Posts Tagged ‘CRM’

On Wednesday, September 21, 2011, I shall walk into my local Bank of America branch and save their CEO

Monday, September 19th, 2011

The cover of Bloomberg Business Week this week is a red-filtered, haunted photo of Bank of America’s embattled CEO Brian Moynihan, accompanied by the headline: “Can this man save Bank of America?” (

While preserving the appearance of modern journalism’s objectivity, the article describes him as a largely incompetent leader who got the CEO job because he was one of the few who actually wanted it, somehow surviving because B of A is protected from its own ineptitude by being too big to fail.

I actually like Bank of America and its CEO, and I’ve decided to help them. I do not know my man Bryan or anybody senior at B of A, nor do I have any special relationship with the bank. I’m a regular customer of the local branch (I  have a small business and a personal account with them), and I like the idea that they still have a physical building right across the street from my office in Concord, Massachusetts, even though I hardly ever set foot in it. I’m also tired of seeing America bash itself, starting with its President and everybody down the line. The President of the United States has appeared uninterested in grass roots community support outside election periods, so I might as well start with a large bank CEO whom I imagine to be a friendly Irish type from New England . I’ll let you know otherwise if I ever meet him.

I sought refuge in America thirty-six years ago because the French annoyed me with their nasty habit of describing from the side of the pool why everybody in it is drowning from swimming incompetence. I came here because I liked America’s sense of collective purpose, compassion, even naiveté, and God darn it, I’ll do what I can to bring this back. It’ll be (sort of) like America sending healthy vines from California after phylloxera had depleted French vineyards, after originally importing the vines from France in the first place. I now have a mission: I will save Bank of America and its CEO.

So here is what I’ll do. On Wednesday, September 21, 2011, I will leave my office in Concord, Massachusetts, march into the Bank of America branch across the street and ask to see the branch manager (or whomever they let me see). I will offer to become the first customer activist of their branch and propose to mobilize a local community of like-minded customers to help them make their bank better. I’ll do it partly out of self-interest (they’re annoying on so many dimensions, where do I begin?), and partly out of altruism (because I want my branch to be around for many years to come and my man Bryan to be able to feed his wife and three children).

Mostly, I’m curious to know the people inside. I go into the bank two or three times a year, usually when my controller is on vacation and I throw myself at the mercy of the teller employee because I can’t even remember the business account number or locate the business debit card I’m supposed to use. There was even that time when some Brazilian client dumped loads of cash in our mail box for a speaking engagement I had done several weeks earlier, and I had to explain this was not drug money, but a bona fide fee for service. I remember the teller employee having something like a Russian name and accent, and I wanted to know more about her (how did you end up in Concord?; do you have any advice on where to stay?, I’m on my way to a Moscow conference), but we were both too busy figuring out how to deposit the cash on my account without raising unnecessary flags with Homeland Security, or depositing the cash on someone else’s account.

I have lots of ideas on how to get customers back inside the branch and co-create a new relationship with the bank. Why can’t they have a coin changer like TD Bank? I have about thirty pounds of coins I would like to change into real money some time before the universe stops expanding. I hereby pledge I will bring my grandchildren to the branch as soon as I get them and they’re able to count. I could use an extra conference room every now and then for my client meetings, and I’d love to be able to borrow or rent one of their rooms. I’m looking for a CPA in town, and I imagine they might have some CPA customers they could introduce me to (and generate new business for). My kid is a freshman in a business college nearby, and he’ll probably need an internship or a job someday. My wife is heavily involved with a bunch of local associations who also need a place to meet in the evening and have banking needs. The most effective network in town is made of former professional women volunteering their talent for various causes, never engaging with local banks in any way, because nobody at the bank ever reaches out to them.

“This is all fine and dandy”, the branch manager will say (assuming there is one; for all I know, the Russian lady runs the place), “but how are we going to make money from all this community and social stuff?” I will then flash one of my legendary smiles and tell him how to really make money with guys like me.  “I know you’ve been trying to CRM me for years. I know your strategy is to identify individuals with some assets to manage, ideally with small (or larger) businesses. Your strategy is to ‘cross-sell’ me. But you don’t even seem to be able to read my account balance and call me when I accumulate some cash to invest. ” We will agree that having me tell them where I keep my money is a more efficient way to find out than have their CRM program try to connect my business account with me as a person.  “I’ll help you make money for your branch because I want you to be promoted and Brian to remain your CEO”, I’ll say. “And by the way, I can bring you lots of people like me if you let us shape the branch with you.”

