CRM is an early Warning System

Every Tuesday morning, like clockwork, the management team at Acme Manufacturing met for a weekly update. Acme made and sold high end exercise equipment, built-to-order units that were all the rage because of Acme’s patented system. At each meeting, area managers reported the numbers of units built that week, the number shipped and the number returned. They reported the financial and predicted future earnings. And they patted themselves on the back and said, ‘Good job’ to each other while they silently thanked their stars that they were part of a ‘sure thing’.

This day, however the call center manager was late to the meeting. Very late. When she entered the room, her peers could see that something was wrong. We’ve got a problem, she began. It seemed that for several weeks now, customer care representatives had been getting a few calls from customers asking where their merchandise was. Customers explained that the payment had been charged to their credit card and they had waited the six to eight weeks they were told to wait – or even longer. Now they wanted to know exactly when their exercise equipment would arrive.

When the reps tried to pull up the orders in their system, they could find no indication that the orders had ever been sent on to manufacturing. The best they could do was re-enter the order and tell the customer to wait another six to eight weeks So, that’s exactly what they did.

Talking with each other during breaks, the reps realized that more and more customers were calling with this same problem and those customers were less and less understanding about the additional delay. They asked their manager about it. She said she would investigate and began running data reports. It took a day or two for the information technology group to link the payment report with the manufacturing report, but they did it.

It’s a big problem, the call center manager continued. It seems that there was a system glitch with one of our sales channels, she explained. They were putting together a solution that would be implemented within 24 hours. But in the meantime, it would be a pain taking process to identify the missed orders, reenter them, and inform the customers of the problem and the delay.

All customer relationships can go through times of conflict. Sometimes, like at Acme, conflict is caused when systems, technology, products, processes, or people fail. Customers can also be responsible for conflict. We’re willing to bet that there isn’t a person out there, including us, who hasn’t at least contributed to a product or service problem. At other times, conflict arises because what customers want and what you provide no longer match. Whatever the issue, your CRM strategy – the vision that drives it and the tools and technologies that support it must stand ready to identify conflict early in the game and to help you recover customer trust and customer loyalty.

What happened at Acme Manufacturing can happen to any company whose CRM strategy and system are not poised to identify problems and support you and your team in handling them, Of course we changed the name and some of the details, but the situation is true. And it’s chilling to note that when Acme’s patent expired, so too did its ‘sure thing’.

Plan for Problems:

The senior management team at Schwan’s Ice Cream, a family owned company located in Marshall, Minnesota, holds monthly Preventive Law meetings. The meetings are named for the premise that the very act of planning for problems makes that problem less likely to occur as we all know, popular belief says it’s far less likely to rain if you have an umbrella with you. The preventive Law group asks what kinds of problems or conflict might rain down on Schwan’s. For each problem, an umbrella plan is created for the first 24-48 hours of response.

Ask the same question about your customer relationships. Then, look at your CRM strategy and the tools that support it. What data ports could tell you that a storm might be brewing or that the rain is already here? Acme could have tracked customer problems by type. Any problem that happened to X number of customers could have triggered an alarm and an investigation.