• April 6, 2010
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Hear Kitty Kitty

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Let me start by coming clean: This is not a new article. Not really, anyway—the ideas expressed herein first saw the computer-generated light of day in December 2009, when I wrote a guest-blogpost for the Web site of a CRM vendor. I liked that post so much that I wanted to expand on it, which brings us to where we are today: After all, if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s new to you, right?

One day not long ago, I found my mind wandering. (It happens. Sometimes I even pretend it’s on purpose.) This particular time, I got to thinking about the similarities between bad CRM practices and owning cats. (You’ve come to know me over the years—my mind works in ways neither you nor I fully understand, and we probably shouldn’t examine them too closely.) 

In your standard owner-cat relationship, the dialogue (if you can call it that) is mostly in one direction: You buy a new toy or type of food for the cats, and then try to interpret their interest (or, as is often the case, their utter disregard). Let’s call this a kind of focus-group marketing—and it’s about as flawed as the real thing: The cats and I don’t speak the same language, just as businesses rarely view a product as a customer would. 

The best example of this may be the “As Seen On TV” garbage hawked by chipper pitchmen such as Vince “ShamWow” Shlomi or the late Billy Mays. Consumers consider a product successful if it does what they expect. Businessfolk, on the other hand—especially the shady kind—chalk up a success whenever a product sells a lot of units and doesn’t result in too many lawsuits, recalls, or returns.

Back to the cats, who are no different than your average finicky customer. Once I’ve started my marketing campaign, the next step in KRM (kitty relationship management) is trying to close the deal, turning up the pressure in order to sell Cookie and Dr. Harbl—yes, those are their names—on the wonders of these new rawhide mice, or frozen venison burgers, or whatever. Again, the success or failure of my efforts is dependent on factors I can neither predict nor understand—blind trial and error. In time, I might develop some insight to what these particular cats prefer, but I can’t necessarily communicate that information to somebody else, nor can I apply it to other cats. Dumb luck doesn’t scale.

And when it comes to kitty customer service? Again, failure to communicate is the order of the day. I’ve come to expect certain requests from my cats—three, to be precise—so whenever they deign to provide input I try to interpret it in light of those expected requests: feed me, pet me, or clean the litter box. (It took a while to fully learn that last request, mainly because my own faulty data told me I was doing an adequate job.) 

You may think you’re able to bank some goodwill with real-world customers, but it’s fleeting—and the cats provide an extreme example. They never give me points for trying—they only care if they get what they want. And here’s where the communication gap gets dangerous: If I’m not giving them what they want, they have limited means of filing a complaint, so I just continue with what I’ve been doing. (There’s no feline equivalent of the Net Promoter score, alas—so I have no way of knowing if Cookie and Dr. Harbl are inclined to recommend me to others.)

Good CRM, especially the social kind, is like being able to speak your cat’s—or your customer’s—language. That may not sound like a goal worth striving for, but trust me, it’s huge. Think about that the next time your cat deposits its “customer feedback” in your shoe. 

Marshall Lager is the managing principal of Third Idea Consulting LLC, and is slowly turning into “that guy with the cats.” He can be reached via email at marshall@3rd-idea.com, or via @Lager on Twitter.

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