Customer Experience Management

The end of CRM?

(Article by David Tovey, first appeared in Customer Service Magazine)

For years I have been less than comfortable what I believe has become an overused term, Client Relationship Management (CRM). Though you might be forgiven for thinking that CRM is new, it certainly isn’t, I first came across the term over 20 years ago and it has been in use for far longer than that.

Over the last ten years or so I have watched as organisations have launched CRM initiatives and in some cases, developed very expensive computerised systems. They usually do this in order to protect and develop the business they do with clients and customers. Often the aim of such initiatives is to differentiate from competitors. I have seen successes and have seen failures.

Particularly, where CRM is seen as a computerised system that will somehow magically manage client relationships, protect them and increase levels of business without attention to what clients actually experience, the initiative usually fails to deliver.

I have a problem with the whole idea of ‘managing’ a client relationship. ‘Things’  can be managed, computers, buildings, systems, car fleets, etc, where control of the asset is important. Relationships with people however, tend not to thrive, when one party thinks that the relationship can be managed. Trying managing the relationships with your family and those close to you and see how that works!

Think of it from a client’s point of view, do you really feel you want to be managed by your suppliers and advisors? Management suggests control.

Just as it has been recognised for years that people can’t be managed if we want the best performance from them, then we should not think we can ‘manage’ relationships. The dynamics of relationship are simply too great, and you have no control over your client. I have noticed a tendency for suppliers and advisors to blame the client when they can’t be managed in the way that suits the supplier or advisor. Sometimes the customers vote with their feet, take their business elsewhere only to earn the label “stupid client”. Clients get moaned about because of their lack of loyalty.

Where CRM initiatives have been successful, they tend not to focus on customer ‘management’ but rather on the client ‘experience’. I can understand why they succeed; the client ‘experience’ can be managed, much better than the relationship can be managed. The really good news is that managing the client experience is usually achieved at a much lower cost than a typical CRM programme. Whereas a CRM initiative is often seen as distant from the people working in an organisation, focusing on the client’s experience of doing business with us gets everyone involved.

There is an old saying, “We tend to measure ourselves by our intentions, other people measure us by our actions.” The relationship that we have with our clients is based on the experience a client has of doing business with us. We will be measured against the experience that the client expects.

Client loyalty

 Client loyalty has to be earned, it cannot be expected, simply because we supply a service or product. Even if the supply of our call product or service has been carried out efficiently, we cannot expect loyalty.  Client loyalty requires delivery on the client’s expectations, and then some.

When an organisation under-delivers on the client’s expectation, the results is a dissatisfied client. Delivering what the client expects results in a satisfied client.  Satisfied clients are obviously better than dissatisfied clients, but do not be fooled into believing that satisfied clients will be loyal clients.

After all, consider what ‘satisfied’ means.  If you are satisfied with the service of the last restaurant or hotel you visited, I suggest you would describe it as ok, not bad, no better or worse than the establishments you’d previously visited. Wow, what an accolade, to be described as no better or worse than your competitors!

If your aim is to satisfy clients, then your aim is to be described as ok.  You may very well hold on to a client that is satisfied, until of course a competitor comes along and offers just a little bit more.

Client expectations


Before we could consider client loyalty, we have to be sure we know the client’s expectations. Just because the client happens to be in the same business as other clients we work for does not mean that we can assume they have the same expectations.  In fact, it is extremely dangerous in successful relationships to assume.

Identifying the expectations of a potential client takes time and skill.  Even more than that, it takes trust. If a business relationship is to result in long-term sustainable profitable income, then trust is vital. No client will share with you their full expectations, until you have built a relationship based on trust.

Fortunately, we know how trust can be developed.

Trust = credibility + competence + compatibility

Credibility comes from a combination of confidence, the initial impact we make, honesty and making sure we deliver as promised. Competence is the combination of our knowledge, track record, and the way we ask searching but non-manipulative questions. Compatibility is achieved through demonstrating genuine interest in our client, active listening, showing we care and being prepared to show vulnerability.

We often use the principle of the iceberg to demonstrate what is involved in understanding the client’s real expectations. One ninth of an iceberg lies above the water eight ninths below. What lies on the surface is easy to see, as the Titanic this discovered, it’s what lies below that can do the damage. Understanding of clients requirements and expectations involve is probing below the surface of the iceberg.  Only the superficial requirements sit above the surface and they are easy for anyone to find.  Only by building trust, will we ever find what’s going on below the surface.

When we have discovered what the real requirement and expectations are of a client we begin to manage our own business to deliver the experience that client expects. Remember, you cannot control or manage the client.  You can control and manage the client’s experience of doing business with you. How you manage that experience, and how, you get all your people to help deliver that experience is a subject of another article.

Getting back to client loyalty, I stated earlier that that requires a client to be satisfied and then some.  Chris Daffy, the UK’s Guru on customer service defines the ‘then some’ as +1’s. +1’s are the numerous small things that we can add to the service we deliver that makes a client say things like “Wow, that’s good, I didn’t expect that.” In one exercise I ran with a law firm, in one hour, their trainees came up with over a hundred +1’s that they felt, would add to their client’s experience of the firm at little or no cost.

Of course, once a client has been on the receiving end of a few +1s, this level of service becomes the norm.  That is why the client experience has to be managed.  Trust will need to be maintained throughout the relationship in order to keep updated about their requirements and expectations. Effort will need to put into continuing to find the +1’s that will turn a satisfied client into a loyal client.

Client relationship management is dead, long live managing the client experience!