Phil Friedman

7 years ago · 5 min. reading time · ~100 ·

Phil blog
Customer Relations Management Versus Customer Service

Customer Relations Management Versus Customer Service




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Periodically, I take one of my automobiles in for service, usually to the relevant brand dealership. Inevitably, in this age of paying lip service to customer satisfaction, a day or two after I pick up my car, I receive a telephone call from a "customer relations specialist" who would like to know if my "service experience" at the dealership was satisfactory and met all my expectations.

Most of the time the answer is no to the first question, and yes to the second.

No to the first, because it generally takes longer than originally estimated to get the work completed, and it often costs more, as the "service advisor" tries to pump up the bill by implying — although not actually saying — that if I don't change such and such item now (long before its normally expected life expectancy runs out), a critical appendage of mine will shrivel up and fall off.

Yes to the second, because being the cantankerous curmudgeon that I am, I don't leave the dealership before I feel that it has done all it promised to do, when I signed the work order — a copy of which I always keep for future reference.

The customer relations specialist always listens politely, appears to take notes and appropriately commiserates on my feeling of having had my service experience fall short of perfection. Then says he or she will look into my "complaint" and will have a dealership executive call me to discuss further and resolve my concern(s). Because, as he or she tells me in a soothing voice, dripping with sympathy, the dealership's first and driving commitment is to customer satisfaction.

Then, the call-back never comes... never, ever...

Text Copyright © 2016 by Phil Friedman — All Rights Reserved
Image credits Phil Fnedman, Google Images. and FreeDigitialPhotos net

The reason for this is that nobody at the dealership, other than perhaps the owner, really cares about customer satisfaction.

The auto manufacturer does, and incentivizes the dealership for keeping service customers satisfied. But nobody else working in middle management or on the line really cares. All they want are quiet, uncomplaining customers.

Enter customer relations management.

Customer relations management (CRM) gurus will tell you that the key to good customer relations and a good customer experience is derived from enhanced communications between your company and your customer.

Generally, that means prompt order acknowledgement. Shipment tracking notices — or in the case of my auto dealer's mechanical shop, work progress reports and regular updates as to expected time of completion. Delivery completed notices — often issued after your order has arrived and is in your hands. Then a follow up thank you note. And an inquiry as to whether you found your customer experience satisfactory. Finally, perhaps, an offer to take advantage of discounted pricing for another order of similar type.

What's missing in all of this, however, is any reference to, or understanding of genuine fulfillment, that is, the delivery of the goods or services promised, on time, and in good order. At its irreducible core, customer satisfaction requires delivering fair value for what was paid, no ands, ifs, or buts. No excuses. And no mountain of CRM-generated thank-you notes, customer satisfaction surveys, solicitations for suggestions to improve service, or other bull chip stroking will do the job.

CRM may keep your customers quiet... but, if it does, it is by wearing them out...

However, keep in mind that a worn-out customer doesn't come back.

He or she might not complain after the first couple of rounds dealing with a customer relations manager who says however politely, "I understand your concern, and I will look into it and get back to you." Then never gets back to the customer. But I'll wager a hundred to one, that customer goes somewhere else the next time he or she buys.

Granted, you can't satisfy everyone all of the time. However, you can satisfy most customers most of the time if you:

1) Deliver what you promise and accept payment for.

2) Deliver a level of quality in goods or service at least commensurate with, but preferably slightly in excess of the price you charge.

3) Promptly correct or redress any problems or fulfillment shortfalls that crop up as the result of your company's errors, missteps
, or over-representations — and sometimes even redress problems that do not originate with your company.

I remember years ago, when Sears was a company focused heavily on customer satisfaction, indeed guaranteed it unconditionally. One day, I was talking to a friend of mine who worked there as a customer service manager. He told me about a woman who had returned a window air conditioner bought two days before, which she said wasn't working. It turned out it wasn't working because because when her husband had tried to install it in their apartment window, he let it slip and fall to the concrete sidewalk outside
— from the third floor.

Rather than point out to her that the situation was not the company's responsibility, he not only exchanged the unit for a new one at no charge, but arranged to have it installed professionally by one of the company's crews, free. Total cost to the company of a few hundred dollars, but as he pointed out, dirt-cheap word-of-mouth advertising when that customer and her husband walked around telling everyone they knew and met what a truly great company Sears was to do business with.

Personally, I don't know what happened to that approach, which is now long gone at Sears. But I suspect it has to do with the replacement of customer service by customer relations management...

So, unless your target market is limitless, and you can maintain and grow your business while continually burning through quietly dissatisfied customers, you need to see beyond "managing" those customers to satisfying them.

In other words, you need to see CRM for what it is, namely, as an adjunct to Customer Service, not as a replacement for it. — Phil Friedman

Author's Notes: If you found this article of interest, you may want to take a look at some of my other writing on business:

"Five Myths Perpetuated by Social Media on Small-Business".

