Who’s on First?

Abbott and Costello are probably my favorite comedy double act of all time. Strike that, they are my favorite comedy double act of all time. I used to watch them every Sunday morning at 11am growing up. Within that context, easily my favorite routine, possibly their most famous is their baseball routine; Who’s on First. The general premise behind the exchange has Costello, a peanut vendor named Sebastion Dinwiddle, talking to Abbott who is Dexter Broadhurt, the manager of the mythical St. Louis Wolves. However, before Costello can get behind the plate, Abbott wants to make sure he knows everyone’s name on the team…

Fast forward 30 odd years, and the new double act seems to be Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Customer Experience – you can add the ‘Management’ part if you are so inclined. It seems that every conversation that starts with CRM these days, ends with Customer Experience. But they are strange bedfellows, because one is an Inside-out view of the world and the other is an Outside-in view. Similar to Abbott and Costello, all we want to know ‘everyone’s name on the team’. It sometimes feels like the definitions conversation many have had during the past 3 years or longer. Also, the whole ‘relationship’ bit is quite contentious.

Every conversation about CRM should consider customer jobs to be done (JTBD, thanks Mark Walton-Hayfield for that thought), thus there is an experience happening, in some way shape or form… But, not every experience needs to consider CRM (I touch on this in a post written last year). This is hardly a new conversation, when I began thinking about this, I reached out to my trust network and Paul G came back with the following from CRM at the Speed of Light’s very first edition which came out January 2001 and is on page xvii of the introduction.  Paul noted that this was “LITERALLY the first time I EVER talked about a definition of CRM in any way at all”:

“Okay, enough of this. So, you ask, what is CRM? What is the purpose of this book on CRM technology and the Internet? The more substantial definition of CRM is being left to Chapter 1. However, I’ll throw in a short, distilled, filtered definition (120 proof) of CRM to begin to satisfy your terminological blood lust. CRM is a complete system that (1) provides a means and method to enhance the experience of the individual customers so that they will remain customers for life….”

(Paul mentioned to me that he has some thoughts that he will be sharing directly in about a month’s time)

Cause and Effect

CRM can drive customer experience, but customer experience cannot drive CRM.  Customer Relationship can be impacted by the experiences had with the company (Thanks Scott Rogers for that thought) That said, lessons learned and listening to voice of the customer can impact what data is stored and how to act, of course. CRM is an enabling strategy and technology, used by people inside the organization. Where CRM gets a bad rap is when people believe that CRM and SFA (Sales Force Automation) are the same thing. ‘I don’t know, third base’. They are not the same thing, SFA is an inward focused, manage the pipeline, manage sales process, manage money and very often does not do much to provide external value. Customer Experience is an SFA afterthought, it just is!

How about Social CRM, does that get us closer? Customer Experience and Social CRM are not the same thing, either (again, my blog from last year). I am not going down the path of definitions, been there, done that. Social CRM is about a specific response, by companies because customers now want to have a say in the boundaries of the customer / company conversation. Social CRM takes into consideration how, when and where a company engages in the conversation will impact the experience of the customer. Interestingly, many examples of customer service done right could be called service experience, customer experience or Social CRM, take your pick, there are supporting arguments for any of the above.  I also believe that the word Social is over used and more often than not people actually mean digital, topic for another day.

What about Design?

Proper customer experience design should focus (at least in part) on what good CRM tells you to do. For example, if you are using CRM to manage complaints, the customer data should specify the type of response, the channel of the response and the timing of the response due to the customer. This is not customer experience, is it? A few of the larger analyst firms have so closely linked CRM and customer experience that a conversation about one cannot really be had without the other. Well, that is not totally true, people talking about customer experience do not seem to jump into a CRM conversation, but those talking about CRM quickly jump into a customer experience conversation, hmmm….

