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CRM rethought part 5 - now what?

Paul Greenberg Profile picture for user pgreenbe September 12, 2013
We're on the home straight with this final part about rethinking CRM in the context of the emergent social elements. In this part we get down to the definitional piece - the piece that ties together everything we've discussed in the last week.

In this final part of Paul Greenberg's CRM rethought series, we look at some definitions that hopefully will set the stage for ongoing discussions and development of CRM strategies where everyone wins. (See CRM rethought part 4 - 40 points). 

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So now, I’m going to give you an old/new definition of CRM as it is in the 21st century. I’m going to make it considerably simpler than my last few.  To initiate this, a recap of my last couple of definitions – at least the ones that gained some traction.

Original Definition of CRM:

“CRM is a philosophy and a business strategy supported by a system and a technology designed to improve human interaction in a business environment”

Social CRM definition:

“Social CRM is a philosophy and a business strategy, supported by a technology platform, business rules, workflow, processes and social characteristics, designed to engage the customer in a collaborative conversation in order to provide mutually beneficial value in a trusted and transparent business environment. It's the company's programmatic response to the customer's control of the conversation.”

(NOTE: the latter phrase marked as bold has undergone two permutations – originally, it was “It’s the company’s response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation;” and then “it’s the company’s response to the customer’s control of the conversation.” This is by far, the most quoted part of the definition. Maybe because it’s tweetable? J)

Other Definitions

Customer Experience:

"The overall feeling that a customer has about a company – shaped by the interactions that the customer has had over the life of his involvement with the company."

Bruce Temkin, who in my eyes is the leading customer experience analyst and advisor, identified it this way in his blog Experience Matters back in 2008:

“The perception that customers have of their interactions with an organization.”

We’re on the same page.

Customer Engagement:

“The ongoing interactions between customer and the company, offered by the company, chosen by the customer.”

Social Media:

“Those communications channels, not owned by the company, where customers and potential customers converse with each other, typically in large numbers.”

Finally, a CRM Definition for 2013 and beyond

First, before we get into the “formal” definition of CRM, let me put it into context. One thing that is indisputable is that CRM is a market.  It is an industry that is, when technology and services are incorporated, roughly $18 billion as of 2013 and as stated above, according to Gartner, soon to be $36 billion. In that market definition it corporates technologies and systems, and services that are customer facing which can include customer experience systems and services, customer engagement systems and services, social channels, technologies and services that are tied to systems of record and analytics associated with the data related to those systems of record.

This isn’t to denigrate things like customer experience management (CEM or CXM) which have associated specific business methodologies that aren’t necessarily part of a CRM strategy (although they should be) but there is no CEM market per se – especially when it comes to technology.  If you examine what is called CEM technology it is technology that attempts to analyze the behavior of customers, something that CRM has been at least in theory practicing since day 1 – though not always in practice.  Again, this is “CRM as a market” – and what composes the market.

That said, CRM still exists as more than a market.  It has a definition that has evolved considerably since roughly 2003 – when “a person like me” became a measurable part of the Edelman Trust Barometer, among other signs, reflecting a new manifold when it came to how customers trusted and how they communicated and how they handled information and what they wanted.

So here is a synthesized attempt at a contemporary definition for CRM as it welcomes its newly evolved maturity. I’m sure this won’t be the end of it – and I’m sure I’ll p.o. some people – but honestly, I don’t care. If no one agrees with me, well, okay, I can live with that. But this is what I’m going with from here on out.  I didn’t know (and don’t know) that this was needed but the recent changes in the perception of the market and the reaction to CRM and the movement away from the term, makes me want to do this and settle it down. To be clear, I don’t care if the term CRM goes away, as long as the market doesn’t.  Call it whatever you want. It’s your business.

Actually, Who Cares?

Look, when it gets down to it, the term, and thus, the acronym you use is going to be the one that you’re comfortable with. So I use CRM.  What does matter is that a definition is associated with a particular concept and the concept should have a single definition or the definition should only be associated with a single word or phrase.  It’s called a “definition” for a reason.  (Here’s the definition of definition in Merriam-Webster)

So here’s my take on a 2013 CRM definition:

"CRM is a business science with a defined philosophy and a set of strategies and programs, supported by systems and technologies, designed to improve human interactions in a business environment. Its purpose and its value are to make the customer’s experience with the company good enough to provide a mutually beneficial outcome over time, even as expectations change."

To sum it all up

After all that buildup, not all that exciting a definition is it? Its not meant to be. It is what it is. A mature business science that has a body of knowledge and practice that makes it both viable and necessary to the operations of business and to its interactions with customers.  It’s not erotically charged; it’s not eye opening; it’s not phenomenal.  By itself, without lots of human interpretation and decision-making, it doesn’t do much. But it is valuable and it is important, because it attempts to anticipate customer’s behaviors by recording and analyzing them and then providing systems to optimize them.  But ultimately, like anything else, including its CEM/CXM brethren it’s dumb.

It takes human intelligence and human insight and human participation to come up with what works and what doesn’t; what is valuable and what isn’t.  Its value isn’t in the technology or even the best practices or the automation of processes or the programs – it’s in the results that it gets for a company and the results the customers get from it – based on those human decisions made from it.

On the business side, that means, what the systems in place will do for the operational and transactional aspects of running a business – and on the programs that if done well anticipate individual human behaviors that lead to favorable business results. On the customer side, it’s the decisions that the customers make, based on the information that the company (and other sources) are providing, on how they want to deal with the company that they are involved with in a utilitarian or a more intensive way.

All CRM is and has always been, is a specific framework and set of practices that get help get those results. Period.

End note: if you've read all the earlier pieces then thanks. If you believe I've missed something vital then feel free to add in comments but remember this is my perspective based upon what I see in the world of CRM. Yours may well be different.

Photo credit: Michael Krigsman
Featured image credit: © darkbird -

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