Let me get this straight. The latest buzz suggests I should spend my time and money on web-ized Customer Relations Management (CRM) strategies? Talk about putting the cart before the horse!

Oh, the idea is pointed in the right direction, all right - but don’t you think first you need a satisfied customer base to manage? And unless you've been away visiting the hot spots on Mars, you know that prognostications for “e-business as usual” are gloom-and-doom. Studies prove most people are totally willing to spend online, but then they go there, find themselves confronted with Online Shopping Heck (this is a family friendly publication) and most of them don’t spend a dime.

Your goal, of course, is lots of satisfied customers - nice, happy ones who become loyal, repeat buyers as well as active referrers. But the fact they bought from you once doesn’t mean you have a relationship with them - yet. In fact, for all you know, they’re not coming back, and maybe for very good reason.

First, you have to create an online shopping experience that plants the seeds of a real relationship. Then you have to nurture those seeds tenderly with outstanding fulfillment and customer service. How would you feel if you bought something at an offline store and immediately the manager came over and started talking to you like a long-lost drinking buddy?

Building a relationship takes time. Shoving some tech-heavy CRM application at your customer is more likely to push them away than draw them in. If you want to get it right, you need to follow MRC, not CRM: Manage your e-business correctly so you can establish a Relationship from which you can develop a delighted and loyal Customer. Only then can all the other stuff you do have the impact you want.

Lots of e-enterprises out there have the software to facilitate CRM, and lots of software vendors would love to sell you some. But just like the scuba dude who puts out big bucks for gear when he's still 500 miles from the water, these same businesses don’t have the in-depth customer knowledge they need to use the technology effectively. They wind up getting carried away with trying to manage what they don't actually have.

According to David Sims, smart and common-sense Customer Relations guy,

"Everybody who profits from CRM has their own definition of what it is, but they're agreed as to what it is not: CRM isn't about technology any more than hospitality is about throwing a welcome mat on your front porch.

"Properly understood, CRM is ‘a philosophy that puts the customer at the design point, it's getting intimate with the customer,’ [in the words of Liz Shahnam, CRM analyst with the META Group]. Mike Littell, president of the CRM Division of EDS, agrees: ‘We view CRM more as a strategy than a process. It's designed to understand and anticipate the needs of the current and potential customer base a company has.’ Once you nail that, Littell says, there's ‘a plethora of technology out there that helps capture customer data and external sources, and consolidate it in a central warehouse to add intelligence to the overall CRM strategy.’"1 (bold emphasis courtesy of …me.)

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