I’ll let you know how I do on Wednesday. Stay tuned. Brian’s survival is at stake.

Crimes of the blog

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

I’m going through a mind-splitting experience. In the day time, I write a book – The Alchemy of Co-Creation, with my friend and colleague Venkat Ramaswamy, for Simon & Schuster Free Press. At night, I write this blog. Every time I switch from one to the other, I have to remind myself whether I’m Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde.

For book writing purposes, I offer my best incarnation of the thoughtful middle child who plays inside a gang of my co-author, the publisher’s editor, our literary agent/coach and our in-house editor. We plot our crimes long in advance and in systematic fashion, carefully balancing conceptual integrity and consumer appeal. We endlessly rewrite the plan in minute details, complete with fact-checks and footnotes. Some of the crimes we describe will be three years in the making by the time they take place and our book describing them gets published in October 2010. I sometimes wonder whether our forensics will still be fresh at the time.

Of course, we’re going for the crime of the century, something between the Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. Our marketing people are already hard at work with the press. I’m thinking Robert Downey Jr. to play me, and Denzel Washington to play my co-author. I’ll need a new look for the book tour – maybe a pork pie hat or a pompadour – and I must remember to trade my RAV4 for a Ducati. It’s fun to think about it, but it may or may not happen – particularly the pompadour – and it’s far away.

From the author’s point of view, though, crimes of the blog are a lot more fun because they’re more intimate and produce instant gratification. I can skewer quickly, and immediately find out the impact of what I’ve done. Before corpses harden, I can go on Google Analytics and see how many people read my stuff and where they live. I’m dying to know the two Sofia, Bulgaria, readers who jump on my latest entry every time. If Google tells me that my partner-in-crime from Montclair, New Jersey, has not read my blog within 48 hours, I can call him and question his commitment. I’ve learned that many people don’t like to publicly associate themselves on the blog with my crimes – perhaps they don’t share my exhibitionist tendencies – but they encourage my murderous instincts through private e-mails.

I’ve learned the two secrets of blog-writing: stick with murder, and build lists. My readership goes way up when I injure or kill. Taking on British Airways has brought me minor celebrity status, particularly in the UK. By contrast, my story about Joseph Campbell’s dancing monks has produced an enthusiasm limited to my mother and sister (my wife’s on the fence). The list of “Co-Creation from A to Z” has rocked the chart because I took on the entire advertising and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) industries, and everybody hates these guys. My list of “Ten Excuses Not to Do Co-Creation” has also been picked up by several corporate types who like it when you give them a reason to slack off.

Who said crime doesn’t pay?

CRM heaven and hell

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

In customer relationship management (CRM), it starts with the promise of heaven. A swarm of angels from a large CRM vendor descends upon an unsuspecting CIO and prophesizes that his way to business redemption lies in helping his marketing and sales colleagues allocate dollars more effectively. With the zeal of the newly converted, the CIO sells his marketing sisters and sales brothers on the idea, by repeating the great biblical stories he’s just heard from the vendor. In those stories, vice-presidents at big name firms — ideally competitors — have generated remarkable insights about their business and become soldiers of God. By now, they all can see the promised land where less time is wasted doing administrative things, more time is spent in front of the customer, pointless sales visits are replaced with cheaper e-mails or phone calls, and sales people’s visits are targeted more accurately. The great oracle of CRM confirms that cost will go down, close rates will go up and everybody will get a bigger bonus.

Then comes CRM hell. The devil proves to be in the details indeed. The CRM vendor’s angels turn dark because the software demands a lot of systems integration support and training time. Converting sales people to the new faith proves problematic because CRM requires entering every contact into the machine – often in duplicate until the new system kicks in. Yes, they understand the new doctrine should drive their call pattern, but they’ve got their own belief system, thank you very much, and the little notebook where they keep track of their customer visits is their Bible. The software becomes a church attendance record for senior ecclesiasts, no longer an inspiration for their soul. The blinding insights prove hard to find in this tar pit of data. Apples are not as plentiful in the tree as envisioned, as if the sap had not quite risen in the trunk. Why this sulfuric smell when all should be milk and honey?

CRM devil - angel

When it comes to unlocking the gates of CRM Heaven, Saint Peter, it turns out, is a facilitator: a facilitator of the process through which insights are generated from the data. Most companies have neither process nor facilitator for CRM insights. Encouraged by zealot vendors, most naively believe that data produces insights, as if Biblical exegesis were the same as sainthood. But data doesn’t generate insights in and of itself. People generate insights for themselves … if someone organizes a process to help them do so.

