Do Customers Want to be “Managed”?

by francine Hardaway on November 4, 2010

Lately, I have been trying to speak from the point of view of the customer, because I am not a technology vendor nor a buyer of customer relationship management (CRM) tools. However, I am often a “victim” of them via promoted tweets, brands in my FB stream, unwanted birthday cards from insurance people and dentists. And because I spend my days around startups and I blog, I have a way to share best practices when I see them.

Admittedly, I am not the market as the customer, either, because I’m an early adopter geek blogger type. But on the other hand, I’m also more transparent and less surprised to see this stuff than –say — the less weird people who are my relatives and friends. Most of them are becoming horrified by how easy it is for brands to reach them through what they thought was “private” information.

While we in the tech world or the marketing world are talking about how wonderful each new “solution” is, the average person is feeling violated and besieged. My own GenX children take down their FB profiles every now and then in disgust and try to keep their email addresses a secret outside of business. My brother adopts every new piece of technology kicking and screaming. Many of my friends do not read blogs. One of my friends does not even read email outside of work. Across much of my social graph, I’m the only person on Twitter and certainly the only one who would dream of checking in on a location-based service. (“Why would I want to tell someone where I am?”

So as brand strategists, it seems as if with all the tools we have to reach customers, we have little to no insight into what the customer really wants from a brand. And that may be where algorithms ultimately fail: everyone wants something different.

Example: I bought a Hyundai. While I love it, I sometimes have issues getting the interior lights to turn off. Every week Hyundai sends me a customer satisfaction form, a reminder to get my scheduled maintenance, and a note from my salesman asking me how I like the car. I have no doubt I will get a birthday card in May. But what I really want is a forum with a good answer to the question “how do I get this thing to turn off without wrecking a morning taking it to the dealer?”

I don’t want an interaction here. I want an answer.What tool do we have for this? And yes, there are Hyundai forums, so I was just giving an example. The forums just didn’t happen to have an answer. And yes, you cynics, I read the manual.

Every Thanksgiving, Butterball used to have a “Turkey Hotline” you could call as you actually began to cook your turkey. Someone answered caller questions in real time. I don’t know if they still have it, but I think that is an effective brand tactic for CRM. (Update in time for the holiday: they do!) Answer the question when it is asked.

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