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Yo! It's MRC, Not CRM!

Let me get this straight. The latest buzz suggests I should spend my time and money on web-ized Customer Relations Management (CRM) strategies? Talk about putting the cart before the horse! Oh, the idea is pointed in the right direction, all right - but don’t you think first you need a satisfied customer base to manage? And unless you've been away visiting the hot spots on Mars, you know that prognostications for “e-business as usual” are gloom-and-doom. Studies prove most people are totally willing to spend online, but then they go there, find themselves confronted with Online Shopping Heck (this is a family friendly publication) and most of them don’t spend a dime.


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Your goal, of course, is lots of satisfied customers - nice, happy ones who become loyal, repeat buyers as well as active referrers. But the fact they bought from you once doesn’t mean you have a relationship with them - yet. In fact, for all you know, they’re not coming back, and maybe for very good reason. First, you have to create an online shopping experience that plants the seeds of a real relationship. Then you have to nurture those seeds tenderly with outstanding fulfillment and customer service. How would you feel if you bought something at an offline store and immediately the manager came over and started talking to you like a long-lost drinking buddy? Building a relationship takes time. Shoving some tech-heavy CRM application at your customer is more likely to push them away than draw them in. If you want to get it right, you need to follow MRC, not CRM: Manage your e-business correctly so you can establish a Relationship from which you can develop a delighted and loyal Customer. Only then can all the other stuff you do have the impact you want.

Lots of e-enterprises out there have the software to facilitate CRM, and lots of software vendors would love to sell you some. But just like the scuba dude who puts out big bucks for gear when he's still 500 miles from the water, these same businesses don’t have the in-depth customer knowledge they need to use the technology effectively. They wind up getting carried away with trying to manage what they don't actually have.

According to David Sims, smart and common-sense Customer Relations guy,

"Everybody who profits from CRM has their own definition of what it is, but they're agreed as to what it is not: CRM isn't about technology any more than hospitality is about throwing a welcome mat on your front porch.

"Properly understood, CRM is ‘a philosophy that puts the customer at the design point, it's getting intimate with the customer,’ [in the words of Liz Shahnam, CRM analyst with the META Group]. Mike Littell, president of the CRM Division of EDS, agrees: ‘We view CRM more as a strategy than a process. It's designed to understand and anticipate the needs of the current and potential customer base a company has.’ Once you nail that, Littell says, there's ‘a plethora of technology out there that helps capture customer data and external sources, and consolidate it in a central warehouse to add intelligence to the overall CRM strategy.’"1 (bold emphasis courtesy of …me.)

In short, get the happy customer base first and then you've got something to manage. It all begins with how you treat your customers, from the moment they land on your site through their purchase and beyond. The first-time buyer plunks down his money for a product, but if he runs into hassles, he very likely will never come back again. To put it bluntly, poor customer service has lost you a customer and left you with nothing to manage.

Want some examples of how customer service failed in its efforts to establish a relationship? Here are some from the annals of the folks right here at Future Now (avid online shoppers, all).

One Future Now guy placed an order with BlueLight.com and sat back, fully expecting to receive his merchandise. He waited. It didn't come. He made an inquiry. BlueLight's Customer Care Team responded, in a very chipper and clearly canned email, that his order regrettably had been cancelled and then proceeded to thank him for providing input that helped them achieve their goal: "the complete satisfaction of each of our customers." More than a little dissatisfied and annoyed that his order had been cancelled and he had not been notified, he wrote again. He got another response. This time, the Customer Care Team informed him the item was out of stock, thanked him for shopping with BlueLight and suggested, blithely, that he should continue to keep checking out those BlueLight.com specials. Right! Don't think so.

Another Future Now guy ordered from CircuitCity.com. He handed over his credit card information on a $200 purchase, then learned later in the checkout procedure that the software couldn't handle the fact that his shipping, billing and actual addresses were all different. He couldn't complete the purchase online. Stalwart and still wanting to make the purchase, he called the prominently-displayed Customer Service number. The representative informed him their order screen was the same one that was online, they were only able to do what the website would allow, and, further, that they didn't have authority to process his order and credit card information over the phone. Needless to say, our friend made his purchase elsewhere. Circuit City forfeited a $200 sale, and they definitely don't have a customer, simply because their system was not able to accommodate the customer's needs. They can fire at him all the CRM guns they have; he won’t be back.

One cutie here spent an evening assembling her Amazon.com wish list for Christmas, then sending it around to family and friends. She kept getting letters from folks saying it was a nice idea, but they couldn't access her list. Amazon provided no information for resolving this problem, so she independently e-mailed the url of her wish list. Come Christmas, she received two of the same coffee pot from her wish list and two of the same book. Something in Amazon's system forgot to note when a purchase from the wish list had been made, so she got duplicates. After a flurry of e-mail exchanges trying to sort out the return of the duplicates, she finally was told to box and return them, and a gift certificate would be issued - not to her, but to the original purchaser of the gift! Having no choice, that’s what she did. Both she and the original purchaser are still waiting for resolution.