The role of CRM ministers is to feed back data to sales and marketing sinners, and help them co-create hypotheses about new modes of customer contacts leading to a more spiritually rewarding life for themselves, the customer and the company. Let the people at the point of customer contact co-create their own path to redemption. Let them imagine out how live sales calls, e-mail messages, Internet messages or calls from the call center are most likely to combine for success. If they devise the new faith, they’ll practice it. What they need is a minister who guides their path to collective self-discovery, rather than a doctrinaire preacher who throws data at them.

Over time, the faith congregation will grow larger. New parishes will emerge outside the company. People at the point of customer contact will test new modes of relationship with the customers themselves. Instead of blasting customers with unwanted mailings and calls, they’ll draw them in the co-creation of the plan. In a giant ecumenical embrace, customers, sales people and company will walk through Heaven’s gate together.

As for you, CRM software providers who lay out the path for our customer pilgrimage, please help us come together as a congregation. Make the tools of our new CRM faith into an exchange platform, inside and outside the company. Devise your next-generation software in such a way that it enables the collective building of new customer relationship initiatives by smart people, rather than simply spout data at them. Let’s devise a co-created CRM. If you do that, even you may be redeemed.

Co-Creation from A to Z

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009


Here’s a starter list of company-centric buzzwords and their co-creation alternatives.  Read on and let me know if you have other terms to add to the list.  I’ve started at the top of the alphabet, and I’ll look forward to sharing the latter letters with you in the coming weeks.

Advertising campaign: hammering customers with one-way messages aimed at numbing them into passive acceptance of an intellectualized view of the company’s value developed by top executives, and then creatively interpreted by an advertising agency guided by its desire to win a prize at the Advertising Awards ceremony.

The co-created alternative: in the development of an ad campaign, replace some of the agency’s pony-tailed types with some imaginative, equally pony-tailed customers, who’ll work with you to develop material based on their actual experience of your product and will do it in the hope of becoming half-famous.

Alignment: cracking employee heads until they agree with the top-down message and accept that they’ll be assigned metrics they don’t in any way influence. Use “metric” rather than the now passé “measure.” Definitely stay away from “KPI” (key performance indicator), reserved for veterans of failed quality campaigns of the ’70s and reengineering drives of the ’80s.

The co-created alternative: let the experience of rank-and-file employees co-shape the strategy map and its measures, on the silly argument that since they’re the ones doing the work, they’re more likely to align themselves effectively if they’ve participated in the drawing of the line in the first place (with some top-down guidance by the chiefs).

Branding: apply a burning-hot iron on customers’ foreheads to encourage their identification with the company’s products and image. Tattoos on intimate body parts are second-best. T-shirts are for wusses.

The co-created alternative: allow the brand to “bubble up” as the collective experience of all customers, employees, and stakeholders, on the Woodstock-like belief that if they rock with each other in the mud for a while, some good music will ensue and you’ll sell lots of records, particularly to people who wish they’d been there.

CRM (customer relationship management): guessing at what customers like by bombarding them with mailings, calls and visits until they buy something, therefore revealing a “profile” that entitles the company to send them more stuff they don’t want at increased frequency and at lower cost.

The co-created alternative: let customers co-design the relationship they want to build with you, i.e., move away from using hackneyed pick-up lines in the singles bar, sign-up on eHarmony, and find the type of love your potential partners are looking for.

Cross-selling: getting customers to drink more from the fire hose, on the argument that since the hose is already there, it costs the company less to market that way than if the company had to find you in the first place.

The co-created alternative: everybody hates being sold. It makes people cross (this is the little-known etymology of the term cross-selling). But people will buy experiences. The best experiences are co-created. Customers don’t mind a hose if they get to design the hose experience (or the hose itself).

Data-mining: the art of gathering FBI-like data on you and reducing your bubbly personality to the sum of transactions the system can identify about you. Blame data-mining if your last unpaid credit card bill at Wal-Mart and your back-stage-at-Led Zeppelin possession conviction disqualify you for a discount at Jiffy Lube.

The co-created alternative: news flash! Customers know more about themselves than you do. Rather than poking at the ceiling to try to figure out what the woman in the apartment upstairs is about, get up there, knock at the door, and see if she’s willing to share some part of her life with you. This can be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.