Customer Relationship Management: The Big Brother of Consumerism

It may not be 1984, but it is 2015, and everything we do as consumers is being tracked: every credit card swipe, every email address given (for “receipts”), every dress purchased – color, size, and frequency. It’s intrusive, and perhaps even a little creepy. But that’s the way of the modern consumerist world: businesses want to define you by how much money you’re making for them, and if it’s a lot, you’re king. If not, you mind as well shop elsewhere, or at the very least, not expect too much.

Most companies utilize customer relationship management (CRM) systems to make decisions regarding customer retainment, on boarding, and service. While many iterations of the software exists, the essence of the software is this: companies have profiles for all of their customers that record every purchase, and through algorithms along with an assortment of other customizable features, determine how much value you provide the company. For most companies, value is defined by how much you have spent on their products, along with an estimated potential value you will provide in the future. The game from there is simple: the most valuable customers receive the best service, or the extra perks – early-termination of phone contracts, a free tire change here and there.

For consumers, though, the concept is met with mixed reviews. And while I agree the information should be properly stored, analyzed, and secured, I think this poses a much greater opportunity for the modern consumer than many people realize. Yes, the information is in the hands of the company. But with a little bit of strategy, consumers can use that information to there advantage.

Here’s how:

Loyalty is Still King

While we’d like to believe that consumers live in a vacuum where they each receive the same level of service from companies, that is just not true. The best customers – and by best, I mean most profitable – typically receive the highest level of service from companies. It seems like common sense, but in the world of CRM, loyalty, as long as it comes in the form of green pieces of paper, remains supreme. So find stores that you like, stick with them, and purchase frequently.

The reasoning behind this is intuitive. Continually tip the bouncer at a bar you frequent, and he lets you skip the line. Hit up the same restaurant over and over again, and chances are you’ll get a free appetizer eventually.

Publicize Your Experience – Engage

There’s been a recent shift in what marketers consider to be the core analytics of CRM systems.

Early iterations of the software focused on sales, and potential sales, while newer models focus on monitoring customer feedback and engagement. The theory behind this is fairly intuitive as well: if a company can manage and control feedback, customer loyalty is likely to increase. The best way to obtain customer feedback? Monitor what your customers are saying online.

In an interconnected, digital world, word spreads like fire, and companies are making sure that fire never grows too large. Unless, of course, it’s a bonfire where consumers are celebrating their good deeds. The internet, through social media and blogging, has really put the power into the hands of the consumers. Consumers have an arsenal of digital platforms to speak their mind on experiences they’ve had with stores and brands. Companies know that they need to be on their best behavior, because one bad experience can lead to a blog or social media post gone viral. Paired with a higher emphasis placed on building relationships with customers by companies, this age of transparency is a golden opportunity for consumers.

My advice: speak publicly about your company experiences, both good and bad. If you say some positive things about a company or store experience, chances are you’re going to get something in return from the company. Whether that be just a simple “thank you” on Yelp, or free shipping added to your next purchase, it’s the thought that counts. Companies like customers that are receptive towards their efforts, and you will help build that value all companies desire.

On the flip side, if you publicize your negative experience with a company, you’re almost guaranteed a response – especially if you’re one of those loyal customers high up on the CRM totem pole. Companies want to do their best to retain their best customers, and if you’ve had a bad experience with a company you’ve been loyal to, there is no reason not to voice your opinion. On one hand, it helps keep companies on their toes and held accountable for their action, resulting in a more powerful consumer base. On the other hand, it demands a response from companies. Companies who reject criticism and don’t take the opportunity to fix their mistakes set themselves up for even larger public criticism, and a dip in potential customers.

Speak your mind people. Open a blog. Get a twitter. Hit up Myspace.

Don’t Be So Hesitant to Give out Information

Companies like to collect every bit of information they can on consumers. Email addresses, street addresses, credit card numbers, demographic information – they want it all. And most people are reluctant to give it out, for good reason. But if you want to play the CRM game and reap some benefits, information is vital; and if stores that you like to shop at are going to get certain pieces of information anyway, you might as well use that access to your advantage as much as you can.

Information serves companies two purposes: Primarily, it gives them more access to you. The more channels a company has to reach you, the more visible it can become to you. Consumer decisions are often arbitrary and unconsciously made, and within some industries, the slightest increase in exposure makes all the difference. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the more information you provide a company with, the more predictable you are, and companies love predictability. They’ll know what your preferences are, when you tend to purchase from them, and how often you do so, resulting in more targeted and cost-effective marketing campaigns.

To use information to your advantage I suggest taking the following steps:

  • Create an email address specifically to give out to companies. That address will not only house all of your email offers – 20% off new shoes. Fo’ Sho’ – in an organized, consolidated fashion, but if it’s unique enough, companies will hopefully not be able to figure out your more personal email addresses. Essentially, you have a hub full of coupons, discounts, and motivation to go out and purchase more, all without interfering with your work and personal life.
  • Use the same credit card when you purchase from the same store. Again, loyalty is still king, and the more you use a singular credit card, the more trackable value (remember, profitability) you’re going to establish for yourself in the eye of that store. In return, you’ll receive a higher level of service, in various forms, including coupons, free-add ons, more tailored service, etc.

Don’t Become a Costly Customer to Serve

To bring in Old Jay Gatsby, I’ll start this part off with a great quote from Mr. Nick Carraway: “I always try to see the best in people. As a consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgements. But even I have a limit.”

Companies love loyal customers, but even they have a limit. A store may go the extra mile to ensure satisfaction for its frequent customers, but once that customer becomes blatantly too needy, and as a result, too costly to serve, he can kiss that extra level of service good buy. The bottom line for all companies is still profit, and if a customer becomes too costly for a company to serve, that company is going to adjust its service model. Therefore, it is important to remember that just because you provide a company with frequent business, and feel like you are a valued customer, you are not entitled to anything. Yes, it is nice when the bouncer lets you skip the line, or the waiter gives you a free appetizer, but never expect it.

Play the System

I believe there is little consumers can do to stop the CRM and analytical trains companies are resorting to to better tailor their marketing and service efforts. The key is to remember that at the end of the day, companies are only obligated to give you the product they promised. But with a little strategy and some thinking, we can gain some extra perks.

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