• November 1, 2016
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

For the Record, Integrated CRM Is Getting Closer

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Humans are a tool-using species. We rely on our powerful brains to come up with things that offset our relative weakness as compared to other animals and our environment. One of the greatest of our tools is written language—the ability to put facts and ideas into a permanent, physical form that we can share with others. It lets us build on past work, or remember more than our minds allow. It also helps put food on my table, because I get to write professionally.

This tool, writing, has become such a part of our consciousness that it is very difficult to imagine being without it. Literate humans (which are most of us) think in terms of writing even when we’re speaking—Barbara Walters was spoofed for how she pronounces the letter “R,” not the voiced alveolar retroflex liquid (my linguistics minor just paid off!), and we tell people that a word sounds just like it’s spelled. We have trouble relating to illiterate people sometimes because of our predilection for writing.

We really like having records. Some of the earliest uses of writing were to record taxes—payments of goods to local rulers. This allowed accurate accounting of available stores and a measure of relative wealth. This was the first system of record. Eventually, literacy became more widespread, and merchants could do with their inventory and cash what kings did with their tax receipts. Your general ledger is basically a clay tablet with markings pressed into it; if you’re still using actual books or simple spreadsheets to track this data, you’re much closer to the origins of the craft than you think.

If we can have tax and financial records, why not records of our customers? This is the idea behind CRM, or at least part of it. Being able to track growth or decline in customers, figure out which products are popular with given groups, and have an idea of what customers think of you is powerful juju.

Records are good. They preserve history and provide recourse when something is in doubt. It’s good to have a paper trail (unless it’s attached to your shoe as you exit the restroom). Unfortunately, all this writing down of information has flaws. Different data points are needed for different purposes, so everybody keeps separate records—separate versions of the truth. These may not agree with each other. Because of this, we all want to maintain control of our own records and not share them—hello, information silos.

Something our record-keeping forebears didn’t have to deal with is the idea that the written word could be the means by which business gets done, not just the means by which we file it away. The idea of a system of engagement is relatively new, anthropologically speaking—if they had e-commerce in Atlantis, we’ll never know.

The exchange of written communication, whether it happens on paper or on a screen, can support or replace personal interactions.

Having a system of engagement in addition to, and separate from, a system of record multiplies the ways in which businesses can get something wrong. Worse, the requirements of engagement are different enough from those of record that a company may literally see its customers as two different people. Sometimes it would be nice to be two people, but another document—my birth certificate—says no.

The need for a single, complete view of customers, what they’ve done, who they are, and what they like, is what what drives modern systems of record and engagement. Today, the ideal is a unified system of engagement and record, and we’re getting closer every day. Integrated CRM that touches all interactions and channels is what most want but few have; the recent spate of acquisitions by major industry players is evidence that we’re not there yet, but we’re trying.

Marshall Lager is the managing principal of Third Idea Consulting, according to various documents. Read all about it at www.3rd-idea.com, or www.twitter.com/Lager.

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