OPINION

The Only Resolution That Matters

Whenever I think of New Year’s resolutions, one of Mark Twain’s best quotes comes to mind: “A habit cannot be tossed out the window; it must be coaxed down the stairs a step at a time.”

Resolving to change is really what customer relationships and serving customers is all about. How many times has any company implementing CRM, or for that matter, a CRM vendor, seen that 70 percent or more of the cost of putting in a CRM system is educating users on how to use it?

That 70 percent of the total budget is the coaxing of old habits down the stairs where the gamble is in implementing a CRM system.

The bottom line is that changing any company’s processes, procedures and ways of doing things is very hard to do and, most often, the lack of commitment to change is what makes CRM implementations fail.

The only resolution that CRM users and vendors alike really need to make is to choose that single strategy, initiative or service that is of the most value to its customers, and to bring an intensity to its fulfillment the likes of which your company has never seen before.

That is how lasting change happens — one goal, one focus — with intensity that surpasses what is expected both internally and by customers. Only lasting change comes from that level of intensity and focus being generated. Nothing else.

What Needs to Change

Every company has them — projects everyone knows are going to be a lot of work but will be incredibly valuable for customers and will fundamentally change the value they receive.

The trouble is, these are such big and complex projects — and let’s face it — they require a completely different perspective of customer relationships. They get shoved back into the second and third level of priorities because no one is passionate about them.

Smaller, less important projects can quickly be done and provide an illusion of progress when, in fact, many companies are using CRM to just stay at pace with competitors. No one gets too upset, and everyone keeps going because no one has had to change their perceptions of customers too much.

Yet doing all these activities needs to answer one question from the customers’ perspective: Is your company really busy or really relevant?

It’s time to decide what 2007 is going to mean from a customer relationship standpoint. Instead of choosing this year to be really busy, why not choose to be really relevant?

The only resolution that matters is to complete those projects that your company never gets to but will deliver the greatest value to customers.

What is critical? To resolve to be relevant by tackling the ugly, complex problems first, and changing perceptions of what it means to connect with and go to bat for customers. Resist the temptation to do so many smaller projects for customers who may not even realize you are doing them.

It is tackling that one big ugly customer problem — whatever it is — that answers the question of staying relevant. That means probably changing the perspective of your management as to what a problem is in the first place.

Here are some examples of changing perspectives in order to tackle that one big, ugly problem and kick ass for customers:

  • Instead of calling those customers who you know love you for customer satisfaction surveys, have your management team read Blink then visit the top ten and bottom ten customers personally. Everyone loves positive feedback. It is natural to seek out those most positive customers and ask them to fill out the yearly customer satisfaction forms, if your company does them, and just perpetuates the myth in many companies that all is well.

    Books such as Blink need to be re-read every year to sharpen the focus of management on what the book terms “thin slicing,” and see how intuition plays out and wins over analysis-paralysis. Reading Blink and then visiting the best customers makes the feedback all the more visceral and real; and visiting the worst customers brings out what must be changed for your company to grow.

  • Great products are overdue, and every company has them. For software companies, these are the applications that everyone wants rolled out; yet, refreshes to existing products are taking precedence. For the financial services company, this is the service that makes 529 performance rankings across all funds instantly accessible; for the retailer, it is the ability to deliver the same level of trust online as in the store.

    Think of where Apple would be if it had let engineering change orders preclude the development of the iPod and iTunes, or Toyota and the virtual monopoly it now has on hybrid product development and, as a result, the supply chain for those components? It is the most difficult of political battles but the one that matters the most to your customers.

  • “Your company sucks” Technorati and Google searches is not a consumer-listening strategy. There are companies with global sales in the tens of billions of dollars that rely on this approach to see what consumers are saying about them. From time to time, executives go to Technorati and Google and type in “Company Name Sucks” and see what comes up.

    There are many excellent companies that can monitor all consumer-generated media, but going to them without the intensity of focus on changing internal attitudes is worthless.

    Take Dell and its now famous blow-off of a blogger; you can bet it won’t do that again. It all started by using existing systems and processes that returned a canned and highly cost-effective response to a customer problem. Now Dell has come around and said it will respond to blogging as a form of consumer-generated media.

    On the opposite extreme is Toyota and its willingness to let a Prius design engineer respond to blogs about the early models sporadically catching fire. The transparency and honesty — of yes there is a problem and yes it is being fixed — saved many customers the hassle of having to discover the problem on their own, and they were able to get their cars in quicker than the recall notices.

To wrap up, it’s time to get very intense about standing up for your customers and letting that thought dominate the development of the list of resolutions.

As everyone has too much to do already, no one needs more items added to their action item list. Changing the perspective of what it means to be relevant to customers as their needs change is all that matters.


Louis Columbus, a CRM Buyer columnist, is a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He has worked with enterprise clients on defining solutions to their channel management, order management and service lifecycle management strategies. Mr. Columbus also teaches graduate-level international business and marketing courses at Webster-Loyola Marymount University and University of California, Irvine. He is the author of fifteen books on technology and two books on analyst relations. His book, Getting Results from your Analyst Relations Strategies, can be downloaded for free.


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