2002: The Year of "Real" Customer Relationship Management

(Originally published in the November 2001 issue of AFSMI's The Professional Journal.)

By William K. Pollock

While the term Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is the hottest topic in the services industry today - and well it should be - the difference between merely implementing "CRM" and truly embracing customer relationship management (note the lower case letters) may prove to be the ultimate distinction between those services organizations that thrive during the year, and those that fail. Just as in the past where some organizations attempted to implement TQM and ISO 9000 for all the wrong reasons, there are still too many organizations in the marketplace today that are trying to do the same thing with CRM.

2002 will be the year in which those organizations that have already started to integrate their customer-focused activities into a cohesive and comprehensive CRM initiative will begin to see some of the fruits of their labor. On the other hand, those organizations that have not yet even embraced the concept of CRM will find themselves losing ground to their more customer-focused and well-organized competitors.

2002 will also be the year in which vendors that offer CRM solutions, rather than merely CRM software or products, will become more integral to the longer-term success of their customers. In the past, many vendors referred to themselves as "CRM" companies when they were really little more than Service Management Systems (SMS) or Customer Interaction Systems (CIS) vendors whose software products had only a few CRM-type "bells and whistles" attached as modules. However, this will be the year of the shakeout, as those vendors that offer only CRM software, but little else, will be hard pressed to compete on a head-to-head basis against the market leaders. For many vendors, negative "word-of-mouth" will begin to catch up with them.

More pressure will also be placed on the services organizations that implement CRM solutions during the year. Customers will demand to see results. More case study solutions are likely to be evaluated by the marketplace in terms of how they failed, rather than where they succeeded. This will not be a good time for either a vendor or a user to "shoot itself in the foot" with respect to CRM. The marketplace has a long memory, and industry "horror stories" will travel quickly.

The companies that attain the greatest levels of success in implementing true CRM solutions will be those that have already embraced the concept of CRM, articulated and communicated it throughout the organization, and managed the entire process on an enterprisewide basis - all with the customer squarely in the sites of their respective objectives. Organizations merely paying "lip service" to CRM will find that the marketplace has become sophisticated and knowledgeable enough to distinguish between a real player and merely a trend follower.

2002 will be the year of "real" customer relationship management - the year that will finally differentiate those services organizations that actually "get" CRM, from those that are simply trying to "sell" or "buy" it.

William K. Pollock is president of Strategies For GrowthSM (SFGSM), the Westtown, Pennsylvania-based services consulting firm specializing in strategic business planning, services marketing, CRM consulting, market/survey research, and customer satisfaction measurement and tracking programs. Bill may be reached at 610-399-9717 or via e-mail at wkp@s4growth.com.

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