CRM is the new Branding: Using Salesforce to Gain and Retain Customers

Posted on 2015-05-11 15:10:41

Christof Binder and Dominique M. Hanssens at Harvard Business Review analyzed data from over 6,000 mergers and acquisitions from the years 2003-2013 and found something quite extraordinary. The importance of a brand has steadily declined while the importance of customer relationships has steadily inclined in terms of enterprise value during each M&A.

With the deepening integration of the internet into our daily lives, digital prophets predicted two outcomes: either brands would become more relevant in guiding consumer decisions in an age of information overload, or brands would become irrelevant because consumers no longer rely on branding to influence their decisions. In the last few years the verdict has leaned to the latter, as the study from HBR clearly shows.

But branding and customer relationships aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. The M&A study from HBR compares specific branding collateral (logos, trademarks, domains, etc.) to customer relationships, and in that way brands have become less important. What we think this data shows is not so much that brands have become irrelevant, but rather that we have entered an age where customer relationships are the brand. In other words: CRM is the new branding.

So how are companies and organizations capitalizing on this trend? Time and again we see stories on YouTube, Twitter, and name-your-social-media-platform-of-choice about companies that have gone above and beyond customers’ expectations (Sainsurby’s reaction to a 3-year-old’s letter, United Airlines delaying a flight so a man can say goodbye to his dying mother). These efforts are usually costly and time consuming, and therefore not viable options for most of us. But the lessons here are still valid; the center of branding has moved away from gaining and retaining consumers through images, promotions, information, etc. and has moved toward the relationship that a customer perceives he or she has with a company. And now there are easy, cost-effective ways to strengthen your relationship with your consumers and clients which don’t require a production crew.

A few CRM and branding thought leaders assert that we live in a world of such terrible customer service that simply meeting expectations, or going just a little above, is enough to satisfy and even improve consumer relationships.

Peter Shankman, founder of Help a Reporter Out and author of “Zombie Loyalists: Using Great Customer Service to Create Rabid Fans,” particularly likes to regale his audiences with stories of outstanding customer service (such as the one time when his favorite steakhouse delivered food to him at an airport as soon as he arrived at baggage claim). But even Shankman knows that these actions are not scalable for most companies. So he has taken the stance that if company simply meets its promise to consumers they will be happy, because they already expect poor customer service as the default.

This claim is corroborated by research conducted by CEB and published in the book, “The Effortless Experience.” CEB found that the best way to retain customers was simply to make their experiences with the company or organization effortless (hence the name of the book). Contrary to popular belief, the cases in which an organization went “above and beyond” had very little impact, if any at all, on boosting consumers’ perceptions of the organization. On top of that, the efforts to exceed expectations were costly and time consuming. In conjunction, the research found that just meeting expectations and providing a seamless experience was more than enough to keep consumers satisfied.

So how does a company or organization effortlessly meet consumer expectations? It almost sounds too easy, even wrong. These studies make it seem like we don’t have to do much to keep consumers. But providing that simple level of service does require planning and resources, otherwise that basic level of expected service will drop quickly and suddenly. CRM technologies like Salesforce enable companies and organizations to reach and sustain that level of expected service.

Henning Ogberg of puts it eloquently: “The most important relationship any business has is with its customers. CRM provides the analytical tools that can synthesize customer information gathered across channels and platforms, turning it into insights that can be translated into business actions, practices and processes.”

The mainstay of CRM is personalization. For example, according to J.D. Power and Associates Social Media Benchmark Study, consumers 18 to 29 years-old are more likely to use a brand’s social media site for customer service interactions (43%) than for marketing (23%). Think of all those times you’ve wanted to (or maybe went ahead and did) tag a company on Twitter or Facebook who treated you poorly, or when you needed immediate help? We’ve all been there and expected a fast response. So it’s crucial that companies and organizations respond to social media quickly. Salesforce has a unique integration with Facebook that turns posts on a company page into custom fields, and then alerts the assigned user (salesperson, marketing rep, etc.) so they can respond promptly and appropriately.

The Facebook and social media integration within Salesforce is just one of the many ways the platform gives salespeople easy and efficient access to consumer information.

At Pracedo most of our clients’ CRM needs are with case management, nothing fancy or extraordinary. But isn’t that the point? Simple processes are easy on the consumer while being cost- and time-effective for the company, in turn increasing a company’s competitiveness in the marketplace.

-The Pracedo team