"Small Businessman's Primer to Inbound Marketing"

"Selling Bull Chips in a Bag"

"Maximizing Throughput on Fixed Assets and Overheads"

"Small Businesses Need to Keep a Close Eye on Gross Profit"

And if you would like to discuss marketing or other issues you face in your efforts to join the ranks of small-business, email or message me to arrange for a free, no-obligation, 1/2-hour initial consult.

To receive notifications of my writings on a regular basis, click the [FOLLOW] button on my beBee profile. As a writer-friend of mine says, you can always change your mind later.

Feel free to "like" and "share" this post and my other LinkedIn articles — whether on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. I ask only that you credit me properly as the author, and include a live link to the original work.

If you are interested in yachts, are allied with the yacht building industry, or operating a small business in another sector, you should consider joining my beBee Hive,

THE PORT ROYAL GROUP for Yacht Builders, Buyers and Owners

where you will find experienced industry professionals discussing a wide range of topics. The ongoing conversation is always interesting, informative, and 100% industry insider.

About me, Phil Friedman:
With 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. Including a several years stint as the CEO and president of a world-class luxury yacht builder and refit shipyard, employing 600 people at two locations in the U.S. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation. And in a previous life, I taught logic and philosophy at university.

The (optional to read) pitch:  As a professional writer and editor with more than 1,000 publications in print and digital media, I've recently launched an online writing improvement course,

At learn2engage we help you improve your reasoning skills and thinking abilities, and as a matter of course, thereby help you improve the quality of your writing. Instruction is handled directly by yours truly, over the internet and as required in person, both one-on-one and in small supportive groups. 




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For more information and to arrange for a free 1/2-hour consult, call or email




Phil Friedman

7 years ago #29

John, I don't think that I have said CRM cannot be useful. What I've said is that it cannot substitute for genuine Customer Service. Hand holding, back-slapping, and remembering a customer's or client's birthday doesn't make up for failing to deliver what was promised and paid for. Thank you for reading and joining the conversation.

Louise Smith

7 years ago #28

Yes Phil Friedman I rarely post links either but thought it was beeeeautifully RELEVANT ! Still waiting for myc omputer ................................. Louise

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #27

Thank you, Brigette Hyacinth, for reading and commenting, and for the kind words. I agree with you that in this age of automated communications, it is too easy to forget you have to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #26

That's true, Randy Keho, but my point is that talk alone is not enough; you have to actually resolve their problem.

Randy Keho

7 years ago #25

Near the end of my management career, I was the guy they sent to rescue accounts in jeopardy. By the time I arranged a meeting, they were one step away from canceling our service. I always found it best to let let customers know upfront that I, and I alone, was responsible for their satisfaction. I took ownership of the problems, set timetables to solve the problems, scheduled regular meetings to monitor the progress, and had them sign off when an issue was corrected to their satisfaction. They contacted me, and only me, when they needed to communicate, unless they were unsatisfied with the progress. Then, they contacted my general manager, which they always did. However, it was to praise my ability to resolve their issues. I never lost a customer. Customers really appreciate it when they know you are personally committed to their satisfaction. You have to take complete ownership, no passing the blame onto that proverbial co-worker.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #24

Thanks Federico \u00c1lvarez San Mart\u00edn, for sharing this post. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #23

Thank you Louise Smith, for posting the link to your recent piece in this comment thread. To let everyone know, I posted a link to this article in the comment thread on your post. That is something I generally try to avoid, but our two pieces, although from different perspectives, seemed so closely related, I felt the need to do so. And I am pleased that you beat me to posting the link to your piece here, which I was going to do in any event. Cheers!

Louise Smith

7 years ago #22

Yes Phil Friedman I Haven't beeeen on beBee Beecause My Computer is Dying ! ! ! ! ! MOST CERTAINLY fits right in with your post. What's worse for me is - it's the first time I have ever bought anything (other than 1 book once) online ! GRRRRRR !!!! regardz Louise

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #21

@John Marrett - I have no doubt, as I have no doubt that you are helping your clients find their way to maintaining and growing their respective client bases. But I need to point out even your own emphasis on sales, when you say your clients have "...long sales cycles and expensive new client acquisition costs..." To which I need to go on to make two points: 1) A high percentage of my clients are B2C operations that generally have efficiency and profitability problems that they need to solve. And I am often asked to come in to explain why their latest implementation of CRM (e.,g. Sales Force or similar) isn't solving the problems. And one of the reasons is that improving customer communications without commensurate fulfillment doesn't do anything for customer satisfaction. Yet, the default templates in most CRM programs which I've examined don't even pay a nod of the head to fulfillment. Then 2) I have known some pretty heavyweight CEOs of fairly substantial companies (a hazard of being in the large yacht sector of the industry) who will tell you outright that sales and fulfillment (customer service) are two entirely different functions, and should be kept absolutely separate. The sales guys should promise the prospect anything, but get the order; and it then falls to the fulfillment guys to deliver -- or not. BTW, I just returned from Toronto, which is not Quebec admittedly, but where at café Papillon I had a superb Quebecois-style crepe filled with Boeuf Bourguignon. And where my wife found butter tarts which are dearer to her than I am. Vive le Quebecois cuisine!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #20

@ Jim Murray - thanks for the kind words. Commenting is, of course, never mandatory, not even for people whom I tag. But I am truly gratified by your kind words. For while when I speak, I am always giving my own opinion, I try hard to stick to ideas and concepts and perceived facts... and not dwell on "me". As well, most of my opinions are at least based on my experience, so you will not find me giving out advice about how to be a good surgeon or write a best selling novel. Cheets!

