1074 — ‘No Space for CRM’. The opinion of Michael Hulme, Chairman and Consultant – Teleconomy (UK)

Feb 6, 2004 | Conteúdos Em Ingles

Why, given the huge investments in CRM systems, does most research demonstrate increasing customer dissatisfaction with service levels? In part, this can be put down to increasing levels of expectation that rise faster than it is reasonable to expect organisations to keep pace with. But this is a complacent explanation. Whilst it may contain a small element of truth, it is in the majority flawed and perhaps even fundamentally wrong. Getting at the truth is difficult and complex, but in essence it may be as fundamental as our models for customer service being completely outdated by changes in social structure and consumer behaviours.

If this is the case, then only those organisations prepared to radically rethink their ‘relationship’ with the consumer are going to be able to meet demands for improved service. Most organisations are content to make small incremental changes but always remain within the current way of thinking or paradigm.

How might we characterise the current mode of thinking? Firstly, it is essentially transactional; it sees the relationship between the customer, product or service and organisation as a series of transactions or events. Each event can be to some extent choreographed and systematised. At its best, the use of transactional histories and demographic data creates at least some appearance of a direct and authentic relationship with the customer. At its worst, the customer is little more than a transaction being processed by some impersonal machine.

However, the difference between these two outcomes lies in the quality of implementation, rather than any difference in underlying thinking or philosophy. This model is built upon a fundamentally static, product led world-view. The various elements of the transaction are seen as reducible to discreet and consistent ‘pieces’ that can be addressed as relatively autonomous parts of the transaction. It is not the customer that is being serviced or supported, it is the product!

The implicit hierarchy that lies behind this model sees the product or service as the outcome of the organisation, and its continued sustainability and maintenance as being the ‘true’ purpose of any support service. The customer is merely the user of the product. That the product can go wrong is taken to be part of its operational characteristics. Many of the potential product problems, or failures, are predictable and so can themselves have systems designed around them.

The equation therefore goes something like: initial product + product support = satisfaction with product = more product sales.

Two questions immediately arise from this, is this dominant account open to question and is there potentially a different way of thinking?

The evidence for questioning this account is now overwhelming. The level of customer dissatisfaction is now so high as to be telling even the hardest of hearing that something is not quite right. Intuitively, if not explicit in our corporate behaviour, we are aware that the transaction-based, product-centred, production-line model leaves something to be desired. Why are we aware of this? We are aware because we are involved as individuals in the enormous social and behavioural changes that have been occurring during the last 30-40 years, changes that have significantly increased in pace during the last decade.

These changes have seen the development of the individual as an autonomous, consuming entity. An entity whose identity is defined less by fixed social positions and more through consumption and actions. An entity that lives in a constant ‘stream’ of media messages, receives more information than can be ‘processed’, is significantly cynical of organisations and institutions, yet is increasingly able to manipulate systems. An entity that is ‘time-aware’ and increasingly available for contact 24 hours a day.

This 24-hour contact allows the maintenance of many often competing and varied social networks; often these networks are maintained through virtual contact interspersed with periods of more intense physical contact. What begins to emerge is a picture of the individual as highly mobile, living in an increasingly fluid world of emergent and fragmentary relationships, where disposability goes ‘hand in hand’ with commitment, though this is not to denigrate the strength or importance of relationships, and some will endure longer than others.

Against this background the fixed, product-transaction-led CRM model begins to look hopelessly inadequate. It is replaced by a view that sees the relationship between product/service and consumer changing depending on fluid variables such as location, time, previous experience, and significance to individual. In other words, the context or ‘space’ in which the consumption and use takes place becomes just as much a ‘feature’ of the consumer/product relationship as the attributes of the product.

Now, the relationship between user or consumer and product/service is often so complex as to be constantly producing novel unforeseen relationships and uses. As our current models are built around product alone, we pay little attention to ‘spaces’ that consumers occupy and move through. Yet the characteristics of these spaces significantly modify behaviours and emotional responses/receptability to product or service.

Most CRM systems assume that use, or consumption, is taking place in some hygienic other place that bares a remarkable similarity to the ideal operating environment. Contrast, for example, the ‘controlled’ environment of a retail shop with the online or mobile support call.

Fixity has gone forever. And the opportunities for the individual that such fluidity and mobility possess also bring challenges. We have already mentioned that we receive more information than we can possibly handle, and managing multiple social networks combined with physical mobility can itself be disorientating.

As we move from one space to another, our requirements and needs change, and on occasion spaces merge or intrude upon one another, such as when the work-related telephone call is received on a personal mobile.

Increasingly we need support and assistance. But it is the individual that requires that support, not the product. And the support that is required has to be relevant to the ‘space’ occupied by the individual, it must take account of immediate circumstances, acknowledging that the product/consumer relationship is a part of, and modified by, this occupied space or context.

This represents a fundamental shift in thinking, where fluidity and mobility is acknowledged within service, the product becomes secondary, and understanding and supporting the space or context of the consumer becomes central. In this model, there are few absolutes…but there is the opportunity to build authentic customer relationships.

Michael Hulme

Em Foco – Opinião