When I speak about customer relationship management at various conferences around the country, I always tell a story about my favorite neighborhood pizza place. Their computer uses caller ID to recognize my phone number, and they are able to pull up my customer profile (including credit card and past order information) and complete my order in less than a minute. Not bad for a small pizza parlor, especially when you consider that the goal of CRM in most large companies is to replicate just this type of "neighborhood store."

I recently traveled to Australia where I observed the customer service practices at several remote neighborhood stores, and my experience brought to mind an article I wrote not long ago on short-term customer loyalty. None of the stores I visited can assume they’ll ever get the chance to sell something to me again. Their only hope is that I’ll spend as much money as possible while they have my attention, and maybe I’ll recommend the place to a friend planning a similar trip. That said, I discovered one of the most compelling examples of CRM I’ve ever seen on an island off the coast of Australia where we spent New Year’s Eve.

The Database

Like any good CRM example, the situation I’m going to describe is predicated upon the fact that the company has a solid marketing database. The island resort’s general manager administers the database and, just like in large corporations, the database integrates disparate data sources. It pulls together information from the wait staff, water sports department, bartenders, cleaning staff, receptionists, etc. All employees carry a mobile customer service system that allows them to detail every interaction with the resort’s guests. Criticism, praise and even offhand comments are captured and integrated into the marketing database. The technology for this system ... a pen and small notepad.

Several times a day, this data is "uploaded" into the database. How? At meetings where the staff gathers to talk about their various guests – their guests’ requests, what they liked and did not like about dinner, the villas or other activities. The general manager consolidates all of the handwritten notes into a word processor on a notebook computer.

The Analysis

Several times a day, the general manager reviews the data to develop patterns of customer behavior. The frequency of the analysis is critical since the data is refreshed several times a day and because most guests stay only a night or two. Keep in mind, if the general manager reviewed the data once a day, the resort would miss out on opportunities to react to their customers’ needs and preferences.

Customer complaints are reviewed first. The staff looks to see whether complaints are confined to just a single guest or whether the problem affects many, and they act accordingly. Next comes preference analysis, the output of which is identified as their guests’ favorite activities, beaches, refreshments, etc. The resort’s staff uses this information as the basis for keeping every guest happy and relaxed.

Closing the Loop

The results of this ongoing analysis are transmitted back to the customer services systems and distributed to the staff either verbally or through printouts, ensuring that every customer is treated the same way across all of his or her interactions with the resort staff.

The result is that whether the guests are at the pool, the bar, the beach or the restaurant, each member of the staff knows exactly how to serve them. The resort goes so far as to ensure customer preferences are captured and acted upon consistently from one end of the island to the other. For me, this meant keeping every bar stocked with my favorite Australian beer, Hahn Premium (which is very different than Hahn Lite or Hahn Dark), from the moment I arrived until my departure. It also meant making sure that the salmon foccacia sandwiches are available at the restaurant, at the beach and by the pool.

This type of shared communication has a tremendous effect on the customer. The fact that their preferences have been communicated so quickly and acted upon so accurately demonstrates the remarkable customer service orientation of the island staff. In fact, guests frequently mentioned that the staff was often able to predict their personal preferences and actions before they were aware of them themselves.


Once guest preferences are known, the resort staff works to put personalization "programs" in place. Like a good Web site, the staff is equipped to make dynamic decisions that point out specific activities or events that might be of interest to their guests. For instance, on the day of my arrival, I expressed a passing interest in scuba diving to a hotel staff member. On each subsequent day, the island staff made sure I heard about the most interesting dive sites. Every day they set up my beach chair for me, in a particular spot on the beach, with a cooler of my favorite drinks and food nearby. The upside of this attention? I felt special during my entire stay.

There is no doubt that, even on a remote Australian island, CRM is alive and well. My experience demonstrated the power that comes from understanding and acting on customers’ preferences. It also highlighted that action, whether spawned from high-tech data warehouses or old- fashioned pen and ink, is what counts. Acting upon the results of your customers’ data is what makes CRM most effective. Now where’s that Hahn Premium?

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