In customer managed relationships, customers will engage in new types of dialog with suppliers, often initiating the search for a solution. New concepts of self-service give the customer more control. There will still be a process of targeting, but now that process may include the customer’s choosing the target firm.
From the earliest discussions of relationship marketing it has been said that the learning relationship the customer provides the company makes the company practically invulnerable to competition. The theory has been that once the customer has spent the time and energy teaching the company about his or her individual needs, this investment in the learning relationship creates a barrier that makes it more difficult for the customer to switch rather than remain loyal.
That may have been true when the company controlled the business relationship, but now the consumer has more freedom to let suppliers know he or she is open for bids. Any failure to respect a customer’s privacy, any exploitation of the granted permission, any violation of trust will cast the customer loose.
Privacy and permission, therefore, can be taken off your list of constraints on doing business and added to the list of services you offer. With CRM companies so busy selling, they paid little regard to permission. In the process of helping customers to manage the relationship, you seek permission to serve. Will this be easy?
The answer lies in a story. If you are traveling in Kenya and ask about the distance to a destination, you are likely to be told, “Karibu, lakine, mbali,” which translates to “It is near and it is far.” The distance in Kenya is relative—to the humidity, to the rain, and to your physical condition. With CMR, the “distance” is relative to your commitment and the extent to which you have an enterprise-wide understanding of customer-centric principles within your company. It takes a lot of hoeing, planting, and watering and a dedication to serve to obtain a bountiful harvest through CMR, but some firms are using permission as an implement to cultivate strong customer relationships, as we’ll see in the next chapter.