Jim Murray

7 years ago #19

Forgive my lack of commentary. Way out of my ballpark. I know these pieces are well written because I know you. People should pay attention because you never bullshit anyone. And you have been everywhere you write about.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #18

@John Marrett -?I think we fundamentally agree. Where we differ, I think, is in the use of the term "CRM". In my experience, it represents a philosophy that concentrates on appearances and selling, rather than on fulfillment.... Cont Pt II

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #17

@John Marrett - Pt II- Although, I can see how a system might be constructed as a tool for genuine customer service. It's like riding a bike. If all you're ever offered is a coaster brake model, and never see one with 20 speeds, you're going to think that riding a bike consists of simply pedaling and steering.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #16

thank you, Georgina, for reading and commenting, and for the kind words. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #15

@John Marrett - the reason is that less than a Ten score does not earn the dealership points in terms of factory spiff money. More blatant is the request to call first if you can't give a perfect ten in the pos-service survey, in order to give the dealership the opportunity to correct any satisfaction issues. But if you do call, you get a return call not from the service manager but from a "customer experience specialist" who says he or she will look into it and have thenService Manager call back. Which, of course, again never happens. So, again it is a useless exercise in CRM. It's not the initials that matter, but the substance of what is or isn't actually done. My point is that many who use the label CRM heavily fail to understand that constant contact without customer service related action doesn't accomplish bubkas.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #14

@John Marret- you are, of course, entitled to your opinion. But you don't say whether your program of CRM activity includes attention to fulfillment issues. So let me ask if it does?

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #13

Charles David Upchurch - you are on point. To bee clear on this, I was NOT talking about beBee as I am sure Javier C\u00e1mara Rica would know right away -- since I have of late been publicly particularly critical of the bull chips being generated by Jeff Weiner and LinkedIn.. Nevertheless, you are right to call me out on wussing out on calling a bull chipper and bull chipper. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #12

Thank you, John White, MBA, for reading and commenting, for the kind words, and for sharing and promoting this post. In the back of my mind, I dedicated this piece to a social media platform which shall remain unidentified. Cheers!

John White, MBA

7 years ago #11

Great buzz Phil Friedman. I promoted it on Twitter via @bebeeproducer and a few others! 😉

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #10

I dedicated this to LinkedIn, especially the title image. But I would like beBee's new CEO, Matt Sweetwood, to consider the thesis here for future reference. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #9

Yes, Donna-Luisa Eversley, that happens, in my experience, when they have been trained in CRM, because in CRM there really is no interest in the customer's problems of complaints, only in patting him or her on the head, and saying, "There, there, good boy, good girl." Of course, I have had some customers for whom that was chief in their expctations. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #8

You are correct, Jim Cody. Customer service must be embraced as an integral part of the business. And by the way, after-sale customer service is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to repeat business. Don't you think? Thanks for reading and commenting. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #7

Franci Eugenia Hoffman, customer service may be declining, but more times than not, the decline is due to a change in outlook from CS to CRM. Thank you for reading and commenting. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #6

Dean Owen, on a parallel thought track, a similar problem crops up when customer service is contracted out to work forces in some developing nations. Because of a cultural gap, the people handling customer service tend to believe it is their responsibility (and the way to keep their jobs) to protect the company from having to pay out any expenses to correct a problem. They do not realize that the western way is to try, within reason, to satisfy the customer, while the company works the average in search of profits. Thanks for reading and commenting. Cheers!

Dean Owen

7 years ago #5

These follow up calls/surveys are almost unheard of in Japan. There is absolutely no need for a follow up as the service is impeccable. Good service is ingrained in the culture. The problem arises when there is a complaint. They have no idea how to handle complaints as they are so rare, so they start to panic!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #4

Don Kerr, do you drive one of the older, neat Land Rovers, of the kind we used to see trekking though the veldt on National Geographic documentaries? Or one of the later yuppified models that get sick to its stomach every time a bit of mudd gets on its tires? Cheers!

don kerr

7 years ago #3

You are too right Phil Friedman I am going to adopt your approach with my dealership next time I am in. Come to think of it though I stopped going to the dealership for this very reason - the upselling and the disingenuous nature of their expressions of concern for my well being. Although, I do drive a Land Rover so should probably expect genuine concern given the brand's track record for dependability. Enjoy your weekend my friend.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #2

Thank you, Joaquim Vives, for sharing this post. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #1

This piece is dedicated to my new friends and followers at beBee, and to my old friends and followers at LinkedIn, which latter may not have yet given up hope that the platform will improve. Eh, David Grinberg, and others. Cheers!

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