From Transaction to Process

CRM was built on a simple concept—customer transactions.

When we got started, everything was a transaction—sales and service included—and the model was one and done. That worked well enough until the world started changing. Now the model is in serious trouble. Let me explain.

I spend too much time reading customer sentiment sites, in part because I'm writing a book and sentiment sites are a good distraction from my real work. Just kidding—I am researching sentiment. From sentiment sites and a few other outposts on the Internet, I have learned a couple of things. First, customers are reasonable. Most people would not walk into a McDonald's and ask to weigh a Quarter Pounder. Second, and most important, they get irritated when your service process breaks down and you go into damage control mode rather than taking a "let's fix this problem" approach.

Service breakdown is a lot like any Washington, D.C., scandal that has the "gate" suffix attached. It's not the original sin that elevates blood pressures, but the cover-up. Whoa! Did I say that? Adam and Eve, are you paying attention?

As I've documented, customers really are reasonable and—get this—they don't expect perfection. What they do expect is a caring attitude and continuous action to achieve a resolution. Continuous action is what process is all about. It's logic compiled to branch from one thing to another as a problem is diagnosed and side effects arise, and it is everything that "one and done" doesn't solve all the time.

Think of it this way. If you have 100,000 customers and your one-and-done, transaction-oriented service approach gets it right 80 percent of the time, back-of-the-envelope calculations would say that you might get a 50 or 60 Net Promoter Score (NPS). That would be very good, since NPS runs from minus 100 (ouch!) to 100, which is an aspirational score, not reality.

But that's not what I see on the sentiment sites. If your service gets it wrong 20 percent of the time, that's potentially 20,000 people who are potential unhappy visitors to sentiment sites.

They'll provide a full exposé of your arrogant, dismissive, and incompetent service. Is it true? Not often, but somewhere out there, many more than 20,000 customers have likely written and published something derogatory about your company.

If you doubt me, try this simple experiment. Go to a search engine and type in your company name followed by the universal dissatisfaction indicator, "sucks." Yup, more than 20,000 hits probably. And you thought you were doing so well too. What happened?

Well, a couple of things. First your service is probably transactional. It's designed for an earlier time and a simpler product set. If 80 percent or even 90 percent of your customer encounters are successful, but you don't have a Plan B for the others, your service is failing. Second, your employees are not empowered enough to get to resolution for that 10 percent to 20 percent who need it.

A process orientation helps a lot here, but it requires software and training for your people. Software that covers every situation is impossible to write, but if you apply work flow rules, you have a good chance of success. You can add work flow engines to the spaghetti that runs your business now or you can get or develop a system that leverages a platform that has work flow embedded in every application you write. I know what I'd prefer.

But you aren't done. You will also need decent analytics that help find the outliers, the people not helped or those not helped enough. Platform-based embedded analytics is preferable for reasons you can imagine.

Finally, with those things in place, you have to do something radical—trust your people. I like what HubSpot does in the people realm. It has a kind of prime directive, like Star Trek or the Hippocratic Oath—"First do no harm." HubSpot simply says "Use good judgment" in all things related to how you conduct business on behalf of the company. With those three words, HubSpot empowers its team to innovate processes where necessary to assure positive customer outcomes in all aspects of the business.

Why do that? Simply put, when you understand that you don't live in a transaction-oriented world any more, it becomes important to promote customer bonding. Bonded customers come back and spend more money, and they might even tell others about what a great vendor you are. Nonbonded customers and those weakly bonded due to unhappy experiences, not so much. It starts with taking a new, process-centric orientation.