The holy grail of many organisations is to be so close to the customer that they truly understand the “world of the customer” (not just the “voice of the customer” – VoC) and all the ways the customer uses their products and services, what they appreciate, what frustrates them, and what they need. Having such customer insight would allow an organisation to design, produce and deliver their products and services to fulfil those needs better than their competitors.
And I say Holy Grail because very few companies achieve anything close to understanding the world of the customer. One of the biggest mistakes many companies make is the belief that they need a large amount of data that can be retrieved easily and used for customer service purposes as well as analysis for trends, etc.
Enter the world of CRM, short for Customer Relationship Management. In my mind, trying to understand your customers using a computer and data points is akin to trying to understand your girlfriend (or boyfriend) based on your cumulative experience and data from previous romantic relationships. A certain recipe for relationship disaster!
There is much more to understanding the customer than large amounts of survey data. This week I am sitting in an executive meeting for a heavy equipment manufacturing and sales company in Lugano, Switzerland (okay, not a bad place to be in June) where the response to the leader’s questions of “tell me about your 10 best customers” goes something like, “we need to do more market research”. At this point the leader explodes in a tirade about knowing the customer vs having data on the customer!
Here are two good examples:
To help design their mini-van and other family focused vehicles, Toyota sent individuals into the homes of families to live with them, 24/7 for a week at a time. They observed the hectic morning dash to school, the frantic grocery shopping trips, the difficulties getting baby buggies in and out. Real life, not survey questions and data points. Their new designs added in these real life customer insights and created very popular vehicles which sold well, mostly by one family telling another.
I go to a certain restaurant regularly. I like the food and the owners. They know where I like to sit, how I like to be served, whether I want coffee with desert or after. How I like my salad dressing, the type of wines I prefer. I am fully satisfied with my dining experience every time. They have hundreds of customers like me, and don’t have a CRM system! They have something better; owners and managers who really care about servicing their customers as people, not data points.
For any business to win with customers, they have to really care! All the rest is added value, but without executives and managers and employees who really care about their customers, nothing else will work.
My experience is that CRM systems do two negative things when overly relied upon. One, they distance executives and managers from real customers (people) and mostly give aggregated, average trends, and I have never met an average customer!
Second, they are an easy excuse for lazy leadership and weak management skills. “We don’t have enough data in the system yet to give you an answer! IT bought a lousy CRM system and it’s too complicated to use! All the functionality isn’t up and running yet! The average customer prefers . . .. “
As my client screams at his team, “Get out from behind your desk and computer and get into the field to talk to customers. And I mean everyone. Finance should be meeting customers regularly. HR should go out on customer calls. Engineers should be with customers regularly.”
That’s how you gain real customer insight, not through a mass of ones and zeros. A handshake is more important than a log-in!
Written and Posted by: John R. Childress
Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
John also writes thriller novels!