Wednesday, March 12, 2008

How to Use CRM to Make the Customer King

There is a renewed sense of emphasis on customer satisfaction these days. As business owners, we want to keep and grow the customers that currently do business with us. As our businesses become more complex, it becomes more difficult to accomplish this task. However, if you use a little common sense and ingenuity, you can make your customers feel like royalty.

Consider Fairmont Hotels as an example.

According to Canadian Business Online, Fairmont took customer satisfaction into their own hands seven years ago when they split off from Canadian Pacific. In 2005, they decided to create a central repository of information specifically around their customers -- all of the bits of information that they collected about them -- including what they desired when they visited a Fairmont Hotel. This obviously was not an easy task. They tied together all hotel databases and created one view of each guest, no matter where they stayed.

"For us, it was all about capturing information about our guests to service them better, to deliver customized, personalized experiences for them at the hotel," says Sean Taggart, Fairmont's executive director of marketing services. "But it was also about sharing that information with all of the hotels in our portfolio so that when the guest checks into another Fairmont brand hotel that they may not have been to before, our colleagues there would know them, be able to talk to them, and service them based on what their interests and preferences are."

While this is an exemplary example of what can be done with solid database technology, this type of philosophy -- and commitment to customer service excellence -- is unfortunately far from being the norm. Let's look at an opposite example from my own experience.

I checked into a hotel about a month ago. I had booked the room on my rewards points and had requested 2 Double Beds as I was traveling with my business partner. Now, the fact that I had rewards points means that I've had a long relationship with the hotel chain based upon many years of business travel.

Upon check-in, I was told that my King room was ready. When I indicated that I had asked for Double Beds when I made my reservation, I was told that while there were plenty of Double-Bed-rooms available, the system would not allow the customer service rep to put me in one without charging me for the room again. She asked very sweetly, "Would you like me to change your reservation and charge you twice?" I won't put you through the pain of what me and my colleague suffered to finally get the double beds (is it really too much to ask . . . particularly when they told us that there were plenty available?) . . . but suffice it to say it was quite the horrible customer experience.

While Fairmont definitely spent some money to create the ultimate customer-satisfying CRM solution at their hotels, we believe that it was money well spent. Don't get me wrong -- your technology doesn't make the customer king, your people do. However, as evidenced by these two examples, the technology definitely helps. In fact, in our situation, while our horrible experience was actually blamed on the technology, it was the person at the customer service desk who refused to solve our problem. It may have been due to the inflexibility of the technology, but as the customer, I'm not sure how that becomes my issue. See, I'm still pretty miffed about the whole thing. And, I guess that's the point.

The learning here is that the proper technology can assist your people in creating excellent customer service or, on the other hand, it can potentially hinder it. Additionally, whether you have the budget to spend on technology or not, it's important that your employees are empowered to help the customer in any circumstance. Obviously, all this takes is hiring the right people and giving them the ability to make decisions that will create delighted customers . . . as opposed to unhappy campers.

Kudos to Fairmont for having the intelligence to put effective CRM into their marketing strategy, and hire the right customer-focused employees to take care of their customers.

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