There are certainly signs that total customer relationship management (CRM) is reality. After all, attendance at customer relationship management conferences is up. A substantial percentage of break-out sessions and keynote addresses at conferences talk about the requirement to get on board the customer relationship train. Discussions at senior executive and board meetings are liberally sprinkled with the appropriate buzzwords. Data warehouses and data marts have been built with the objective of supporting relationship management. Yet it is not at all evident that organizations are actually executing on either the premise or the promise of total customer relationship management.Total customer relationship management is the optimization of all customer contacts through the distribution and application of customer information. Simply stated, it is your promise that no matter how your customer interacts with your company, you will always recognize who they are. In turn, you will optimize the value of their experience while optimizing their value to you.

Total customer relationship management is much more than marketing or sales or customer service. It includes:

  • Dynamic customization of a Web site based on a customer's preferences, characteristics or previous behavior.
  • Versioning your help desk in the customer's native tongue.
  • Offering or denying house credit at point of service based on previously known payment history.
  • Using analytical measures such as product affinity and propensity scores, channel and media preferences, and attrition risk scores at the point of sale or service.
  • Dynamically applying help desk policies and service charges based on estimated long-term customer value.

Total customer relationship management covers the entire sales and service experience.
It's a wonderful concept, but is anyone fully implementing this?

In most encounters with the commercial world, it seems that there are typically one or two "spokes of the wheel," or contacts, that are broken or missing. For example, the airlines tend to know who I am at the gate and on the plane. They even tend to give me some preference if they lose a bag. But why do I have to tell them each time that I want an electronic ticket? If I were to call their mileage tracking center, I would still have a very generically horrible experience. The relationship falls apart at these two points of contact.

A retailer I frequent is aggressively gathering behavioral and profile data from me, but doesn't seem to be doing anything with it. They don't appear to know anything about my recent purchases, and despite this aggressive data-gathering, don't seem to know who I am.

Similar examples could be cited of organizations that have wonderful marketing campaigns or beautiful catalogs but terrible customer service, or organizations that have great service but a very poor sales process.

Even organizations that have invested in major, multi-million dollar customer data warehousing projects have not implemented total customer relationship management. In fact, in most cases, these organizations are marketing, selling and servicing customers in exactly the same way as they did before. With the help of new systems, companies may recognize the customer and call them by name more often at more points of contact, but they are not treating them any differently or catering more specifically to their individual needs. Internal turf wars result in ongoing squabbles about who owns the customer because product or channel-oriented approaches to sales, marketing and servicing are deeply ingrained and not easily changed.

Total customer relationship management is very difficult. Implementation requires:

  • Creating tangible value for customers. To do this, organizations must invest in analysis at the customer segment and individual customer level – analysis that leads to better understanding the customers and their needs on a segment-by-segment basis.
  • Taking a customer-centric rather than product-centric approach to customer contact. Instead of mass offering the product du jour, just make the right offer at the right time with the right media and channel. Recognize that tomorrow the customer may want to use a different channel.
  • Customer information at all points of contact. This represents a major systems investment and challenge.
  • Arming personnel with the ability and opportunity to customize or version customer contacts based on this information.
  • Customer segment managers educating personnel on segment needs and attitudes and how to meet those needs.
  • Recognizing that the initiative is much more than sales or marketing, or even database marketing. It needs to be adopted across the organization, not just within the marketing department.
  • Most importantly, gaining the cooperation of all departments and divisions within an organization around this concept. This is by far the biggest challenge because customer relationship management initiatives may collide with departmental goals. For example, call center management may be compensated on decreasing call length, not customizing the experience. A sales force may be reluctant to share the customer information that they have collected with the rest of the organization for fear that they will be also giving away a share of the customer's business.

Each of these requirements represents a major challenge for many organizations, yet all are necessary for total customer relationship management.
Total customer relationship management – is it within the realm of possibility? Is it a myth, or could it become a reality? We believe it can become a reality and, therefore, are challenging you to dispel the myth by creating customer relationship success stories.

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