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Let's put the 'customer' in CRM

To those of you who are building Internet-based customer relationship management (CRM) systems, I offer this one piece of advice: Don't forget the customer.

As the zeal for e-commerce grows, so does the market for CRM. These systems are highly complex, hardware-software-networking concoctions that facilitate the business/customer relationship. And

the CRM market is booming. International Data Corp. believes that CRM is on the verge of tremendous growth and will be a $9 billion market in four years. Nonhuman interfaces will replace the person-to-person dynamics that have defined the business/customer relationship.

There already is one sterling example of machines attempting to replace people in the business/customer relationship. I'm talking about that paragon of modern efficiency, automated telephone systems. Don't you hate them? How many of you have simply hung up on them?

If that's the kind of model around which ambitious CRM solutions will be built, then all those stratospheric predictions of triple digit e-commerce will prove highly inaccurate. Can machines really automate significant portions of what has always been a person-to-person relationship? I have my doubts.

Consider this simple anecdote. I am a (largely satisfied) customer of McAfee Associates' antivirus software. This kind of product is like an annuity for the vendor. You buy it fairly cheaply then pay annual fees for upgrades that fight new viral strains.

In January I tried to download the latest patch, but my password didn't work. I found out that it had expired six months earlier. McAfee has my phone number, address and e-mail address, yet I received no notification that my upgrade license had expired. Of course I would have renewed, as $30 is a pretty cheap way of protecting my electronic assets for a year.

But why on earth didn't a computer vendor, of all businesses, understand how to leverage the Internet to manage its customers, not to mention increase revenue and profit? Why did I have to make two phone calls, each of which had me wade through their automated phone system and take up their support people's time, to complete a simple license renewal I would have undertaken with an e-mail reminder six months earlier?

With all the detailed information the airlines have on frequent fliers, why does the typical business flier who pays $1,000 to fly coast-to-coast midweek feel much less like a pampered client and more like a head of cattle? How often after making a big purchase (a stereo, a car, a mortgage) do you experience the personal touch of some meaningful follow-up? Maybe a phone call, a personal note.

Of course, CRM systems must concern themselves with far more lofty business functions, like integration of front-office applications with critical back-office applications, including accounting, inventory, order fulfillment and the like. By its nature, CRM is supposed to support many kinds of customer interactions, all designed to retain the customer for the long haul and ultimately boost the bottom line.

Just don't forget that business and selling is still about people. One of the CRM solution architect's most difficult yet utterly necessary undertakings is to imagine himself in the customer's shoes. Once there, ask yourself, "How would I want all this software, hardware and networking to treat me?"

El retorno de la inversión en entrenamiento ejecutivo de equipos gerenciales es exponencial y en minutos. Norman Vincent Peale.
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