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IDG Contributor Network: Your CRM’s asymmetric relationship: hindering potential, attracting regulation

Psychiatrists define an asymmetric relationship as one in which people do not feel like equals. In modern business, the CRM is not playing well with others.

The perils of customer relationship management (CRM) systems are long-documented. For 20 years, we have known that CRMs could be slow and buggy, and were often eagerly adopted by companies that weren’t really customer-focused, hadn’t taken the time to understand them, and ended up stalking—not wooing—them.

Even before everyone had the internet in his or her pocket and shared 12GB pictures hourly, this was an expensive problem. Given the technological advances over the past decade and the demands of the newly minted GDPR world, you might assume those CRM wrinkles have been ironed out.

Unfortunately, the problems have only evolved with the times. Today’s CRM often treats customers like, well, customers, when they’re begging to be treated like people. We pump all the data we could ever ask for into CRM, and we’re still pretty bad at it.

Data silos and the failure to share

Streaming and automation render data collection cheap and effortless. But then what? How is the data organized and connected back to customers, products, locations, etc.? What quality control, governance, and workflow measures are in place to ensure the data gets passed back through the organization? 

What about the customers’ communication preferences? How often do you indicate your preferred way to be contacted, only to continue hearing from that organization via multiple channels? (Side note: Basic artificial intelligence should be indicating the best channels for each customer nowadays.)

CRM shouldn’t just contain customer information; it should use that information to benefit them. Is the goal of the CRM only to organize the data? Isn’t the ultimate goal of better customer satisfaction, with the byproduct of better retention and revenue for the business?

No matter what an organization provides to the world, there is some level of an end customer in every supply chain. Up and down the hierarchy and across all departments, from executives to service reps, customers must be the focus, because customers are the business.

Customer information and the data hub

CRM and customer data platforms themselves haven’t always been helpful, because they’re still more focused on retention and organization, versus harmonization and optimization of customer data. This limitation is due to silos of information, poorly shared and connected across the organization.

Customer data may start in one place (such as web or phone) and enter into another (usually the CRM), then slowly get updated (such as billing or finance systems), and then enter from entirely new channels (such as smartphone applications or third-party sharing).  Appending the new address from billing, with new communications preferences from the app, to the original customer invoice in finance and the ultimate record in the CRM is hindered by these all being separate systems, with their own ways of storing, updating, and sharing data.

Data scientists, operational managers, and customer service reps all need 360-degree views of the same customer data. They just each look at it differently. The same data is presented in different forms, whether analyzing customer data for trends, shipping products to the customer’s location, or helping an actual person resolve an issue.

Data hubs sort and clean information, matching and merging and creating the right privileges so that the right systems and staff see the right data at the right time. Crucially, it leaves the initial systems intact. In this way, the updated address from billing, for example, finds its way into every view of the same customer data, whether it be in CRM, billing, accounting, or any associated system. Taken together, this is shared application data management.

The law of data attraction

Stalking customers, selling their data, over-communicating with and generally annoying them in a CRM-powered world has attracted regulations with global ramifications. Legislation in California joins GDPR, with more likely to come soon. Fines and litigation loom large for organizations that are unable to provide access, portability, rectification, or even erasure of the customer’s data, on demand.

New laws put more control in the hands of consumers, who in the modern age have become ever more vigilant that the data kept about them is a part of who they are. This has moved the requirement for good customer data hygiene from the back office to the boardroom, and the data hub from the IT department to the head office.

Customer data balance

As with a romantic imbalance, asymmetry can’t go on forever (well, maybe it can in social networks, but otherwise no). Achieving symmetry is aided by new technology, which itself has started to take advantage of things like artificial intelligence and machine learning to augment connective abilities. As the requirement for your CRM to give and receive customer data moves to a literal must-have to comply with regulations, you’re well-advised to get ahead of the curve.

And send your partner something nice today, while you’re at it.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

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