It seems crazy to think only 5 years ago we really believed we controlled the relationships with customers. My, how things have changed. Today, clients are at the beck and call of customers hoping we get permission to gain access to their ‘circle of trust’. But only if you have something that will add value to their experiences or lives will get you the green light. Get it wrong and you’ll be black listed.

In hindsight, Customer Relationship Management is an arrogant concept. How dare we, as organisations, think that we could manipulate any relationship our customers had chosen to start with us? How dare we assume they would remain our customers while we systematically went about watching their behaviours and bombarding them with promotional messages at every opportunity?

Of course I’m exaggerating to make the point. CRM wasn’t intended to be a system of stalking, more a means of managing the processes involved in recording, storing and putting customer data from every touchpoint to work, in order to arrive at a cross-organisational Single Customer View and communicate with them more efficiently, effectively, seamlessly, and with ever more relevance.

But the concept did assume that the control of the customer/brand relationship was firmly in the hands of the brand.

Today, customers are very aware that communication with brands can be on their terms. They control what information they give us, can dictate which communications, if any, they’d like to receive from them and, should they like to contact a brand themselves, they’d like to choose the time and channel that suits them. Brands are having to tread ever more carefully in order to get – and keep – the customer engaged. As I see it, there are three things we need to gain before we can expect customers to part with their hard-earned cash: their time, their attention and their trust. Get these right and the money will follow.

Enter the new CRM. Customers Really Matter. It’s about customer experience, not customer management. It’s about giving something of genuine value to earn a place in their lives. This could be as simple as answering a query on Twitter, i.e. being helpful where and when help is needed, through to making use of the technology that’s now available, to innovatively grab attention, to deliver a great experience and to gain customers’ trust. In short, marketers need to set up a value exchange that enhances their customers’ lives.

Here’s a for instance. The term “disruptive marketing” is coming back into fashion after many years away. But this time, the aim is to disrupt to delight. The technology already exists for example to build an app that could enhance your target customer’s whole evening out. First they might review a selection of bars to decide on their venue. Once there, iBeacon technology could alert them to a choice of available tables. Drinks could be ordered (and even paid for) all within the app and, as the evening progresses, your customer might receive an offer on their phone for 20% off food, discounts on club entries, or 25% off their cab fare home. All of these are designed to be helpful, not a direct sell. They’ll enhance the customer experience and deepen the engagement with your brand.

Again, I’m exaggerating to make my point. I’m not suggesting every marketer should run out and immediately replicate the above. But I am suggesting they should make it a policy to go the extra mile to be extra helpful. It’ll reap rewards in a world where the only people really in control of customer relationships are the customers themselves.

I’ll leave you that gorgeous episode recently shared across the socialsphere, where a Virgin Trains employee goes above and beyond the call of duty to solve a particularly acute and immediate customer problem…



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