A storm is brewing within the customer relationship management world. Currently, we seem to be in that calm before the storm. The storm will be over the ownership of customer relationship management initiatives.

Does customer relationship marketing (CRM) belong in the marketing department? The database marketing department? The customer service group? The sales channel? It seems that all of the above are laying stake to the claim. After all, they own the customer.

The conceptually correct answer would be that CRM belongs in all areas of an organization ­ it's an enterprise-wide initiative. Best case, all of our major corporations have already adopted customer relationship management initiatives at the highest level, and the groups sponsoring solutions, attending conferences and hosting workshops are working together to fulfill the corporate mission. Unfortunately that's highly doubtful. Organizations rarely easily and readily work together. There are always departments and divisions with contradictory goals and diverse objectives, particularly on something as large and controversial as the management of customer relationships.

Customer relationship management needs a primary owner because it is difficult to implement and requires strong leadership and ongoing commitment. Then it's just an issue of where it belongs, which could be settled in a few ways.

  • One could look at who does "most" of the customer interaction within the organization.
  • Those who have the long-standing relationships could be a probable bet.
  • The group with the systems and data to support customer relationship management might be considered.
  • The group that first had the idea and/or spoke the loudest about it might be selected.
  • Finally, those who come up with the most funding might lead the charge.

Obviously, none of these are optimal, and all could lead to less than successful results. If managing customer relationships falls into one department ­ whether that be marketing, sales or service/support ­ the other departments are likely to retract their support and enthusiasm for the initiative. If it becomes the sole responsibility of the marketing department, other groups in the organization may fail to see beyond the marketing applications. Similarly, it cannot fall under customer service, or marketing and sales will fail to become involved. Customer relationship management requires a department of its own.
What would a customer relationship department actually do? Basically, serve as a liaison and advocate group for customers ­ ensuring that all areas of the organization are prepared for customer interaction and optimization and that customer relationship strategies are successfully implemented across the organization. The customer relationship department will be responsible for:

  • Investment decisions relative to customer relationship programs and processes.
  • Driving identification of unique customer segments and identification of their needs, attitudes, product affinities and loyalty drivers.
  • Identification of the tools and technologies that are required to share information about customers at all points of contact.
  • Developing the core of customer knowledge and educating the organization about the unique needs of customer segments.
  • Defining the optimal contact strategy for each customer segment and sub-segment, based on its unique behavior, channel preferences and long-term potential.
  • Driving initiatives to create customer interaction centers, where customers can choose the channels they prefer ­ phone, Internet or in person.
  • The interaction of various functional groups (sales, service, marketing) with customers.

Perhaps this sounds a little too familiar ­ and may even sound much like your current job in a database marketing department or on a data warehousing team. But the change is required as customer relationship responsibilities need to be formalized so they can be adopted across the organization.
Perhaps you should consider starting or joining the customer relationship department. It should be a cross-functional group with skill sets in:

  • Customer valuation,
  • Customer interaction and integrated communications,
  • Customer information management.

If you put that all together, doesn't the customer relationship department balloon in size? It could, but the solution is to identify those that can lead the charge and serve as liaisons to implementation teams in the existing departments. It's a consultative role; the implementation has to take place within the existing functional groups.
Finally, while the appropriate goals and skill sets will contribute to the efforts of the customer relationship group, corporate support is crucial. This includes financial support for resources and systems initiatives, as well as ongoing business endorsement of customer relationship efforts.

Once the customer relationship department is formalized, more successful enterprise-wide customer relationship initiatives are likely. Until then, the cloudiness continues while the storm brews.

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