Managing Customer Relationships: Challenging Some Old Assumptions May Usher in the Future

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April 2011
In This Issue:

"In today's world, is it really possible (or even desirable) to 'own' a customer anymore? How is our present use of IT aiding our relationships with our customers?"

-- Gabriele Piccoli, Editor

In this issue, we consider the future of customer relationships, the management of those relationships, and the role that IT and the IT shop can play in the evolution of effective customer relationship management (CRM). Right off the bat it's important to ponder some questions that are fundamental to how we understand, on the most basic level, the dynamic and structure of the relationships we have with our customers. Think about the following for a moment: In today's world, is it really possible (or even desirable) to "own" a customer anymore? How is our present use of IT aiding our relationships with our customers? And in the current environment of data overload and incredible accessibility of information and services, is it possible (or even wise) to expect consumers to continue to relinquish control of what is truly theirs, namely, their own personal information?

Having thought about all this for a minute, I question whether it is realistic to expect the traditional approach to CRM to be the way of the future. Besides the obvious privacy implications, CRM has some inherent limitations. You may think, "C'mon Gabriele, are we still talking about CRM?" Yet if you look at the most recent work on pervasive computing -- or Big Data in its declination to the customer relationship -- you can't help but notice that it's still grounded in the same old assumption: firms control customer data. Such focus on customer data ownership and customer data analysis overlooks the fact that our lives are complex, IT-mediated, and consist of multichannels. Here's a radical idea: what if customers gathered, held, controlled, and safeguarded their own information? They could do so directly or, more likely, aided by trusted intermediaries. In this issue of CBR, we focus on that very idea, or better yet, on relaxing some assumptions about data, customer data, and the role of IT in all of this.

Our academic perspective is provided by Kathryn Brohman, Associate Professor of MIS at the School of Business at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, and returning contributor to CBR. Kathryn's extensive experience conducting research in the areas of data warehouse usage and data strategy, network-based customer service systems, and project management makes her uniquely qualified to contribute to our discussion. Our view from the field comes from Michael Becker, Managing Director for the Mobile Marketing Association. Michael is a leader in the mobile marketing industry, assuming the roles of industry entrepreneur, volunteer, speaker, and academic. He is also coauthor of Mobile Marketing for Dummies and other books in the field.

Kathryn begins her contribution with a brief overview of the survey's intent to examine the current organizational movement toward increasing IT-enabled service co-creation. She then moves onto the bulk of her piece, which provides readers with three concrete disciplines organizations should consider to move forward with the "creation and delivery of IT-enabled services." Integrating survey results with these three actionable considerations underscores the ultimate goal of her piece, which is to help managers maximize the value of their organizational practices and satisfy customers along the way. Kathryn provides solid examples for each discipline to emphasize the value and applicability of implementing each strategy. The breakdowns she illustrates within each strategy provide in-depth insight into the different levels of consideration that must be taken when reviewing these actions for use within your organization (e.g., thinking about the different parties that are affected by, and are important to, the delivery of service in your organization). Concluding with a few final words of wisdom, Kathryn 's piece brings home the multifaceted levels that you will need to consider as you deliberate on how best to move forward with the implementation of an improved strategy for managing customer interactions.

Michael begins his contribution with a solid overview of the current state of affairs surrounding the use of consumer data, as well as the use of CRM, and the impending growth of customer-managed interactions (CMI) as the next step in the evolution of organizational strategy. He provides a comprehensive background to help us understand CRM use and development up to the present day, before moving onto a discussion of the emergence of CMI. Covering the ways that customer personal information is collected, stored, and used, and by whom, Michael then proceeds to outline the "connected consumer." The increasingly savvy and informed nature of modern consumers is a reality with which all businesses are now grappling. As such, it behooves us to be thoughtful about the ways in which our interactions with consumers are occurring, as well as how the resulting data is being managed, since most certainly that is being called into question by consumers themselves. Michael provides an interesting summary of the mind-blowing volume and means through which consumers are connecting with one another and, consequently, generating valuable data that can, and is, being used. You will find his set of four specific and actionable suggestions to be quite useful as you move forward with your own considerations of CMI as a viable organizational strategy.

Our goal in this issue is to provide you with much food for thought, as well as strong practical guidance, as you consider the ways in which you manage your customer relationships and interactions. We will have done well if you feel both more prepared and more interested in pondering the implication of the continuing move toward a world where the only viable approach to customer relationships, short of a Big Brother society, is for customers to be the stewards of their own data.

ABOUT THE EDITOR

In this issue of Cutter Benchmark Review, we consider the future of customer relationships, the management of those relationships, and the role that IT and the IT shop can play in the evolution of effective customer relationship management (CRM). Right off the bat it's important to ponder some questions that are fundamental to how we understand, on the most basic level, the dynamic and structure of the relationships we have with our customers. Think about the following for a moment: In today's world, is it really possible (or even desirable) to "own" a customer anymore? How is our present use of IT aiding our relationships with our customers? And in the current environment of data overload and incredible accessibility of information and services, is it possible (or even wise) to expect consumers to continue to relinquish control of what is truly theirs, namely, their own personal information?