Paul Greenberg of The 56 Group: CRM, Customer Engagement and Customer Experience Aren’t One in the Same


More and more terms like customer engagement and customer experience are being used in today’s business lexicon.  And more and more you see them being used interchangeably.  On top of that customer service and customer experience are used the same way.  And if that weren’t confusing enough, in many conversations all these phrases are sometimes being used interchangeably with customer relationship management (CRM).

At this year’s ExCom 2016 event, Paul Greenberg, author of seminal CRM at the Speed of Light series and the upcoming Harvard Press book The Commonwealth of Self-Interest: Customer Engagement, Business Benefit, broke down these terms and how they differ, and how they are related and work together to implement modern customer engagement strategy.

Check out video of Greenberg’s presentation here:

Below is an edited transcript of a short conversation with Paul, and embedded below are the audio of our full discussion, and the video of Paul’s presentation from ExCom 2016. He starts the discussion by talking about customer experience vs. customer engagement.

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Customer Engagement and Customer Experience Aren’t One in the Same

Paul Greenberg of The 56 Group: CRM, Customer Engagement and Customer Experience Aren’t One in the SamePaul Greenberg: They’re different. When you look at customer experience there’s actually two ways to looking at. On a broad scale it’s how a customer feels about a company over time. And again you know it’s an evolving/changing/shifting kind of feeling – but it’s a feeling. You can’t enable it via technology because you can’t enable human feelings. It doesn’t work that way.

With that said, in order for a customer to change how they feel over time they have to interact with the company in some fashion. When it comes to customer engagement my definition is the ongoing interaction between company and customer offered by the company, chosen by the customer. Now there’s two ways to look at that. One is in order for a customer to be engaged with a company at some level the customer has to want to continuously interact, meaning if it’s one interaction and they stop, it’s not engagement it’s just a singular interaction. They want to have an ongoing relationship and ongoing dialogue or communication between the company and the customer.

But what the customer is expecting in that is a highly personalized interaction; highly personalized communication from the company that has an impact in two ways. One it gives the customer something that they want. And on the other hand the customers themselves recognizes the company knows enough about me to care enough about my cares, knows enough about me to give me something I want. The problem with all of that is that if your company is scaling to a larger scope it’s not that easy to meet those customer desires because they’re all unique and independent. 

So if you have a million customers and a million different requests from those customers the company has to figure out what are the same things that I can offer customers that will satisfy the largest group of those customers, who at the same time will still feel as if they have had an interaction or any independently personalized experience with the company.  But at the same time we wouldn’t go bankrupt; I offer a basket full of products/services/tools, or what I call consumable experiences, then the customer gets to choose from that array of offerings. And the key there is the company doesn’t go bankrupt because they’ve chosen the offering they’re going to provide to the customer that make sense for the most part for a group of customers. And is felt by the customer to be individually and personally for them.

Secondly the customer gets to pick which ones they want, which make the customer feel in control of the interaction which is very important. And it gives the company data on their customer to help refine the offerings the next time. So that’s customer engagement right.

Small Business Trends: What is CRM’s role in customer engagement?

Paul Greenberg:  If CRM was what me and you and others really wanted it to be when we first started out we wouldn’t be talking about any distinction really; it would have been all those things. We looked at it philosophically and strategically but it ended up being technologies and systems; in other words “enablement.”

What CRM does for marketing, sales and customer service, when it boils down to it, is that it enables the operational systems that companies are using to increase their chances of closing a deal. More successful marketing, making customer service case management a lot easier when its operational; it’s come down to that.

It doesn’t mean that no components for communication/social are in CRM technologies; the fact is it’s pretty much standard now where those communications are designed to impact and enable the the effectiveness of customer engagement, which then improves the overall customer experience. CRM, in effect, becomes an operational technological core for engagement, and for ultimately a great customer experience. But it’s still distinct from it.

Small Business Trends: Esteban Kolsky, customer service expert, said customer service as we know it will be nonexistent by 2025. What do you think?

Paul Greenberg: I think he’s right. We are seeing that kind of transition. Think back a few years the first metric everybody used to look at was first call resolution. How quaint is that. What they find out over time, because of the rise of new forms of communication with customers, call resolution was the most expensive form of resolution.

The reality is what we’re seeing now because of these new communications channels, and more effective processes, is innovative practices and more effective CRM systems. And now as we’re starting to see the evolution of more effective AI (artificial intelligence) and more effective user-generated successful resolution to customer service cases; and see customers use things like self-service channels in a lot more effective manner.

More and more people will be using self-service as a form of solution, or at least as the first form of resolution. If you get an answer without dealing with another human being by just going online and finding it by utilizing tools, that makes it easy for you because you’re looking for the path of least resistance when you’re trying to solve a problem or just answer a query.

So Esteban’s estimation of another eight or so years is probably about right. What he’s saying – because we still have my generation (Baby Boomers) continues to retire and step away from things and when Gen Xers and Gen Yers and Gen Zers begin to move forward it’s just going to become standard operating procedure that they use the means to solve problems by themselves before they use contact a representative.

It’s just going to happen.

Listen to the audio here:

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Brent Leary


Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series. He is a Partner at CRM Essentials and organizer of the Social Business Atlanta conference. Brent serves on the advisory board of The University of Toronto CRM Center of Excellence, writes the Social CRM column for Inc.com's technology site, and blogs at Brent's Social CRM Blog.

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