C.R.M. Can Be Really Magical – When It Works

Like most South Africans, we often have friends over for a braai (or barbeque) on Sundays, and these lunches always seem to extend to the evening – by which time everyone is hungry again.

One Sunday evening I collected the pizza choices from everyone, and called Mr Delivery to place our order. As usual I dialled the number of my local branch, the call was answered by a friendly young chap, and, after giving him my telephone number, I told him what we wanted. He confirmed my address, and read back the order, at which point I realised that there was one pizza missing.

As usual, I had also forgotten to ask my wife what she wanted, so of course it ended up with me trying to have two simultaneous conversations: one with my wife nagging her to make up her mind, and another with the chap from Mr Delivery who was being being very patient on the other end of the line.

Hearing what was happening, he quietly asked: “Would you like me to tell you what she had last time?”

“Er.. Yes!” I answered, and in a few seconds, he had suddenly made my life that much easier. I repeated his answer to my wife, who decided that this was exactly what she was looking for, and thirty minutes later, we were all contentedly eating pizza.

What was so special about this little experience?

Firstly, the information which they kept, (and repeated to me,) made my life easier and more convenient, because most customers have too much on their minds, and our days are filled with too much irrelevant detail.

Secondly, the system was capable of keeping customised and relevant information about its customers.

Third, the front line staff easily accessed this information and used it proactively.

Fourth, by keeping this information for all of their regular customers, they are easily able to pick up patterns, as well as make informed strategic business and marketing decisions. (They are also probably able to notice when I haven’t been buying pizza for a while, and can respond to that.)

There are hundreds of companies out there today that have spent literally millions on high-tech Customer Relationship Management (C.R.M.) systems – and never used them to full potential. Telkom, for example, are rumoured to have spent R190m for their system – and we still hear that toneless music occasionally interrupted by a toneless voice saying, “Your call is important to us. Please wait.”

But they are not the only ones. Even though my mom passed away almost two years ago, I still get letters from Old Mutual and Momentum addressed to her. In fact, one was even addressed to “Mrs, C Kalliatakis. (Deceased)”

Then there’s the horrific story when one of SA’s top grocery retailers used their loyalty card to identify that a young customer was pregnant. They thought it would be a good idea to send her a “Congratulations – You’re Pregnant!” card, but the problem was that her card was owned and managed by her dad. He didn’t know that his sweet, precious, (but unmarried) angel was even pregnant, and there was great shock and embarrassment all round.

I was doing some work for a major gym chain, where they record customers’ birthdays on the system, and the idea is that when they come to exercise on their special day, a big red message flashes on the screen as they arrive and sign in with their card. The problem? On the day I was there, all the receptionists were “too busy” to respond to this opportunity to connect with their clients -and the customer went inside unacknowledged.

Therefore, all the money spent on CRM is wasted unless your company can effectively use the systems properly to ensure that your customers have positive experiences, and also feel that they are getting good value when they do business with you. When that CRM information system is also used to analyse and implement strategies and tactics for customer retention, for cross- and up-sales, and to mobilise the power of word of mouth and referrals, then you will have an unbeatable competitive edge.

So what can you do to make sure that your CRM system helps rather than hinders your relationships with customers? Here are some tips:

  • Ensure that the information which you keep is relevant to the customer, and her needs and preferences, rather than just your own. There is a tailor in Bangkok who keeps my clothes’ sizes, address, credit card details, and my personal preferences for fabrics and patterns in his system. If I want some new shirts, trousers or even a suit, for example, one telephone call, fax, or e-mail will ensure that three weeks later I receive delivery of my new, tailored clothes by courier – at a price less than I would pay for an off-the shelf equivalent in Johannesburg. I am sure that his system also informs him about other things which are important to his business, but that doesn’t impact on me at all.
  • Don’t burden your customers with your information problems. You know what it’s like when you apply for financing for a new car or house, or even when you re-do your cell phone contract or get your new credit card: it is usually an absolute nightmare of paperwork and bureaucracy. And yet even though I have been at my bank for fifty-one years now, and even though I have previously financed at least fourteen cars and three homes through the same institution, I am still asked inane questions like my name, how long have I lived at the same address, all my telephone numbers, and my personal favourite, “Who do you bank with?” If they don’t know by now, they never will!
  • When people are trained, don’t focus only on the technical aspects of how to use the system reasonably efficiently. It is also crucial that they know how to use the information proactively to help customers. I recently had “an experience from hell” at my bank (again) where the people with whom I was dealing had no idea of my previous history, circumstances, and especially my current very-profitable-to-them loyalty. Briefly, I wanted to purchase some office equipment for about R40 000, and needed to spread the payments over a number of months. Having first put me through a whole long bureaucratic process of applying, and after some delays in getting a reply, the young lady informed me that they wouldn’t approve this, not because our little business is not creditworthy, mind you, but because “the rules” say that the bank cannot do this specific deal unless the purchase is worth more than R45 000. (I’m convinced that all bank managers have to pass a course on “Stupidity” before they are promoted.)
  • The “human touch” is also critical. Apart from the warmth, courtesy and interpersonal skills of staff dealing with customers, you also need to ensure that you understand the human needs of your customers. We are not talking about telephoning them on their birthday here. For example, some of my best experiences as a customer have been with a business where I don’t experience any human contact at all: amazon.com. However, the development team of the amazon.com website has taken into consideration that I have more needs than just ordering books. They allow me to look at the content pages of the book, and to read about what other people have said about it. They keep me informed about the processing of my order, even after they have dispatched the items. And when another book on the same subject is published, they let me know about it.

If businesses could put themselves in their customers’ shoes when they implement new CRM systems, and use them to add value rather than save money and improve efficiency, customer loyalty and delight will improve dramatically.

And maybe they will earn the right to grow their customers’ value to their business like Mr Delivery did.


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