Don’t Manage Customer Relationships. Build Them.

Too many marketing managers think that once they buy a CRM system they’re doing “client relationship management.” Far from it.

A CRM system is a tool. Just owning or using a CRM system does not mean you’re building long-term customer relationships and loyalty. Would you buy a hammer, hammer a nail into a piece of wood, and think that you’ve built a house?

“An overhead shot of a leather document sleeve among various tools on a wooden surface” by La Compagnie Robinson on Unsplash

So why do you buy a tool and think that you’re actually “managing customer relationships?”

Customer Relationships Are Nurtured, Not Managed

Let’s start off with the term: customer relationship management.

I can’t stand that word: management.

Management implies a leader, a dictator, someone to guide or control the actions of someone else. A fast food restaurant manager tells the staff how many hamburgers to put on the grill. A retail manager signs off on returns and directs the floor workers on where to put the new jeans that arrived in the fall shipment.

Customer relationship management implies that the company directs the relationship with their customers…into routes favorable to their profits, of course.

If you think you are guiding customer relationships for your ultimate profitability, you’re doing it all wrong. Relationships are built, like friendships, one positive interaction at a time, over time.

If you are trying to manage your customers like items in your inventory, you’re doing it all wrong.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

What Customers Really Want (and It’s Not Management)

Clients or customers do not want to be managed. They want to be heard. Listened to.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I tried to purchase a refrigerator. I say “tried to purchase it” but that’s a misnomer. We were able to buy it just fine. The store was happy to process our credit card transaction.

Having a refrigerator delivered to our rural area was another story.

You see, our home sits exactly ½ mile — no more, no less— from the delivery limits of the closest store.

The delivery company they subcontract to refuses to travel an additional 2,640 additional feet to our residence to deliver a large, expensive appliance.

The company’s CRM system pumped out promotional email after promotional email, diligently customized with our name, spelled correctly, in the salutation line.

Each promotional email promised free delivery and setup on new appliance purchases for store credit card holders…

….but in reality, not if you lived 2,640 feet beyond an imaginary line drawn around the nearest store.

This isn’t building long-term customer relationships. It’s breaking customer trust because, by the time we left the store, we swore to do business only with their competitor — or to wait until Amazon’s promised ability to deliver appliances.

If you can’t deliver what you’re working hard to promote, don’t promote it in the first place.

Amazon Gets Relationships Right

Amazon gets relationship building right. For all the late-night comedians criticize offshore telemarketing agents, I’ve always received excellent services from Amazon call center agents when I’ve had a problem. They are polite, knowledgeable, and helpful. They know the company’s policies. They are empowered to act in a reasonable manner. They thank me for my business and seem to truly mean it.

When I call them, I am listened to. I am heard. I am more than a customer number or an order number. I’m Mrs. Grunert, a valued customer. And they really do seem to mean the latter — that my business is valued, even if I spend less than $100 a year with them.

Chewy Gets It, Too

Another company who gets customer relationships perfectly is the pet products company, Chewy.com. I haven’t ordered from them, but a friend did. She bought treats for her horse.

She said her horse tasted one and spit it right out. She tried to feed it to other horses in the barn. They wrinkled their nose at it. She sniffed it herself and found that the promised apple-flavored treats smelled like vitamins with a weird sour apple smell.

She left a negative review of the product on Chewy’s site. Within a day, not only had the company contacted her, they refunded her money — without question, without asking for the treats to be returned, without asking for the horse’s notarized signature about the awful flavor — and that was that.

They won her over for life. And she posted about it on Facebook, which is how I heard about it. So many people chimed in with “Chewy is a great company to deal with” and “I’ll be a fan for life” comments that it screamed to me that Chewy gets it. They get how to cultivate and grow customer relationships to build loyalty and value for life.

I bet they don’t cut deliveries off at 2,640 feet from an imaginary line, either.

Photo by Jessica To'oto'o on Unsplash

Customer Relationships — Grow, Nurture, Build. Don’t Manage Them.

Companies think CRM is a computerized system and not the thinking and heart behind it. Purchasing a software package and running campaigns does not build relationships and loyalty.

People build relationships, one on one, one interaction at a time.

Loyalty is won over time through actions that match the company’s brand promise.

For effective customer relationship management and loyalty building, companies should:

  1. Get to know their customers as people. Just as you can’t build true friendship if all you do is spout advice at someone you’ve just met, don’t count on advertising alone to build your relationships with customers. Ensure that all touch points from the clerks in your stores or call center to the emails you send out grow, build and sustain your relationships.
  2. Make it easy for people to get in touch with your company. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is for customers who have a problem to have to jump through hoops to find a human being to talk to. If you’re trying to limit the number of interacts you have with your customers, please find another line of business. Because you’ll be out of business very soon.
  3. Listen more than you speak. Don’t take it under advisement, commission a study, or distance yourself from the people you serve. Read customer comments, emails, and complaints. Listen to call center recordings. This is where a CRM system comes in handy because many of them enable you to collect communications from multiple channels — email, chatbots, social media, you name it — into one system.
  4. Fix problems immediately. If you know returns are high on a particular product, deal with it directly. Be honest with your customers.
  5. Relationships, like friendships, develop over time. They grow through shared experiences. The more you can cultivate relationships with customers as individuals and people, the more they will value your brand, and the more time they will spend with your brand. Time is a precious commodity in our busy world, but a necessary ingredient to developing true customer relationships and loyalty.
  6. Don’t be afraid to say you’re sorry. Be honest. Be real. Customers are loyal to honesty. They don’t like it when companies hide behind smokescreens of fancy press releases crafted by lawyers.

Marketers as a profession need to change the term customer relationship management. I propose calling it simply “being nice to people” and “running a good business.” Because in the long run, treating others, including customers, as you want to be treated, and running an honest company that actually listens and responds to customers builds long-term value and growth.