I recently received a customer service call from a local retailer advising me that my order was available for pick-up. It was an automated call.
After a few mandatory responses from me ("press 1 now"), the robot -like voice signed off with "thank you for being a valued customer."
As I hung up the phone I thought, did that experience make me feel better about my relationship with the store, or did the very nature of it have a different and unintended effect?
(Note: it had a different and unintended effect.)
Automated Customer Relationship Marketing, one of our great new oxymorons.
We use a phrase in our business every day. We say efficient and effective, as in this plan's goal is to be efficient and effective. We say it so much I suspect it's become less meaningful than it may have been originally intended. All our plans are intended to be effective. We execute against a plan to accomplish a goal with success measured in a variety of ways, one of which is efficient use of resources.
But it's a balance. And getting the job done is not the equal partner of using resources efficiently. It reminds me of the easy use of the phrase "equal partnership" to describe the ideal client/agency relationship. No, it's not an equal partnership. A great agency is one that achieves 49% equity in such a relationship. Great clients don't abdicate responsibility to their business -- and great agencies understand and support that.
Customer relationship marketing is both high-tech and high-touch. It captures and uses data from multiple sources to ensure it understands and serves customer needs. It segments its customer base and identifies and maps those moments (touch points) in the relationship where it can communicate and add value. It develops models to optimize its investment against those segments.
But there is a high "touch" component as well that asks the common -sense question, does an action, even if model-directed and efficient, pass the test of reasonableness? Is talking to my customer in a particular way the way I want to be talked to as a customer? Is it effective at enhancing a real relationship?
One of the most useful books on marketing I have ever read is "Commitment-Led Marketing" by Jannie Hofmeyr and Butch Rice. (Warning: it does not read like a Tom Clancy novel.) Hofmeyr graduated with a doctorate in the psychology of religious belief formation, with a particular interest in understanding the dynamics of religious conversions. With his co-author, he applied his theories to commercial pursuits, and developed The Conversion Model TM. The authors explain, for example, that satisfaction scores are poor indicators of customer loyalty because the more important a relationship is to someone, the more willing they'll be to tolerate dissatisfaction and try to fix it.
And they describe an actionable segmentation approach by level of commitment, which is a psychological rather than a behavioral measure, and which can be demonstrated to provide a more direct path to brand profitability. That's the key. Commitment to a brand is psychological -- it's what's in the mind. Without commitment, consumer behavior can be changed with the next price promotion.
This is a proven approach, one I've used with major brands, and it produces a better understanding of what's in the mind of one's customers, resulting in measurably improved bottom-line results.
We need to leverage technology to achieve our goals. We also need to be certain that technology doesn't become the goal, in the name of efficiency. Automating even part of a brand relationship won't work.