Amazon also came in for further drubbing in these offices because it took TWENTY DAYS!! for one of our guys to receive an order in which all items were said to be available for shipment within 24 hours. Despite the fact Amazon offered free shipping on orders over $100, he chose to pay for 2nd Day Air in order to get his order faster. When the order was slightly overdue, he wrote to ask where his order was. He was ignored. After waiting almost 3 weeks for the package, he is still trying to get credit for his 2nd Day Air payment!

And every one of us here has had the following problem: You go to a site, run into a snag making a purchase and decide to call Customer Service. But the lines at Customer Service are all busy. Do they put you "on hold"? No! They tell you to go to the website! Didn’t you just come from there? Duh!

What are these companies thinking? And these are the big guys with the big budgets and, supposedly, the big brains behind their operations. If you work out the statistical average of problems per person at Future Now and extrapolate to the greater online shopping population at large, you gotta know there's massive trouble out there in Paradise. And no wonder.

Make their shopping experience a drag, drop the ball on fulfillment, don’t keep your promises, send them canned messages that have nothing to do with addressing their problems or ignore them altogether - and then crank up your whiz-bang CRM “solution”? Good luck.

So, before you go spending your money on CRM, spend a little time, no a LOT of time, considering how effective you are at MRC. That’s where it all starts, and if you get it wrong, that’s also where it all ends.


click here for a printable version of this entire article


Coming soon to a website near you – 
in fact, maybe YOURS!

Dear Digital Entrepreneur:

You guys and gals have been asking and asking, so OK: on March 1 I’m gonna start making house calls. That’s right, I’ll be visiting your own websites and then writing in future issues about how you can apply the stuff we talk about here.

So, want a free Grokanalysis of your site? It’s simple. Just click here, fill out the form, send it to us, and if I think your site illustrates something that will be of interest to a lot of our readers, you’re in!

Good luck!!

The Grok

Loyalty is Priceless 

Customer satisfaction is a nice theory, a good “warm fuzzy” word. But it’s a whole lot more. You want customers who are more than merely satisfied with a single purchase, don't you? You want customers satisfied enough to come back and buy again. And again. And you want customers so delighted they’ll tell their friends. What you really want are customers so delighted they become loyal customers.

To create loyal customers you have to get away from what you want to give them. In the customer-empowered world of e-commerce, your customers aren’t interested in what you want to push. In fact, they’re not interested in being pushed at all. They’re interested in finding what they want to buy, and in finding vendors who will help them. So learn to give them what they want, and you are a heck of a lot more likely to get what you want: more sales, more repeat business, and more referrals!

The truth about satisfaction and loyalty out there on the Internet isn't nearly as fuzzy as the concept. Of the people who visit your site, only 1.75% will buy. Of those who actually buy, fewer than 10% will actually return to buy again. Do the math: out of 1000 people, 18 (I'll be generous) will make a purchase. Two will visit again for a second purchase.

Sounds dismal, huh? But you can think of these figures as Scrooge's Ghost of Christmas to Come. Because the fact is, folks like to shop and they like to buy. It's just that when they do it online, many of them can't buy because they can't figure it out. They can't be bothered to wait for slow pages. They can't read the tiny type. They can't cope with getting stranded in opaque processes they don't understand. They can't find help. They can’t deal with the help that they do find being written in techno-speak.

Your prospects are out there on a huge ocean, bobbing and threatening to go under. They'll take you with them unless you help them! Toss them a life preserver!

Make it simple and easy to find information and navigate your site.

Every page should tell them where they are, show them where to go next, how to get back, offer a resource for helpful help, and have obvious and logical links.

Give helpful and descriptive information about your product or services.

In text. There is power in the word. And the word is out that the word is in. Research and sales results are both proving that fancy images and slow multimedia are out - at least as far as your customer is concerned, when what he or she wants to do is buy. Make your information persuasive … just remember to make it clear, concise and complete as well. And not pushy. Use graphics only when words are insufficient. And then, keep them simple and the file sizes small.

Make it clear and easy to buy from you.

Cover all your bases at the point of purchase by offering every order option available: not only an online order form, but e-mail, fax, and toll-free phone, too.

Give the customer a reason to place his or her confidence in you.

The cornerstone of loyalty is trust. Do everything you can to inspire this in your client, and you will earn repeat business. Think about all the things that go into trust, from prominent, plain-spoken and strong privacy policies, to basic grammatical correctness, to clear pricing, to a professional look and feel in your design.

When web surfers head out to buy, they want to buy. The last thing they want to do is tread water, much less sink. Make your website that friendly face, that helping hand that not only keeps them afloat but keeps them happily sailing along. Give your visitors lots of good reasons to remember you, and you are likely to inspire more than satisfaction … you might just land yourself a loyal customer!

click here for a printable version of this entire article

GROK is taken from the landmark novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert A. Heinlein. It is a Martian word that implies the presence of intimate and exhaustive knowledge and understanding. Our "GROK" is a keen observer of the world around him and he takes a particular interest in the World Wide Web. The folks at Future Now like him a lot because he's taught them that "sometimes the price of clarity is the risk of insult."

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