• October 1, 2015
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

The Philosophy of Customer Relationships

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You may have noticed I don't write much anymore about news and developments in the CRM industry itself, or even current events in general. There are a few reasons: the maddening time lag print magazines enforce on reporting, the limits on how many things one can cover at a time, and my usual excuse of laziness.

The main reason, though: I feel the technology side of CRM is pretty much taken care of. There's nothing new under the sun, for the most part. The innovation recently has come from changes in technology (in-memory computing, grid architecture) that aren't specific to CRM. Since this is CRM magazine and not EE Times, it's a bit of a waste to dwell on engineering when the topic should be customer interaction.

If new technology isn't likely to fire up our community—and I would love to be proved wrong—an issue that can is the intelligent use of the technology we have. While that includes designing new CRM software, I don't think that's where our greatest need lies. (There go my chances of getting invited to any more vendor events.)

There are two types of people: those who divide things into arbitrary binary categories and those who do not. I am the former (obviously), so I divide people into thinkers and doers. Doers make tangible things, and build the world we live in. I'm not one of those.

I'm a thinker. Thinkers are the dreamers, imagining the things doers will make, considering whether those things are needed and what effect they will have. Both types are important: Doing without thinking is chaos; thinking without doing is stagnation.

Despite the progress we've made, many things remain unchanged. CRM is still looked upon as technology, an application you load to do whatever it's supposed to do and somehow improve business results. More tech won't alter this way of thinking. I believe we need more CRM philosophers.

I'm talking about understanding customer behavior and catering to it while supporting and growing the business. Thinking about how to get the most out of technology investment is important; knowing why to make the investment is more important.

I wouldn't use the term guru to describe the image I'm going for. It's not entirely inappropriate, but the common Western trope of a wise man in a robe sitting atop a mountain just doesn't fit. Not only do I not want to seem remote, but sitting on a rock all day would do horrific things to my coccyx. I'm already half-crippled from my office chair. Besides, I'm pretty sure that clichéd image is bound to offend somebody.

Expert doesn't really fit either. Experts tend to know how to do things, and like I said, I'm not a doer. It doesn't matter how simple we make the dragging and dropping of program elements—when it comes time to make something happen, I'm all thumbs.

No, philosopher is the right picture. I love knowledge, and sharing it. To me, wisdom is one of the most important traits one can have, though it should be coupled with humility. I want to make people think about why CRM is what it is, and whether it should be something else. I want long, rambling discussions about marketing programs, contact center procedures, and sales techniques. I want to be like the Scarecrow: "I'd think of things I never thunk before /And then I'd sit and think some more."

This doesn't mean I will stop taking briefings from new and established vendors, or attending conferences. Things change, and sooner or later something truly new and innovative will excite conversation. Besides, one has to keep up with the day-to-day aspects of the business. I need the occasional airing.

If you want to contribute to this new approach to CRM consulting, just ask me a question—the more nebulous, the better. I'd love to run a Q&A in this column someday, and I need your Qs to make it happen.  

Marshall Lager can produce the sound of one hand clapping. Listen in at www.3rd-idea.com, or www.twitter.com/Lager.

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