Are people the weak links in the CRM chain?

I never get tired of talking about CRM as a discipline, not a technology. Yes, yes, yes – the technology allows you to scale the discipline, but ultimately, the ideas, initiatives and actions that result from CRM and reach customers are not executed by technology – they’re executed by people.

This is why I always advocate for paying attention to those non-technological aspects of the chain of events that runs from contact acquisition through sales and then across the entire lifetime of the customer’s tenure with your business. Imagine this chain as something hung across a low bridge running across a river.

Parts of the chain dip in the water. These links are the ones that you as a CRM manager can’t see – they represent sales people, delivery staff, contact center agents, and other people and things in the chain that your CRM technology has no control over, but which can spoil the customer experience and break the chain.

Here’s an example: a couple of months ago, my washing machine blew a seal. The utility room caused me to have a flashback to my Navy damage control training days; the thing apparently gave up right at the height of the cycle and dumped multiple gallons of water on the floor.

After much cursing and mopping (two more skills learned in the Navy), I needed to buy another washer. Instead of jumping in the car and making the rounds, I hit the website of Costco. I like Costco – they do a good job of customer service, and a decent job of managing their millions of customers. Soon, I found the one option that would work, a nifty Whirlpool washer, and pushed the shiny button to make it mine.

Delivery, however, had to be facilitated by a third party. Here’s where it got weird. I received a message several days later to set up delivery, and returned the call shortly thereafter. The woman on the other end said that they only delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays, and it was now too late for a Tuesday delivery.

Okay, I said – how about Thursday? At this point she became a bit flustered because she didn’t have the schedule for Thursday and asked to call me back. Why begged the question: why did she call me when she had no ability to help?

A couple of hours later, she called, and I got on the schedule for the next delivery day. That was Thursday, according to what she said. Accordingly, I rearranged my schedule and worked at home Thursday, but as the hours ticked by with no sign of my washing machine, I decided to call someone.

But the only number I had was for Costco. The rep there was dismayed that it was now 4 p.m. and the washer was nowhere to be seen – but she had no way to know who was delivering it. She was effusive in her efforts to make up for the delivery issue, but really what I needed was a washing machine.

Through the Costco rep’s detective efforts, she soon had the delivery company on the phone. The same somewhat bewildered woman told me they didn’t deliver on Thursdays – just on Fridays. Okay, then: can you deliver my washer this Friday? She “pulled some strings” and got me on the schedule, much to my feigned joy.

The next day, sure enough, the washer arrived. The delivery guys then spent several tense minutes trying to figure out how to get the old washer out, which I found weird since I wrangled the darned thing into the house on my own when I got it seven years ago. Ultimately, they took the back door to the house off the hinges and took out the expired machine, then brought the new one in before replacing the door.

And so, after two days of working at home and some aggravation, I had a washing machine.

Whose fault was it? Costco’s chain of little customer events started out well, then reached one of those links they had little control over – the delivery company – and went awry. Then their rep did everything she could to get things straight, and another dip with the delivery guys battling my utility room door.

Costco had very little control over these aspects of the customer experience. Their part of it was very pleasant, in fact. But the next time I made a major appliance purchase, did I go to Costco? No. And it was because of these links in the chain that they had little visibility and little control over.

Are there invisible links in the chain of your customers’ experiences – and do you know where they exist? Getting these things wrong will undo the good will your CRR efforts build, so follow the chain, spot the areas that can cause problems, and partner with the people who are in charge of them so that you can all be part of the greater CRM effort. The technology is great, but without people living the CRM discipline behind it your efforts may come to nothing.

With 17 years as a technology and business under his belt, Chris Bucholtz took over the role of editor in chief of the CRM Outsiders blog in 2011. He first focused on customer relationship management as the editor of InsideCRM, then moved to Forecasting Clouds in 2009 to continue honing his views on how the discipline of CRM can impact the entire business. Before developing into a CRM influencer, Chris covered a variety of technology-related topics. He was the editor of Semiconductor Manufacturing Magazine, senior editor of technology for VAR Business, senior editor at HP World and intelligence and software editor for Telephony. After a six-year stint in the U.S. Navy, his start in journalism came as a rock columnist for BAM Magazine. In addition to his business and technology writing, Chris has written three books on World War II aviation. An avid scale modeller, Chris and his wife live in Alameda, California.