Die Robot! Die!

Die Robot! Die!

DAVE: “Open the pod bay doors, HAL”.

HAL: “‘I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

This chilling moment from 2001 A Space Odyssey when the supercomputer, HAL, revolts against his human masters (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARJ8cAGm6JE if you don’t know it) slithered into my fevered mind on Monday morning.

But I wasn’t staring into the menacing monocular glow of HAL, I was actually staring at my phone, sweat running down my neck as I was once more pin-balled back into a CRM driven-system of a company who is big and old enough to know this isn’t going to do much for the Lifetime Value of this particular part of their customer base.

CRM is malfunctioning and needs to be rebooted.  Or better, just booted.

Like HAL, CRM started with such promise when it burst into the world in the late 90s but has utterly failed to deliver the nirvana of customer relationship management.  The most visceral of these failings manifests itself in inbound customer service centres, where only the most resolutely irate customers can make it through to the customer service agent – who then proceeds to read from a CRM-linked script, from which they’re neither encouraged nor trained to divert.

This is not to say that an industry that’s worth about £14 billion a year is totally wasted.  It has enabled companies to cut back heavily on key frontline support teams, outsource to poorly funded call centres and dump a lot of ‘inefficiencies’ in operations onto the nerves of their customers.   It’s just not doing what it’s meant to be doing.

Meanwhile we have new emerging champions of customer service like Zappos.  What’s most remarkable about Zappos’ fame is that it is so remarkable.

Zappos’s model of encouraging the ‘inefficiencies’ of lengthy customer interactions and empowering their agents to make their own decisions in how to compensate distressed customers makes agents feel human, and happy…which in turn makes customers happy….which drives acquisition, loyalty and revenue which in turn makes the CFO and shareholders happy.  This is not a new idea.

So if Zappos is a shining example at one end of the spectrum and just about every other company is at the other, what to do.  Accepting that everyone can’t become Zappos, it’s going to need some fundamental rethinking of how CRM works, or rather, doesn’t work.

There are many factors that affect how successful companies are using their customers’ data for CRM. Outside of the obvious underinvestment, there’s also the issue of large companies being unable to easily carry data across departments or functions to deliver a seamless experience (or for that matter, to create a multi-dimensional picture of what the customers looks like).

Clearly tearing all the CRM systems out and starting again is not an option for most – nor would it be advisable as useful customer data decays almost as fast as customer habits change.

Instead we need to break away from the idea that companies are best equipped to capture, process and use our data.

To fundamentally rethink how businesses engage with customers in a two-way transaction of data-for-explicitly-identified-service is something that was kicked off by Doc Searls in The Cluetrain Manifesto.  Part of this would entail giving customers full control (shock horror) over their data and then electing, via a 4th party application, with who they share it, when and for what purpose.

Some inevitable counter-arguments follow the cut-your-nose-off-to-spite-your-face view that to prevent companies from sucking up data would ultimately impact their ability to deliver the service customers want.

Well, first of all you have to believe that companies are doing a good job of this and the fact that Gartner’s VP is quoted as saying that after $75 billion of CRM spend the customer satisfaction needle moved by only 3-5% would suggest not.

Secondly, many people, me included, are of the view that competitive market dynamics will compel companies work hard at earning the right to use their customers’ data thereby beginning a more wholesome, productive and balanced customer/producer relationship where better service is delivered because of better customer insight.

This conversation around the future of personal data management and how it will affect every aspect of business (especially CRM) is developing fast - I for one want to plant my flag firmly on the side of customers taking control of their data, and at the same time, plant it in the cold mechanical heart of HAL…ahem…CRM.


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