• May 1, 2012
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Train Your Customer Muscle

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Muscle memory is an interesting concept: Do something over and over again, and eventually your body does it automatically, without you having to even think about it. Any coach or drill instructor will tell you how important it is to repeat an activity until it becomes second nature. Music teachers make students play scales over and over, and even the most skilled sight-readers will practice a song until they can play it flawlessly, rather than rely on staring at sheet music. I still find my arms going through the motions of a martial art I studied many years ago, and my fingers can fly through all the valve fingerings for a trumpet. Yes, it makes me look twitchy and weird sometimes, but if there's ever a kung fu battle of the bands, I know I can hold my own.

This incredibly useful training tool seems to get tossed out the window when discussing anything beyond physical performance, and I think that's a mistake. When I was growing up, people always told me my biggest muscle was my brain. While I don't think it was intended as a compliment, they were more right than you might think. Everything we do benefits from repetition and familiarity, and business tasks are no exception. It's why we make a distinction between visionaries and practitioners.

There's an old joke that doctors (or lawyers or consultants) call their business a practice because they haven't gotten it right yet. It's not so far from the truth; good doctors (or lawyers or consultants) will keep an eye on news in their field—be it new medication, surgical technique, case law, or business strategy—see how it fits with their client work, and learn how to do it. Learning your job doesn't stop when you hang out a shingle.

In the few years I've been consulting, I've learned just how much of a difference there is between knowing all about something and doing it. Back when I was reporting all the time, I used to lament not having a chance to get my hands dirty with CRM technology, having to rely on vendor demos to see things in action. Sure, I could tell you the features and functions of a product, explain why they mattered, compare them to their competitors' products, and make predictions about where the market was headed, but if you asked me to actually do something with it and make it work, I'd have been stumped.

This is why so many people think they have a handle on social CRM. Because the social tools started off in the hands of individuals, most of us are relatively comfortable using them. It's why a lot of folks will advise you to hire somebody fresh out of school to manage social business tasks, because they've "grown up using that stuff." The problem is, they're comfortable as individuals, not as business users. Making it work for an organization takes knowledge and practice so that it becomes muscle memory for your brain muscle.

We're fortunate that a lot of the technology surrounding social CRM is reasonably fun to use and intuitive, and solving challenging customer situations is fulfilling. SCRM comes pregamified right out of the box (at least for those of us who are into it), so there are intrinsic incentives to learn, use, and get comfortable with social tools and behaviors in a business setting. Despite this, most people and organizations have a lot of learning yet to do.

Don't get me wrong—visionaries, theorists, and reporters are extremely important. Somebody has to come up with new ideas, imagine ways to put them into practice, and tell the world about them. But making fire requires banging rocks together, and if you've never done it before, you might crush your fingers.

Marshall Lager is head coach of Third Idea Consulting, a one-man team providing insight on CRM, social media, and gamification. Book a session with him at marshall@3rd-idea.com, or www.twitter.com/Lager.

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