Beyond CRM: Managing Customer Experiences

Well-intentioned customer relationship management (CRM) efforts that focus on internal processes and objectives have largely failed to serve the most important stakeholder: the customer. Business process professionals characterize CRM as “the business processes for targeting, acquiring, retaining, understanding, and collaborating with customers.” Although CRM leaders and customer experience professionals share goals like extensive customer knowledge and increased service quality, the fundamental approaches of these two disciplines differ vastly. Typical CRM efforts take an inside-out approach that serves specific business needs but does little to improve or manage customer experience. This locks in mediocre customer experiences when CRM focuses on “moments that matter” for companies instead of customers, company perceptions of the relationship that misrepresent customer reality, and technology silver-bullet solutions that support department silos instead of fitting into an ecosystem that serves customers’ needs holistically.

Customer experience professionals need to bring an outside-in perspective to CRM efforts. To do this, they can borrow a typical CRM best practices framework that looks at strategy, process, technology, and people — but follow it from a customer-first perspective. Do this by:

  • Developing a customer experience strategy that defines the intended experience. Firms need to start with a clear vision of the experience they’ll deliver to target customers across the three levels of the customer experience pyramid: meeting customers’ needs, being easy to work with, and being enjoyable to work with. This means understanding key customer needs and how it is that they seek to access that value — which is quite the opposite of the traditional method of defining what’s valuable to the company and how it wants to deliver the value. The strategy needs to specify the kinds of activities, processes, and resources required to meet or exceed customers’ expectations across these levels.
  • Understanding customers and their processes. Customer experience management (CEM) requires a shared understanding of customers. This means knowing their perceptions, aspirations, behaviors, and the journeys they take with a company to achieve their goals. Experience design tools like personas, journey maps, and voice of the customer (VoC) programs create this shared understanding of what matters to customers and how they want to interact with a firm across business process silos. Again, this activity is very different from the typical approach of mapping internal business processes to look for efficiency. Mature firms identify key “moments of truth” in customer journeys and then align internal systems and business processes to meet, if not exceed, expectations at those critical junctures.
  • Having a technology and data ecosystem that enables desired experiences. Customer experience professionals need to focus technology efforts on the data integration and governance needed to get employees the customer-centric insight they need. While most often, companies shopping for CRM systems are accosted with solutions that promise a 360-degree view of customers across marketing, sales, and service. The reality is that the customer experience is far broader than that . . . and so is the ecosystem of technologies required to support them. Customer experience professionals need to turn discussions away from specific software systems and instead focus on taking ownership of master data management (MDM) and governance for the key customer processes outlined above. To orchestrate the data ecosystem required for key customer interactions, leaders need to use their journey maps to align data and systems to moments of truth, scout for and resolve conflicts that occur across departmental silos, and include IT and data architecture at the customer experience governance table.
  • Developing a customer-centric culture that guides employee decisions. The success or failure of long-term differentiation based on CEM depends on a culture that influences the day-to-day decisions of everyone in the company. Leaders build this culture by infusing customer-focused values and behavioral norms through hiring practices, socialization activities, and rewards systems. This is much larger than simply training people to use a particular tool. It’s about hiring and training the right people who can deliver the intended experience and empowering and rewarding them to do so.

If you are interested in learning more, I encourage you to check out my Forrester report, “Beyond CRM: Manage Customer Experiences."


Excellent View

IMHO - As we move forward with more complex data sets that are tenuously integrated the aspects you have outlined will become far more relevant to the enterprise as a whole.

Easy vs. Enjoyable

Hi Paul,

Your outline references three levels of the customer experience pyramid: meeting customers’ needs, being easy to work with, and being enjoyable to work with.

I suspect that while all companies should make it a priority to be easy to work with, would you say that the 'enjoyable' factor is going to vary in importance and execution by industry? For example, "Enjoyable" is extremely important to Disney, but perhaps not so much to a Pfizer?

Do you happen to have any examples/literature that speaks to the 'enjoyable' factor?

Thanks Paul,

Jim Watson

Enjoyable as a proxy for emotional engagement

Hi Jim,
We get this question a lot...can health care or utilities or laundry detergent be "enjoyable"? Think about enjoyable as a proxy for emotional engagement. Other people use the term "delight". Let me give some examples:
- Getting a noise cancellation headset or a headset that allows me to watch a video while getting my teeth drilled on may not make the overall experience "enjoyable", but its a heck of a lot better than not getting those things, and in fact, that can create differentiation from the dentists who don't provide those things.
- Shopping in a warehouse setting like Costco or Ikea may not seem enjoyable, but the fact that Ikea provides food and day care makes the experience more enjoyable than without those things...and again can provide differentiation and a tremendous amount of value to the customer.
- Receiving an insurance deck that clearly shows my coverage so that I feel very assured and trust that I'm covered creates an emotion reaction that's more positive than when I get a deck that is confusing to read and leaves me unsure of whether or not the firm has my back.

Useful and Easy are what I would consider the very basics. So often companies go straight to that "delight" space, training their poor customer service reps to put on a smiley face, without having created products/services and internal processes that meet customers' needs and make it easy for them to do business with the company. Firms will never move the needle without nailing these first. The enjoyable aspect is the icing on the cake.

Thanks for the question Jim.

Thanks Paul - great examples

Thanks Paul - great examples - I appreciate it, along with speed of your reply.

Best regards,

Operational Intelligence

Great post. The early detection of trends in customer behavior can definitely help a business avoid problems. Modern enterprises need the ability to see, analyze, and act on real-time operational data from a wide variety of sources, often "siloed" data. Operational Intelligence, a new type of business analytics solution, enables businesses to respond to changing business conditions.

Paul, Very useful and


Very useful and meaningful outline of opportunities to address CRM focuses.

I find that although the data that accompanies these customer metrics are growing in detail and timeliness, the organizational silos that utilize them are unable to adapt and re-evaluate the 'necessities' by which decisions are made. With the increase in detailed customer data often comes an increased desire to have deeper data available for use in decision making.

Do you have any examples/suggestions on how best to lasso in management teams that often hinder their ability to act on insights due to the immense amount of data desired?