How CRM kills relationships.

AutomatonCustomer Relationship Management is a huge industry, and it's growing by the day. For most people, the CRM acronym means a big data system that stores all of your customers' details and purchasing histories, informs all of your interactions with them, maps their "journey", defines the offers they get, triggers your mailouts and populates your call centre scripts.

Unfortunately, for a worryingly large number of organisations, the more they invest in and rely on CRM, the weaker their customer relationships become. The problem is that systems are logical and rational. But as any behavioural psychologist will tell you, people aren’t.

Logic may make people think, but its emotion that makes them act. Rationally we all know that we should eat fewer calories if we want to lose weight, but it's the emotional battle between looking good tomorrow, and enjoying a glass of red or a slab of chocolate tonight, that dictates what the scales will read in the morning.

Emotion drives every choice we make, and the great marketers understand this deep in their souls. I once had the privilege of working with one of the very best on a project to develop a new range of skincare products. I couldn't believe the price that was being suggested for one particular cream. Fair enough, it had been proven in trials to make skin look younger, "But even so..." I began.

She put her hand on my cheek, looked into my eyes like a mother looks at a child, and with the kindest of smiles, said "Martyn, we're offering people youth in a jar. What price would you put on that?" 

No matter how smart we think we are, through almost every part of our lives, it's our emotions that drive our behaviour, and our reasoning that helps us to justify and explain it afterwards. That's true for all of your customers, employees, suppliers and investors. We are all emotional animals at heart, and we're naturally attuned to connect with other emotional animals.

But that connection is shattered when we're in what we think is a conversation with a human being, and the "computer says no". That's what happens when CRM goes bad.

A business transaction is a rational, logical thing. You can map it as a process, automate it, streamline it and put systems around it. In contrast, a relationship is a living, breathing, emotional thing that exists between irrational, fallible human beings. Which is why the whole concept of a "CRM system" is something of an oxymoron. A system can help you drive transactions, but unless you're really careful, it can be a severe barrier to actually building relationships.

In 1950, in a seminal paper, Alan Turing asked whether computers or machines would ever be able to think, and communicate like human beings, and he proposed a test that bears his name to this day. The more we invest in, and build our processes around CRM, the more critical the Turing test for business becomes. When a customer speaks to your organisation, to what degree are they talking to a sympathetic, intuitive, autonomous human being, and to what extent are they talking to an automaton - a human mouthpiece for a logical machine?

How does your customer service score on the Turing test?

BOTTOM LINE: Whether you're selling a product, engaging your Board, inspiring your team or trying to persuade someone to invest in your idea, there needs to be a rationale behind what you're saying, but more importantly, there has to be a genuine human connection if you want them to commit, and stick with you all the way. There's no system in the world, yet, that can do that for you.