On my way out of Fenway Park the other night, I found a credit card on the sidewalk — an American Express platinum card to be specific. There was no big moment of indecisiveness on my part about what to do with the card because I would expect anyone finding one of my cards on the street to act responsibly and I expect you feel the same.
When I got to a well-lit place, I called one of the numbers on the back of the card and began my odyssey. I am not picking on Amex and I have been a member of Amex before and found their products to be fine. It turns out, however, that there really is no easy set of procedures for reporting a found card. Lost? Yes. Found? Not so much, as Jon Stewart might say.
Menu of Choices
I went through a menu of choices and initially chose to report a lost card but discovered that I could not do it without also providing a password even if I had the card and the number no matter how hard I tried and the system, being fully automated, was not programmed to deal with exceptions.
There is a certain amount of logic to that, after all, you would not want someone wishing to play a prank on you to be able to cancel your card while you were, say, traveling overseas. I understood the logic but it would have been nice to be able to hit a key (and I tried a bunch of them) to get off that merry-go-round and talk to a real person.
No matter, I hung up and called back and this time I chose the concierge services, figuring a platinum card would be able to command the attention of a real person. Instead, what I discovered was that concierge meant just another way to help you spend money. You could book various things like reservations at restaurants, airfare, tickets to the ball game, whatever. At least there was an option to get me to an agent.
I finally got a human being who thought surely I was reporting my lost card instead of the lost card I had found. Eventually, though, I got to another human who was able to take down the card number and do the appropriate thing. I cut up the card.
As Good as It Gets?
I found all of this endlessly fascinating and it got me thinking. Even with a platinum card and “concierge service” the presumption was that a customer would approach the company with a pre-qualified (and limited) set of needs — either you want to buy something or you are prevented from buying something because the card is lost or you are behind in your payments. That’s it, in a quest for something as close as possible to frictionless transactions, all other possibilities are defined away.
This experience made me think about CRM in general and its future. For a long time we have been operating on the assumption that the CRM of today — what some of us refer to as CRM 1.0 — is just a down payment on something better which we have named CRM 2.0. What if it is not a down payment, though? What if this is as good as it gets and maybe we have to deal with the idea that as organizations find better ways to achieve frictionless transactions, CRM actually gets worse?
I don’t think CRM will get worse, but my experience with that call center made me think that CRM might be maturing and ossifying into something that simply manages bulk interactions. If that’s the case then there is an additional market niche for something else, something that works in the realm of transactions that do not result in a purchase or a sale.
We all know that there are many times when we approach a vendor looking for information, rather than a product. Maybe we are thinking about a purchase, like wondering how much space in the driveway to allocate for the bass boat we haven’t truly convinced our wife that we need.
A Business Model Issue
Various people I know have estimated that this other kind of transaction represents about half of what drives people to vendors in the first place. If that’s so, then we are doing ourselves a tremendous disservice by not attending to the other half. I recently met with an executive of a large company in Silicon Valley and we spent an hour discussing this topic. There really does need to be a suite of products that, while not exactly performing transactions, actually makes the transaction possible down the road, in part by keeping the customer engaged.
At the end of the day, I think it’s not a technology issue at all — it’s a business model issue. Right now, we don’t think in terms of how to optimize what we do when we are not in a transaction, so we don’t do anything and we miss opportunities. The opportunities are hidden so few of us quantify them to begin with but if some genius looks at our business processes with a fresh perspective then everything will change in a hurry.
It is the difference between offense and defense. According to Celtics great Red Auerbach, “Basketball is like war in that offensive weapons are developed first, and it always takes a while for the defense to catch up.” At this point CRM’s offense is pretty well established, maybe it’s time to think about defense.
Denis Pombriant runs the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is working on a book and can be reached at [email protected].