Sixty (ii)

“In apparently attempting to put the customer first, it has amassed all this high tech weaponry on its side of the table to lend it microscopic visibility of its relationship with the customer, leaving the customer with nothing like the equivalent capability. The customer is adrift, uncertain of what the company knows or, more accurately, thinks it knows, and is unable to find out. Just as social media was rebalancing the relationship, the balance of power has gone against the customer again and he knows it. Or at least feels it and lives with the consequences.

“Perhaps the company gives the customer access to his transaction history via its website. Whoopee! And? Where’s the analytical capability, the insight, the decision-making assistance? What can the customer really do with it?”

Saket paused for me to take in what he was saying. Then continued.

“Don’t you want CRM to help you and the customer mutually, allowing you both to manage the relationship? Surely the value of your understanding how influence goes around comes around is enhanced when those you interact with have similar understanding. Or would you rather propagate the status quo – CRM as a construct to manage the customer?

“Who do you think best knows the customer in the round today anyway – you or him?”

“Well, he does,” I replied, realizing the question was actually rhetorical. I continued: “But of course not everyone who owns Attenzi equipment is even in our system. Domestic customers have a relationship with the retailer, not with us, and we don’t get to know about them unless they tell us, most often via warranty registrations.”

Saket’s response hit home. “In the future, when your equipment ‘phones home’ so to speak, both you and the customer will want to keep tabs on its conversation. You will have direct relationships and to a certain extent retailers may find they’re disintermediated.

“And by then you will also want to give the customer the opportunity to correct your misperceptions and misconceptions Eli.

“Let me ask you this, how does Attenzi treat customer records today? How will you treat all that data from those future products sending data back to base 24/7? And whose data is it? More to the point, when data isn’t a scare resource – it can be replicated at negligible cost – what does ‘ownership’ of it mean anyway?

“And while we get to operate our one chosen CRM system, can we realistically expect the customer to adopt each and every CRM system adopted by each and every organization he has a relationship with? No!

“If Attenzi really valued the customer it would share its CRM capabilities with the customer, and eventually help populate the customer’s own as and when such facilities emerge.”

I was feeling the world changing around me. It might sound melodramatic, but it was actually a bit disorienting. Now Saket was on a roll and obviously thought I could take it all in. He carried on.

“This idea, this potential for CRM on the customer’s side of the table, has been labeled VRM – vendor relationship management. It empowers the customer. It balances out the relationship with the very customer the corporate entity apparently cherishes so much.”

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