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Customer Experience

September 26th, 2009

Ten Truths We Refuse To Believe About Customer Alignment—and CRM

Have you ever sat down and pondered why customer-alignment – including CRM - is so hard for so many companies?

Yah sure, we’ve all mouthed the same bromides about changing from company-centric to customer-centric environments; about the customer, not the company, being the boss; and about the damage CRM software vendors have wrought.

But there’s much more to it than that – like the following truths that we ignore at our own peril, but ignore anyway. Because believing them requires changing our minds – and our values. And we’re often not up for that, regardless of the consequences of not changing.

1. Adding value to customers includes cutting costs to lower prices. Heresy, in CRM circles. Sure, many customers value service and even integrity over low price. But low prices have universal appeal. They’re a principal source of value to customers. So when people tell you that CRM should never involve cost-cutting, believe me, they aren’t wearing their customer hats.

2. CRM has a beginning, a middle, but no end. CRM is a direction – a path to follow. It’s not an end point, as in “cross that one off the list.” But business is ruled with a checklist mentality. And that mentality leads many a CRM-implementing company to the only “end” CRM has - a dead end.

3. There really are specific rules of the CRM implementation road – and we really do get hurt when we run off the road. CRM implementers have ignored more combined research and practical experience than perhaps any other class of business people. Why? Because we’re so resistant to change that we resort to self-deception. “Yeah, I can buy software without waiting.” “Yeah, we don’t have to change anything about us, just change the customer.” “Yeah, we can order sales people to use this software, and they’ll use it.” Yeah, yeah, yeah.

4. No risk, no reward. I cringe when and other SaaS vendors tout their approach as “no risk” or “low impact.” It’s so disingenuous. Doing CRM right requires hard, high impact change. And change creates risk. And if companies lack the courage to implement CRM properly, they should at least have the common sense to keep their wallets secure, before their money gets “hosted.”

5. We can’t change strategies without redesigning workflow and information flow. Ugh, who wants to change workflow and information flow? So messy. Correctamundo. But it’s nothing like the mess left by pretending to be one way towards customers but then working another way. Uttering bold words about doing better by customers unsupported by changes in how we work produces self-inflicted injuries. Just ask Wal-Mart and Dell.

6. We’d better redesign process before implementing any new technology. Otherwise, we’re going to wind up doing the wrong stuff faster. The same issue rears its ugly head here as in #5. We don’t want to stop to redesign process first because that’s too hard, too expensive and takes too long. So we’ll go buy a bunch of whiz bang technology tools and think about all the money we saved. Ironically, process redesign provides the fastest and surest ROI of any CRM element. Oh yeah, but then there’s the mess.

7. The same factors empowering customers are empowering employees. You want to see how empowered employees are becoming? Try implementing CRM – including asking employees to change how they work – without putting anything in it for them. Just keep the company nurse’s phone number handy, because we’re going to get bruised. Just as the Internet has exploded our choice of products, it’s exploded our choice of jobs. Workers are more mobile than ever before, and they’re more likely to walk than ever before. Especially when we ask more of them without giving them more. Or when we order them to change without first getting their input.

8. Customer-alignment decreases, not increases, operating costs. Hey, this is good news, so why don’t companies believe it? Because “we can’t afford it” gives business a convenient excuse for not facing up to the need for structural change to keep pace with changing customer behavior. Sound improbable? Not if we’ve done battle with managers using “we can’t afford change” to protect their jobs and their turf against changing to a more customer-focused environment. Another irony, customers want to deal with empowered employees more than they want almost anything else from companies. And empowering line employees creates opportunities to eliminate supervisory levels, which does guess what?

9. CRM is more than a shoeshine and a smile – and a second hand in customer pockets. Prettying ourselves up doesn’t cost much. Smiling costs nothing. And lots of companies still believe that a shoeshine and a smile will open up customer pockets. “Hey, customers will bow down before us if we play nice – or appear to play nice. Or wow them with our brand strength.” Executives at these companies should spend a week – even a day – being a customer. They might never recover.

10. We can’t buy CRM. Spending money can be hard, but it’s a lot easier than changing how we think and how we work. After all, “We’re business.” “We’re in control,” “We get to make the rules.” “We do unto customers what we would have them give unto us.” So let’s go by some software and get over this “customer-focus” stuff.

Tough stuff, I know. But winning companies welcome the tough stuff. They take it head on. They look in the mirror without blinking. But they’re in the minority. And helping clients adopt winning ways requires speaking unpleasant truths – more softly and sympathetically than I have here - but insistingly. And isn’t that the role of consultants - helping clients succeed? You betcha.

“Written by Dick Lee, High-Yield Methods and republished with permission from ( Copyright CustomerThink Corp.”

About the Author

Richard A. Lee

Richard A. Lee is founder and principal of High-Yield Methods, a pioneering consulting firm focused on helping clients achieve customer alignment. In addition to his long involvement in developing customer-focused approaches to business, including CRM, he is also the developer of Visual Workflow—the first process design approach developed expressly for the variable (non-manufacturing) workplace.


In addition to his consulting, Dick has written several books including The Customer Relationship Management Survival Guide, and he speaks globally on customer-alignment topics. His work and perspectives have been featured in “Business Week,” National Public Radio’s “MarketPlace,” “Newsweek,” and “The Wall Street Journal.” He holds a BA from Reed College, Portland, Oregon and an MBA from the Sawyer School of Business, Suffolk University, Boston.



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