With all the focus in publications, trade shows and the press on the power of the Web, it would be easy for an organization to confine CRM to managing "Web relationships." While it's certainly becoming easier, as technology improves, to collect information about Web interactions with customers, gather personalized information from them and tailor offers, CRM is not just one-to-one marketing on the Web. It's much, much more.

Despite the success of online companies like Amazon.com, for most organizations the Internet is really just one spoke of the wheel ­ the full spectrum of the customer relationship encompasses many other channels. Companies relate with customers on the sales floor, at customer service counters, over the telephone through automated VRU interactions or "real voice" customer service departments, through e-mail and in online stores, through catalogs and direct mail. CRM must address all of these channels. To effectively maintain and grow customer relationships, an organization has to manage not just online transactions, but the dialog involved in all aspects of the relationship.

Having said that, however, many of the principles employed by savvy Web marketers can and should be applied to all aspects of customer relationship management. Specifically, organizations defining their core CRM principles should be sure to address:

  • Permission
  • Relevancy
  • Value

In the world of one-to-one marketing via the Web, permission marketing in its purest form means "no spam." It's about asking for permission before sending e-mail offers to customers and giving them easy ways to "opt out." Most companies are doing an excellent job of getting permission from customers online, but it seems to stop with the online relationship. However, permission is just as important and just as powerful across all aspects of the customer relationship.
In fact, permission should be initiated during the courtship stage, before a prospect even becomes a customer. In the product push, acquisition-focused world, it's hard to imagine a telemarketer asking a prospect or new customer, "Is this a good time to talk?" or "Is it okay if we call you again when we have other products or new services you might be interested in?" or "What's the best time of day for us to call?" or "Would you prefer to hear from us via telephone, mail, e-mail or in person?" But ideally, if we truly want to have a relationship with customers, that's exactly what we should do. At the very first contact, we should ask our customers what channels they'd prefer for future interactions. We should get permission and then follow through to communicate and interact how and when they want to hear from us.

Asking permission is scary for most marketers, because in their hearts they believe most prospects and customers, if given the choice, would answer, "Don't contact me at all!" But, without permission, either tacit or implied, it really is hard to have a relationship with customers. The challenge, then, is finding the best ways to secure permission. Relevancy and value can make the difference.

Forming relationships with customers requires that we find relevant common interests. Most organizations understand that a critical component of CRM is dialog, but they often forget that a meaningful dialog requires relevancy. Very simply, that means we need to spend time and effort early on understanding who our customers are and what they like and don't like. And, we have to remember that people's likes and dislikes change. So, over time, we also need to track and remember those changes. We need systems and databases that will capture the nuances of the dialog (demographics, interests, preferences and behavior) at each point of contact. Then, we need to use that information to insure relevance in all aspects (service and sales) of the relationship through all channels.

Savvy e-marketers have learned that the key to getting permission is in providing tangible value. Customers are willing to receive e-mail if they think they'll get something of value along the way. That same principle applies to CRM. Customers will seldom prolong a relationship with a company that does not provide them with value. Value can take many forms beyond the immediate value of purchased products or services. Convenience, speed, ease of access, responsiveness, trust, integrity, education and service excellence are all part, in varying degrees, of the value equation for most customers. This is where relevance and value have to merge. Understanding what constitutes value to the customer will be critical to maintaining and growing the value of the relationship to the organization.

Organizations don't manage customers ­ the customer will always be in charge. The most we can hope for is that they will find their relationships with us well managed. One of the keys to managing well will be in setting core CRM principles that address permission, relevance and value.

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