Something I have said a few times, you can manage data and you can manage process. Not so sure you can manage customers and I am confident that you cannot manage experiences. We can simply do our best to manage what we would like the experience to be, we can design it and pay attention to detail, it is what the customer perceives it to be – period.  How does, or should CRM play into the design process? For example, where does automation fit in, is automation a bad word? It sounds impersonal. But as Esteban Kolsky shared, people simply want the right answer and they want it now:

“For the first time in more than 15 years, automation through multiple channels is growing and the satisfaction scores are rising steadily. People are liking what they get, for the most part, and companies are improving how they do things. In the early 2000s, purchasing a ticket by phone using United’s telephone network would take over one hour and involve an innumerable number of steps; today it can be done in 5-10 minutes in far fewer and easier steps (mostly thanks to speech recognition).”

Just remember, if you want to know ‘Why’ – He is the left fielder… The answer is ‘Because’, the center fielder.

  1. July 24, 2012 at 12:41 pm


    Nice post.

    There is indeed an interplay between CRM and Customer Experience.

    The customer experience is largely from the customer’s point of view. Customer relationship management is largely from the company’s point of view. Each provides the filter for which desires are respectively achieved. The continual and dynamic alignment and re-alignment between the two form the basis for ongoing value exchange.

    For this reason, I don’t necessarily agree with the statement “CRM can drive customer experience, but customer experience cannot drive CRM”. From my perspective, there is an iterative exchange (at least in the ideal state) between customer experience and CRM. From the company’s perspective, as I learn more about my customer’s experience, and more specifically their journey, I should fine tune my CRM strategy, systems, and process(es) to enhance the customer experience and maximize value exchange. In many cases, it is the customer experience that is defining much of what CRM is.

    Thanks for moving the bus forward.

    • Mitch Lieberman
      July 24, 2012 at 2:45 pm


      Thanks for the comment, much appreciated. I agree with your thoughts, for the most part. The problem is that Customer Experience is much bigger than CRM, for example seeing a display ad, product in use, riding a roller-coaster, driving a car, using an idevice. As I noted in the post, there is a particular analyst firm (name withheld) who talks about CRM and then jumps to Customer Experience, but the reverse does not hold true, why is that?

      Maybe I could couch my phrase to include ‘not always’, and that customer experiences need to be measured (carefully, without impacting the experience itself) and fed back in through voice of the customer, analytics and other means to help future experiences.


      • July 25, 2012 at 8:01 am

        That was basically my point as well Mitch. The customers’ perception of the experience (identified through some VOC analysis) should serve as an inpuit to CRM. Then the “smarter” CRM should provide a richer, more directed and value-creating experience for the customer. Of course (I think this is part of your point), that all assumes that there is a continuing relationship or future engagement with the brand/product/company. Where I think I’m coming at it a bit different than Paul is that, in certain industries, the customer experience can, and sometimes is, a one and done event. But, the closed loop cause and effect still applies. Even in these cases, there is the experience that leads up to the one and done transaction and then the experience post sale, for however short lived.

        Even in those businesses where the engagement with the customer is point in time or one and done, the VOC perception of the experience can and should be an input to CRM. so when the next one timer that is (statistically, demographically or whatever) like that last one timer, is the beneficiary of that more valuable experience.

        Visually, it looks like a closed loop feedback process in my mind – CRM —> Customer Experience —-> Customers’ perception of experience —-> CRM (couldn’t figure a way to draw an circle here)

        Very insightful post. And the distinction you called out is definitely material.

  2. Mitch Lieberman
    July 25, 2012 at 8:08 am


    Thanks and totally agree. We will all have a think on just ‘How’ to execute on closing that loop. That last step is critical and hard (A diagram is in order, yes).


  3. July 25, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Mitch, I’m confused. Which position does “How” play?:-)

    I think we need to draw a distinction here between CRM software and CRM strategy. The software is a respository for customer data. For example, when customers in my organization contact us and we capture their email addresses, those addresses are loaded into our CRM software, then pulled to send VOC surveys.

