The Jetsons, Self-Driving Cars, and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Success

Article originally published from February 24, 2015.

When I was a kid, my dad would always try to get me to join my brother in learning what at the time was thought to be a life skill - repairing cars. My best "Elroy Jetson" influenced response was always, "Dad, I won't need that when I grow up, cars will fly by then."  

A few decades later, well ... I was mostly wrong. Cars certainly don't fly and the vast majority use a technology-ensconced version of the same gas engine my Dad worked on. These days, however, given the technology wrapped around that engine, even my most mechanically savvy friends barely touch them.  

While cars don't yet fly like in The Jetsons, many are beginning to drive themselves.  Google has attached a layer of lasers, GPS, and assorted sensors and software to test a small fleet of otherwise standard cars to make them self-driving. Apple is said to be talking with experts about building its own self-driving car. By all accounts the key to making this technology work is the focus on making constant corrections from multiple inputs.  For example, the car isn't safe with GPS only, it needs the lasers, cameras and other sensors.

What Does A Self-Driving Car Have To Do With CRM?

As a CRM guy, it's always interesting to apply "what works" in other areas to our field of CRM.  

Back when CRM first started, we would often explain that CRM was a journey. This journey encompasses building a company's people, processes, and technology around their customer.  Fast forward to today and unfortunately we are learning that by many analysts' measurements, only about 50 percent of CRM projects actually meet expectations.

These unsuccessful outcomes are often created by vendor hunger for license sales and CIO's pressured for short term results. CRM implementation terms like "forklift", and "quick start" have become prevalent, creating a shift in focus to speed and technology. When you remove the people and processes from your CRM journey, it is like pointing a self-driving car at your destination then turning off the lasers and sensor equipment just after leaving and hoping to arrive safely.

Where To Start - Five Steps To Drive CRM Success

1. Plan For Course Corrections

Similar to when a human is behind the wheel, Google's self-driving car is making constant corrections to stay on course.  Likewise, once users actually start doing business in their CRM system, an administrator will need to make changes. Fortunately, there is a profile for success. Customers that plan for proactive measurement of CRM goals, incorporate industry context, as well as understand the need for a great user AND customer experience have a high success profile.

2. Goals - Put The Odds In Your Favor

Most people would say delivering predictable revenue is the goal of a sales person. 1200 companies were surveyed about their forecasting accuracy and reported an average win rate to be 45.9 percent." To put that in perspective, the odds of winning at the Craps tables on a pass bet in Vegas are 49.3 percent," says James Dickie of CSO Insights. There are better odds at Craps in Vegas than hitting a forecast. Dickie suggests that the power of data to measure and influence goals like forecasting will drive areas like, what customers to focus on and what insights to share.   

In order to put the odds in your favor, organizations need to understand why they are implementing CRM, clearly articulate their goals, and utilize the proper instrumentation to keep them top of mind. Just like the self-driving car, it is critical to create steady checkpoints to make sure you are making progress and allowing for rapid course corrections.

3. Embrace Industry Context

Think back to a time you had a great customer experience.  My wife and I recently had an excellent experience with a local self-storage company.  The employee seemed genuinely glad to be working there and delivered a very personalized experience.  She never seemed prompted by generic system screens. Whatever CRM she was using was "invisible" to me.

Good CRM starts with People. Your People. Happy employees are eager to create and please customers.   A company can't survive if CRM gets in the way of that.  Remember, if your people feel like they are "Doing CRM", so will your customers. Starting with industry specific vs. out-of-the-box functionality is a good way to give your people the right context for natural and personal interactions, and a platform to weave in your best practices.

4. Focus On User Experience

Industry strategist Christopher Bocholtz writes that "[a]doption failure is the arch-enemy of CRM, the great CRM investment-waster, the adversary to those who want to organize, rationalize and economize their customer data and how it's handled." Many times the purchasing process and focus on technology compress project time to a point where what will enable people is pushed to the wayside.

Complicating the issue is what analysts call the Nexus of Forces. The forces of Social, Mobile, Data, and Cloud have resulted in an empowered customer that must be tracked across more touch points.  Lack of adoption makes getting a complete view of this even more complex.

The good news is today there are solutions and resources that can give organizations a roadmap, tools, proactive support, measurements, and add-on apps that enhance the user experience and put the adoption odds in your favor. 

5. Understand The Importance Of Customer Experience

Customer Experience, sometimes called CX or CEM is often misrepresented to describe new software features that will speed up your implementation. It is however, a very simple concept. CRM represents and tracks each customer interaction.  Customer Experience Management is generally described by industry experts as the measurement of that interactions' quality.  

Author, JC Quintana describes a great example: A married couple works hard though the week and has dinner together on Friday night.  If they have leftovers in front of the television, while checking their individual Facebook feeds - from a CRM perspective - the interaction called "dinner" did indeed happen.   If the same couple went to a restaurant with candles and wine and talked about their week, the quality of that interaction would be inarguably better.

Delivering engaging customer experiences is no longer a strategic approach, but a necessity for business survival. There is a customer expectation associated with every interaction with your team. To be relevant, organizations must learn how to utilize CRM to seize customer intelligence across all channels to provide proactive and personalized customer experiences. A highly optimized CRM solution can help you plan for, deliver, and measure the quality of each interaction.


CRM programs generally aren't successful in a "fire and forget" approach. Like a self-driving car, constant course corrections utilizing multiple inputs are needed. Customers that plan for proactive measurement of CRM goals, incorporate industry context, as well as understand the need for creating a great user and customer experience have the very best chance to help their people deliver the most "Jetson-like" customer experiences possible. 

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