Maybe you’ve already considered this but it just popped into my head the other day as I was thinking once again about customer experience or CX as some people shorten it. I have often said that customers experience moments of truth and that the experience should be focused on the things that customers care most about AND that a business can actually do something about.
I make this distinction to try to focus on things that are core to relationships and there are real pitfalls you can avoid if you take this approach. A business is not responsible for every customer issue with a product or service and a good demarcation between what issues you own and what you empathize over might be the warranty or other declarative statements a business makes. At least we’d like this to be true but is it strictly speaking? Not really. There are things that a reasonable customer intuits as implied by the existence of a product. One is its ease of use but there’s also the important area of how the customer consumes the vendor’s policies and processes.
From this I came up with two layers of CX. There’s the obvious layer that we all know that consists of the stuff covered in the warranty but then there’s a lot of stuff that isn’t defined that can make all the difference between a good and lasting relationship and someone stalking off.
The second layer of CX is about how customers experience the business entity. Layer one might include, does the device work, is the coffee hot enough but not scalding and generally, does the thing I sell you live up to the expectation for thinginess? I realize I am inventing a word and that’s intentional to get us all thinking. The distaff end of a spectrum with thinginess on one end might be personable-ness or humanness and it accords with the relate-ability of your business, its people, and its processes with customers thus the two layers of CX.
Thinginess is usually engineered into a product or service because that’s what a business does to ensure that it meets the aspirations it expresses in its communication with the market. They are the ultimate signs of thinginess. Thinginess is a one-time item, you make a product and deliver it and that’s it. But personable-ness is something you need throughout the customer life cycle and hopefully into the next life cycle too. (Let’s not get creepy, I simply mean buying the next iteration of the product I am not making some allusion to vampires.)
It’s personable-ness that delves into your procedures, policies, and the tone you take with customers regardless of the channel they approach you on and it’s here that most businesses need help. Too often the systems that meet customers in channels are retreaded 20 year-old knowledge bases that were originally intended to help internal employees to support customers. Somewhere along the line we got the bright idea that with a shiny new front end these knowledge bases could do the same for end customers too.
Sometimes the knowledge base idea works well enough, helping people find easy answers to questions thus deflecting traffic that would normally invade other channels that require monitoring. But sometimes, it doesn’t work and it leaves customers stranded. This also leaves behind a core of harder issues to be solved by people or possibly more intelligent systems that leverage machine learning and natural language processing.
Even with advanced, intelligent systems, some customers will still need to speak with you or otherwise interact directly (via chat, email, social) with a human. How easy we make that transition says a lot about how we deal with the second tier of CX. If a customer is somewhere in your channels, the customer is on a moment of truth quest and the CX of your product is secondary to the CX of the quest into your processes and policies, the moment of truth. A customer’s experience of that moment of truth will determine to a great degree whether you create or strengthen a bond and ultimately whether or not the customer becomes an advocate or someday buys more.
So here are two ideas for your consideration. First, keep a big picture of CX in mind understanding that it’s not just what you can relate directly to product. Second, recognize that you need to focus on how customers consume your policies, processes and all the rest of the fuzzy stuff around your products and brand. That’s also called the customer journey and it’s why I place such emphasis on journey mapping. Products have blueprints and models, CX has journey maps or it should. The journey map is a model for how you interact and it will become one of the most important parts of your outreach to customers in the near future.
There are two questions that emerging companies in the CRM space field when they face the analysts — when are you going public and why don’t you build out a full CRM capability?
The first question is easily and deftly handled by most executives and it must be. An IPO has its own cadence and the Securities and Exchange Commission is very keen to protect its turf even in an age when congress keeps tight control on regulators’ budgets. It takes almost no effort to fine an over exuberant executive for making statements about things that are not in the official filing or during the quiet period. So, smart executives stay very far away from those questions.
The second question is, or at least can be, a quagmire. There are many marketing software vendors who have necessarily built functionality that spills out of the pure marketing definition and that’s enough to keep some people wondering. A customer database is a good starting point. The argument goes like this: you already have a customer DB so how hard can it be to blow out another wall and add sales functionality and then, Voila! CRM.
That logic misses the point by a country mile and a decent customer service function, yet it doesn’t go away. But there’s more to it than even raw functionality. Why would any sane CEO of a fast growing marketing automation company decide to blow the budget and slow growth to build out sales and service in a market where the CRM niche is rather full?
My advice goes like this. Don’t do it. Don’t build CRM, there is absolutely no reason for anybody to build another CRM system. The niche is covered so move on. Take as an example the last decade-full of successful software vendors. Siebel didn’t build ERP and the reasons are the same. ERP was full, it was better for Siebel to focus on building out its CRM functionality and that’s what it did. Late in the game, before the acquisition, the company was working on master data management and making its client server solutions at home on the web. Siebel didn’t build ERP though many people asked why not, because the company was looking for the next big thing not the last.
Siebel got acquired and its independent plans were sidelined. But look at Salesforce and you see a similar pattern. Financial Force, Intacct, Zuora and many other companies sprung up to provide financial functionality to the fast selling CRM but Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff, has been adamant about not pursuing ERP. He’s focused on building out a new interpretation of the front office that’s social, mobile, and customer experience focused. That’s called a Blue Ocean Strategy and I have written about it before.
The rest of the big players — SAP, Oracle, Microsoft — all have pretty good CRM and they all trail Salesforce according to Gartner’s recent rankings. Generally, while their products are good, they trail Salesforce by about a generation when it comes to leading edge front office ideas like collaboration, customer journey, and the like. They aren’t innovating so much as trying to be fast followers.
I think any marketing automation company that tries to build out CRM functionality would also be a fast follower. They’d trade in what they’re very good at to regress to the mean, the middle of the pack. Instead, here’s a question that they could profitably answer. How are economic and demographic changes affecting how people and companies buy and how does marketing fit into that changed environment?
People and companies have become comfortable and adept at shopping online and making decisions without the assistance of traditional sales people. At a minimum this suggests a winnowing role for traditional SFA. But it also suggests a rising opportunity for marketing automation defined as nurturing customers on their buying journeys.
It also suggests an expanding role for the call center, which might get smaller in the next decade while changing at least part of its mission. I don’t think today’s marketing automation has yet tapped all the possibilities inherent in that one observation, nor do I think that the incumbent CRM vendors have embraced the idea.
So, when I hear talk about new companies entering the CRM market, I cringe. CRM is robust and thriving but it is also consolidating. There won’t be five major CRM vendors ten years form now. The availability of good, fast, standards-based integration is high and products are getting better all the time. The next move in the front office is best of breed, not tightly integrated solution sets. The front office platform might be stabilizing but the apps that play on it continues to expand and they work increasingly well together.
The move for fast growing companies in the front office is in furthering the embrace of the customer through advanced tools and techniques that include social media and inbound marketing. No traditional ERP for sure and no CRM either and that’s becoming increasingly obvious.