Customer Relationship Management -
It’s All About People
by Joan Donogh

Acquiring new customers, and keeping the customers you already have, are major issues for business leaders today. Businesses offering goods and services are likely to consider implementing some kind of a customer loyalty program to address these issues. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a hot topic these days, as technology has advanced to the point of making one-to-one marketing viable. So, you’ve decided to invest in a customer loyalty program for your business – great! But hang on, before you go out and order the latest and greatest in database technology, it is important to understand that CRM is about more than technology – it’s about people. Here we explore the people required to make CRM a successful reality in any organization.

Leadership Champion
I have heard this from consultants, I have read this in books and articles, I have heard this from seminar presenters, and I know this from personal experience to be true. CRM is not a “get rich quick” scheme. It is a “get rich” scheme – of course any major initiative we undertake in business needs to make money – but it is more of a “get rich slow” scheme. Which ultimately has more staying power than the “sale of the week”. 

You need to have a leader who understands this, buys in to it, and champions it. If your program is not championed by a strong executive leader, DON’T EVEN START! If our company is run by accountants (very sadly, many are – great retailers this does not make), DON’T EVEN START. Your program will be seen as a cost center, as an expense. If your program does not have strong leadership buy-in, it will be killed before the short term costs lead to the long term rewards. I am not kidding here – CRM MUST start at the top.

Industry Experts
Starting a CRM program is a major undertaking – major in time, major in expense, and major in the impact it will have on your customers. If you are going to do it, you need to do it right, and you need to do it right the first time. You are dealing with customers here, and they are not going to patiently sit and wait for you to get it right – they will just take their business somewhere else (you know…to the competition). This is the exact opposite of what you want to achieve with a CRM program. 

There is a lot to know, a lot that is unfamiliar – so it is well worth your time and money to get the advice of expert consultants in designing your program and in setting up your database.

Technicians and Visionaries
Let’s face it – CRM is a technical craft – you are going to need managers and staff who can properly input data, who can maintain the integrity of the data, who can do the data appends, the data segmentation, who can attach the recency, frequency and monetary flags to the customer's record. Your database is the circulatory system of your program. Without your database, you will not have a program. (It is true: if you can’t measure it, don’t even keep the list.) 

Depending on your resources and your budget, you may outsource your database administration – there are lots of companies who are database specialists and can do this for you.  Or you may purchase and install a CRM software package internally to capture and maintain your data. Financially, you may need to start out with a third party managing your database. However, it is certainly preferable to have the database in-house. If  I could not “play around” with my database and find out what was happening, I would be at a distinct disadvantage. Which brings us to….the visionary part of the equation.

The visionary is the person that understands enough about the data to know what is there, and can use that data in conjunction with their other knowledge and experience to say “lets take this segment of the database and mail them this offer”. This is the heart of the CRM program. You can amass all of the data in the world – if you do not know what to do with it, or how to use it to your advantage, you have nothing. You must have a database visionary – much more difficult to find than a database technician. 

Because your CRM program is going to have a separate computer system, either internal or external, you can create a database ghetto if you do not spread the information throughout your organization. It is essential to create and maintain a communication vehicle to publicize information, to develop a common CRM language, and to “celebrate small wins”. Because it is a long term initiative, you need to keep people interested, keep them working on it, keep it top of mind. Otherwise it can drift into oblivion.

If your program is successful, it has the potential to change the way you run your business, in many different departments of the organization. It can only do this if all departments have access to, and understanding of, the information. In order to ensure this, it is highly recommended to create an implementation team with representatives from all departments concerned, not just Marketing and IT, but also Operations, Buying, Human Resources, Customer Service, etc.

Last, but not least, let’s not forget who we are doing all of this for….the customer. A Customer Relationship program is a major investment, and as we have said already, it is important to “do it right the first time”. Again (as with the experts – and who is more expert than your customers?) it is well worth the investment to take the program you have developed to a customer panel. Is the program of value to them? Will it make them spend more money with your company? Will it make them more loyal to your company?

It is not our objective to spend considerable money on a program, only to have the customer behave the same way she would have without the program. It is our objective to give her something she values, something she can’t get elsewhere, so that she will bring her repeat business to us instead of taking it elsewhere. So….ask her. Whatever vehicle you have available for customer communication will be valuable – focus group, telephone survey, on-line survey, etc.

It’s All About People
If you understand the people who are your customers, and you have the right people in place in your organization, you can develop a successful Customer Relationship Management program that will make you a leader in your field.

Joan Donogh is the President of In-Formation Design and has extensive experience in marketing communications and the design and development of customer relationship management and loyalty programs. Contact Joan by e-mail: and visit .

Many more articles in Customer Relationship Management in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2001 by Joan Donogh. All rights reserved.

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