    We also attempt to capture demographic and other data about customers. We then attempt to craft proactive strategies that will result in higher engagement. One simple example is that we may invite customers to attend an event. That means we have to properly segment, then effectively communicate with that segment to offer them something of value by attending that event. If the CRM strategy of inviting them to the event is successful, but their experience at the event is not, then we’ve damaged relationships with them. On the other hand, if we fail at effective communications, but offer a superlative experience,no one will show up to experience it. Both the CRM strategy and the CX must be successful.

    So while I see people talking about the distinctions between CRM, CX, and SCRM, I say, move over and let me mash them all together. I like to make pumpkin bread for my kids. Once I pull it out of the oven you can’t tell which part was the pumpkin, which part was the flour,and which part was the sugar. They’re all blended together in the right proportions. (Well, usually.-)

    I’d like to see conversations move closer to how CRM, CX, and SCRM can compliment each other. As someone responsible for planning and implementing CRM and CX strategies (and maintaining the frickin’ database) conversations like that would be more valuable to me and others in similar positions.

  4. Mitch Lieberman
    July 27, 2012 at 6:46 am


    Thanks for stopping by, I always appreciate your comments, you often bring me back down to earth. I can see your point, but possibly I just look at if differently or from another angle. Going backwards (I do like pumpkin bread). I would say that the kids do not really care all that much about the ingredients, what they care about is enjoying some of Dad’s pumpkin bread – the experience. How you do it, what you use, the secret sauce may or may not be all the interesting to them.

    I agree with you point above that CRM is about software and it is also about strategy. For people like us, we dissect which is which and what to call it. I suppose (and I am not all the way there just yet) that it is possible that experience is the strategy of CRM. In customer service, the contact center might be in the middle, in sales it is about SFA system and in marketing it might be the marketing automation actions of CRM – In the end, there are the parts we care about internally, and then the impact to the customer.

    In your example above, I would say that goal is to get customers to attend your event, the objective is to do it well, segment properly and gain attendance. The experience is everything along the journey from the message to the event itself as well as the thank you note after the event. We can mash it all together as you say, as what it is called is only really important to people like you and me – the customer just wants some good drinks, some good chat and some pumpkin bread.

    Cheers – Mitch

  5. July 27, 2012 at 7:38 am

    Mitch, I agree completely, most especially where you point out that the ingredients aren’t that important; it’s the end result of the experience.

    (And I’m so glad I didn’t use the sausage making analogy:-)

  6. August 3, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    Further thoughts: wp.me/p2iDXy-2h #cx #crm

  7. grahamrhill
    August 27, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Hi Mitch

    Another interesting, thoughtful post. You do write interesting, thoughtful posts!

    If we take CRM as being the inside-out expression of a company’s wish to manage customers for more profit, surely CEM is just a more balanced, complete, thorough version of the same thing. Rather than just focusing on marketing, sales and (a minimum) of service as in CRM, companies adopting CEM focus on more of the touchpoints in the end-to-end customer experience. The touchpoints are still provided by the same company. And they are still provided in support of the company’s profit motive. Nobody said that CEM has to be about giving customers more, or even being nicer to customers.

    CRM and CEM are just points on a line tracing out customer-centricity. CRM learns from the expanded and extended touchpoints in the customer experience. Similarly, CEM learns from the analytical approach to managing customers for value. They both bring something to the party. They are mutually supportive.

    And the evolution of CRM to CEM doesn’t stop there. The best service designers, consultancies like Engine Service Desige, LiveWork and Zilver Innovation, have pushed the boundaries of profitable customer-centricity a long way past what the best CEM consultants can do today. Service designers take a more customer-centric approach to designing the customer experience than CEMers do. They match this to a solid understanding of business operating models to create more profitable, more customer-centric companies.

    The future of managing customers is changing. It is taking the best from CRM, from CEM and from other disciplines to create a new breed of experiences that create mutual value for customers and companies.

    And we haven’t even touched on the idea of ‘experience platforms’ that are starting to change how experiences are co-created. Maybe that would make a topic for a future post.

    Graham Hill

  1. August 3, 2012 at 7:01 pm

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