Many managers think that the way to capture value through relationship marketing is to focus on the ‘good’ customers and get rid of the ‘bad’ ones. But there is a lot more to best practice relationship management than maximizing revenues on individual customers and minimizing costs to serve.
Over the past two decades, managers have become enamored of relationship marketing. Lured by the opportunity to use customer data to build customized and profitable relationships, companies have invested heavily in customer relationship management systems that quantify the value of transactions. This interest shows no signs of tapering off. A recent Gartner Inc. research study showed that 75% of managers planned to make further investments in CRM in the coming year.1 However, most CRM systems have been used merely to categorize customers into segments based on their current levels of profitability. This approach may have implications for the bottom line, but it does little to advance the shift from mass marketing to one-to-one relationships. Customer relationship management has devolved into customer profitability management, a one-dimensional, company-centric practice based on economics and costs that provides little insight into why and in what ways people form relationships with companies and brands. That lack of relationship sensitivity has precipitated a new trend in which many companies use their CRM systems to identify and “fire” low-revenue, high-cost customers. In a recent survey we conducted of 900 customers, 30% said that they knew someone who had been cut loose by a company with which they had a commercial relationship. We are not so naïve as to think that companies should refrain from analyzing customer’ purchase data or the efficiency of marketing dollars spent. However, we have found that basic information about customer lifetime value can be a limited and even misleading indicator of the status and potential of a customer relationship. Loyalty programs, the most basic type of CRM program, do surprisingly little to address relationship realities or build relationship bonds. Although CRM programs may prevent customers from taking their business elsewhere, they are less effective at identifying the reasons to encourage them to stay. Ironically, CRM programs themselves may actually contribute to the creation of high-cost, low-value customers. However you look at it, companies are doing something wrong.
The Leading Question
How can companies build better relationships with their customers?
- Get to know who your customers really are and what they need and value.
- Be open to the different types of relationships that people form with your company and your brand.