In striving to achieve customer centricity, have we lost control of the customer relationship?

 And which of our experts is in charge?

As a marketer who cut their teeth on DM & building Customer Relationships, I am amazed at how the simple practice of acquiring, growing and building a customer relationship has become so complex. In the new era of CX & CRM I question who really owns the customer relationship and are we losing sight of the bigger picture by focussing on funnels and gates?

Long before we talked about CRM and CX we talked about Relationship Marketing.  We had analogies about local shop keepers – remember the beloved character of Arkwright played by the amazing Ronnie Barker in Open All Hours. 

Whilst his tactics to sell more stuff were definitely dubious, the principle of knowing your customers and being able to sell them not just your over stocks (that is salesmanship), but things that were relevant to them.  He used every interaction to learn more about customers as they shopped (transactions) and they chatted (engagement) about their life, family and interests (lifestyles).  He would know who his most valuable and loyal customers were, and who he needed to entice more to get a greater share of pocket. 

And whilst he had the benefit of physical regular contact with his customers, the Relationship Marketer worked remotely, using data, measurement tools and insight to build a picture of their customer database and ongoing marketing communications to develop the relationship, build loyalty and improve ROI. By the late 90’s the principle of customer centric marketing had evolved into CRM (Customer Relationship Marketing) and a whole industry was built.     

Customer Relationship Marketing (CRM)

The CRM practitioner took this principle of growing and building a customer relationship but without the immediate touchpoints of a store, they used data models to learn about their customers behaviours and segmentation to understand more about their lifestyles, A CRM practitioner was responsible for:

“Customer Loyalty, Engagement, Building Relationships, Lifetime Value, RFV, loyalty, Acquisition, Conversion & Retention”

The CRM practitioner relied upon these techniques to lay the foundation for more appropriate customer engagement and develop the relationship.  So, Customer Relationship Marketing was fundamentally a strategic framework to build customer loyalty and maximise value to the business.  As such it was channel neutral.

At the same time, any physical contact with the customer either onsite or on the phone, was a customer service function.  Customer Service teams used these in the moment interactions to engage and build a relationship, and just like Arkwright in our earlier analogy, the Customer Service teams were responsible for physical brand engagement with a view to providing a positive brand experience which would result in continued loyalty. 

Customer Experience (CX)

Cue the explosion of digital channels in the early 00’s, and with the rise of integrated digital platforms we were able to provide a seamless stream of customer inputs across multiple channels and business functions which has led to the engagement with customers on multiple devices and touchpoints.  In this world, User Experience (UX) Designers were engaged to optimise these new touchpoints and create seamless online customer journeys.

Out of this landscape grew a whole new breed of Customer Experts to help us not just optimise these journeys, but to recognise and interact with customers as they travelled through the sales funnel, to use the data in the moment to build stronger customer bonds and we developed a new term for this breed of marketers - Customer Experience.  

The CX expert will talk :

Customer Journeys, Multiple Touchpoints, Channel Neutrality, Realtime Engagement, Identity Stitching, Customer Needs, Business Silo’s, Customer Engagement” 

The morphing of Customer Relationship Marketing into Management

As part of this digital explosion, we saw a rise in software solutions that helped marketers to manage their customer relationships, to use data to segment and target the right content at the right customer at the right time.  More recently these have become integrated platforms that (subject to real-time integration) can recognise and react to customer interactions across a number of touchpoints and channels, with data gathering and use being one of the driving forces behind this capability – sound familiar?

In our desire for customer centricity have we lost control of the relationship?

In essence Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software ostensibly takes care of the CRM processes that deliver the sales value from customers whilst the CX specialist now use customer data to engage customers and create seamless brand journeys across multiple channels.    Both will say that they are customer centric and both will say that they are building loyalty…

To further complicate matters in large organisations we now have multiple teams across multiple functions responsible for different aspects of the customer relationship.

“E-commerce, Retail, Media – Acquisition, CRM - Conversion & Retention, CX – Engagement”

But who is leading this orchestra of players? And is the net result a finely executed experience for our customers which supports their needs in the moment with a view to the impact of this on their longer term loyalty and value?

Or is it just a cacophony of well intentioned but disjointed sentiments that optimise the immediate opportunity without really understanding the impact on the business in the longer term?  

Has putting the customer at the ‘heart of our business’ meant losing control of the relationship and if so how do we get this back? 

About the author

Julie Stead Connor