How to Craft a Clear and Effective CRM Strategy

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Common sense would suggest that a customer-centric strategy begins at the top of any organization and trickles downward. After all, if someone has a C, E, or VP in front of her title, she is probably more likely to have influence over those below her in the hierarchy. It certainly helps if the company has a CX evangelist who serves as the visionary, or steps up as the leader, Nelson says.

Some firms are fortunate enough to have a culture founded on the belief that customer centricity should be prioritized. Those companies often have departments dedicated to overseeing CX initiatives, holding the title "chief customer officer" or the like.

But others have a harder time understanding this need. For instance, Nelson recalls working with a client that saw no pressing reason to address its 45-minute call-wait time until the CEO's wife pointed out that it was a significant pain point. "You have to develop a customer-oriented mind-set," Nelson says.

And for organizations such as those within the government sector, a resistance to it can be ingrained. "The issue [such organizations] deal with is [that] trying to be customer-centric almost goes against the very fabric of their culture."

Still, Nelson urges companies to envision what it's like to be a customer of their own company in order to determine what interactions should look like. From there, they can assess the image they'd like to project to target customers.

This can take many forms. For a firm like Fidelity, an effective CX strategy required it to become truly multichannel. Charles Schwab, on the other hand, has focused on increasing capacity through self-service. State Farm, meanwhile, has concerned itself with creating long-term relationships, and Apple has opted to create emotional excitement for its products.

Azman has some suggestions for companies whose leadership is resistant to customer-centric thinking. "When I talk with organizations, I often hear about the fact that the CEO isn't supportive of the CX effort, that no one will pay attention, or [that] it's all about the profit," Azman says. But while organizations face these and many other obstacles, Azman notes that there's nothing to stop individuals from getting started on their own. One way, he says, is to launch a joint project with a key business partner. For example, they might try to unite the customer service department with sales. From there, they can delve into a broader customer experience alignment, Azman says. "Starting a grass-roots campaign can sometimes bear more fruit than a companywide effort that takes months to get started and loses momentum too quickly."


CX efforts can start in one part of an organization but must ultimately gain traction and reach all parts of it, experts agree. "Specific to CX strategy," Azman says, "is that it needs to be all-encompassing." That is, it can't be focused solely on one area but must extend laterally. Fixing a customer service issue, for example, doesn't achieve the goals of an effective CX strategy if it doesn't include other departments.

Nelson agrees, noting that with CRM, "you're only as good as your weakest link or channel." When a customer runs into one area that is broken, she is likely to perceive that entire organization as similarly damaged.

Although it helps if a strategy is agreed upon and supported from the top down, Lior Arussy, president of Strativity Group, stresses the necessity of having employees on board. In a statement summarizing the findings of Harvard and Strativity's study "Making Customer-Centric Strategies Take Hold," Arussy noted that "many customer-centric strategies fail during execution because they were designed for the boardroom, not for the customer-facing employee."

Arussy's view is that employees are often not adequately prepared to exhibit true customer centricity. This is largely because of a lack of proper training, he says.

Harvard and Strativity's joint study found that while 80 percent of organizations believe that employee training is important, only 40 percent of them felt they did it well. Many organizations struggle with such preparation because they fear repeating the failures incurred during previous training initiatives, or simply don't want to remove employees from their jobs for the time it takes to train them. Others, he says, simply "fail to see the cost of not" coaching employees.

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