clear that a customer is cooperating toward a common goal, the employee can make the intuitive leap to get the job done quickly and cleanly. (This opens up some possible problems when customers themselves aren’t clear on what they want, but that’s business for ya.)

Ideally, though, proactive should be invisible. When a certain TV commercial starts getting on your nerves, the company will just change the campaign. Your computer is running slower than usual, so tech support will simply patch the operating system. Uncanny circumstances pile up to enable the customer to reach out a hand and have the perfect solution delivered. The best way to achieve this? CRM ninjas. Striking from the shadows when your back is turned, these shadow warriors enact devious plans to get you precisely what you want, exactly when you want it.

Yeah, because having trained assassins stalking you to find out your commerce preferences is way less creepy than hidden cameras. 

Marshall Lager is Agent Double-O-Nothing for a spy agency whose cover is Third Idea Consulting. Contact him through his mail drop at marshall@3rd-idea.com or exchange code words with him via www.twitter.com/Lager.

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