Auto Service World
News   November 18, 2003   by Auto Service World

Customer Relationship Management Is Not a System, It is a Culture


Customer relationship management is not about installing technology, it is about changing a culture, and as any initiative, must be self-funding to be sustainable.
“It is about relationships, service and trust. And it about having your sales force and your management all on the same page,” says Bob Angel, founder of the Gilford Group, who adds that he is unusual in that he is a marketer with a background in finance. Speaking at the Young Executive Society’s inaugural conference, he touched on details of successful customer relationship management (CRM).
“When I am asked by customers how much I cost, I tell them that I am essentially for free because if I am not, it doesn’t make sense to hire me. CRM has a very bad reputation, and I don’t like to use the term. There are a number of reasons for that and one of them is that you go out and buy some piece of technology. Technology is the enabler, but it is not the first thing you do.
It is about taking your customer relationships and turning them into profitable customer relationships.”
Most companies have decided what their branding is, but you have to be really careful that what you do in front of your customers doesn’t contradict what you say.
“Customers are not stupid. They can see if you are putting up one message, and behaving in a different way.”
Companies really don’t know how to handle customer information, he says. The larger the company, the harder it becomes, he says. “Technology is not all bad. You do need technology in most organisations to make CRM work. If you have fewer than 100 customers you can probably do things without a lot of technology.”
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“You need to have some technology on your desktop if you are talking to customers. If you have more than 100, you certainly can’t remember everything about them if you call them or go to meet with them.”
Thinking about what the primary point of contact with your customer is critical. For Coca-Cola, he noted, that is the truck driver, who delivers to the store, which is really the primary customer of the sugared bubbly water producer. “So they spend a tremendous amount on driver training.
“One of the challenges is to recognize that customers are all different and not to make assumptions about what customers needs are. It is always really important to look though your customers and understand what is really going on. Some of my clients are starting to form extended enterprises that look through into the distribution arm and start building a view of the end customer.”
In Canada it is difficult to get people to see treating customers differently, but different customers should be treated differently, he says. While everyone deserves the basics of good customer service, doing things like sharing information with the best customers is valuable.
So how do you get started? “There are really four or five steps. The first one is learning where you are and building a business case. The second is articulating a vision and strategy. Then you get into formulating a detailed CRM design and planning the product.
“But culture is really the key. It is very difficult to get people to move from internally focused to understanding that the customers’ needs come first.
“The real challenge is trying to sustain that. It is very easy to revert to the old mindset, even in the course of a meeting. The need to sell something to satisfy themselves and their bosses to keep their jobs starts to reassert itself. The experience of people with the customer-centric approach is that you are more successful.
“There is no magic answer. It is just a question of recognition and continual renewal. You need management by example to keep it sustained.”


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