Customer-centricity starts with honesty, and honesty starts with leadership

By Chris Bucholtz

Dr. Natalie Petouhoff is fond of saying, “The fish rots from the head.” She often uses it in describing failures of customer service that stem from shortcomings of leadership. Without executive buy-in, all the insight a service organization may uncover will never be translated into improvements to service processes.

But that’s the way it is across the entire CRM spectrum, to a degree: any part of your customer relationship system can be scuttled if leadership isn’t behind it.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is strictly a technology issue; it’s much more likely that leadership will de-rail its CRM processes through apathy, inattention or ineptitude that affects attitudes within the company.

Here’s an example: in one business, which had an intensely sales-oriented culture, a salesman became well known for stretching the truth about his company’s products during sales calls. It wasn’t that he didn’t have a grasp of the product – he simply took a divergent path from the truth when it became useful in closing a sale, counting on the idea that the customer, once signed up, would somehow overlook the fictional part of his sales pitch.

If a smart sales manager was managing him, this salesman would have been gone, cut loose, canned like a ham – and tout suite. Instead, he was allowed to continue his selling shenanigans – after all, he was meeting his goals, right?

Eventually, his antics gravitated up to the CEO via his increasingly disgruntled peers. This gave the CEO a chance to drop the hammer and make a statement: we stand behind our product as it is, but we also stand with our customers. Did that happen? Well, I said this was a very sales-oriented culture, didn’t I? The CEO’s comment was, “boys will be boys!”

Let me predict the future or this business: this salesman will continue with what’s working for him; his business will experience a remarkable rate of churn, with unusually high rates among customers he closes; social media will begin to ring with complaints about the company’s less than honest sales practices; and, perhaps too late, the leadership will realize that the damage to the company’s business costs it far more dollars than the salesman’s dubious efforts bring in.

Being a straight shooter with your customers is no longer a characteristic of exceptional businesses – it’s table stakes. If you do your customers wrong – during the sales process, or during any part of your relationship with them – they’re going to exact their revenge on you via social media. Pete Blackshaw wrote a book back in 2008 called Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000; X I think Pete underestimated the latter number when it comes to customers who feel they’ve been treated with dishonesty.

This is just one way that a business can poison the CRM well – these methods have always existed, but now the well is worldwide. Although I’ve often said that CRM starts with hiring, if you’re a big enough company you’re likely to get some employees who are poor fits. But if you’re a leader, you need to excise these employees immediately; tolerating or even condoning them will put you on a customer-powered path to failure.

2 thoughts on “Customer-centricity starts with honesty, and honesty starts with leadership

  1. Hello Chris, another post, I like very much. I have been pondering honesty, transparency, authenticity.

    honesty and authenticity:
    In a coaching space (1:1 and with agreement of coaching conversation), you can definitely sponsor conversations around authenticity and honesty. This i have done, extenstively from CEO to front desk individual.

    However, In a work space (some sorta public space), i have found in certain cultures (I worked on several continents) sponsoring conversation can get people a little “guarded”.. which is an indicator of the prevailing culture or worse, they mis-interpret as permission to go into “should” land… and start “judging”. crikey.

    so from an execution standpoint, I have the the safer ground, to sponsor the conversation around “transparency”. Its just a slight more tangible for our dominant rational thinkers. This view is purely from an execution standpoint / making it real / helping it come alive in an organisation

    as after all, to deliver transparency, one must be very comfortable with being honest with others.. and even honest with self.. (ability to own what we muffed.. albiet often inadvertedly)

    I did resonate with Paul Greenberg’s articulation of transparency when it comes to the world of customer, in his book CRM at speed of light p254. I share, just incase others have not read.
    1 their ability to get the kinds of information they NEED to make intelligent decisions
    2 as a company (I assumed provider of this information), you’re willing to own up to the mistakes, and let the customer know what to expect, whether or not they are going to like the answer
    3 as a company, you are willing to provide continuous avenues of communication from your customer to your decision systems…

    won’t it truelly be a remarkable civilization we live in … when majority of… demonstrate TRANSPARENCY in a simple yet highly impactful way

    for example, matching Paul’s 3 points:

    1 company websites, external facing material is DESIGNED from the viewpoint of what do my users need.. to make intelligent decisions… e.g. users being customers, consultants, experts in the field, industry partners.. wow! (i hope sugar is going to do this. my opinon after my day today, sugar is not there. I can share specifics if it helps. but that being said, is either sf or the other CRM vendors i have trawled thru. but hey, I think I could be a tough customer!)

    2 companies.. shift their PR material shifts the focus from just painting the good picture and rather paints the real picture e.g. most communication I find it more interesting and helpful and HONEST to determine what is NOT being said. e.g. what features are not available, what areas of the solution are not yet developed. Such candidacy, on front foot really would be refreshing.

    3 all companies have feedback loops as a the starting of going live
    e.g. ideas exchange where their community / ecosystem gets to vote, extend each others ideas, see what others are asking for etc…
    e.g. blogs like this, where moderator is open, and challenging thought, and an absence of cynical viewpoints (or beat up competitor). LOVE it!
    e.g. all documentation provided have feedback links, so feedback is given in context, live, open, so if someone has already feedback something about that page, anyone who uses that page, can see that. wow! sorry, sugar not there on this point either… maybe that could change…

  2. Hi Chris:

    Using the frame of honesty, can you please help me understand by taking me thru the thinking, how sugar feels comfortable declaring this statement on their web page

    “Sugar is fully Social CRM ready. The following Social CRM capabilities and integrations are available for all subscriptions out of the box:”

    This is critical for me. To date my experience with sugar is nothing but open and upfront. However this does not sit well with me. I am just hoping I am misinformed and am missing a piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

    Social CRM ready would include embedded collobaration tool
    e.g. like chatter. its taken them 1+ year to fully embed is my understanding from reading thru their community forum, and still “embed” is not fully their but its a long way their. What is sugar’s equivalent tool — there is no mention on this web page of such a tool.

    the link does mention at the bottom of the web page “Qontext”. But there is no link. That is odd. And it is listed as “extension” not embedded.

    Qontext: secure, cloud-based, social collaboration between co-workers, customers, prospects and partners

    So really not sure what this, but doubtful it is comparable to collobaration tool as Chatter that has

    A collobarative tool embedded within app, is the first step, first layer of the cake. I do believe other CRM Experts in your top 20 bloggers would support this view. But feel free to correct my incorrect view, if that is how sugar or you see it.

    now for the features listed

    1 Links to top 3 Social Media forums (e.g. facebook, twitter and linked in). This is extension of contact management into social medium networks. This is not social media. For me this use to be called “Stay In Touch” links. This is a contact management feature for me, a stretch to call it a social media feature.

    2 Email integration – again contact management integration. essential yes. But social media. NOT.

    3 Online Collaboration – this is misleading language for me, unless LotusLive is different in a significant way to webex or gotoMeeting. Ive not used LotusLive. This feature is a set of LINKs to online meeting tools. These tools are not true collobaration. They are not workspace tools. They dont have feeds, you dont follow feeds, you dont annote shared pdfs etc..

    4 Sales Intelligence – again links to crowd sourced contact and organisation data e.g. InsideViewe, Hoovers, Jigsaw. All very cool its part of standard subscription. But totally uncool to be labelled Social Media. Again this is contact and account management.

    So i really hope I have just missed a major jigsaw piece
    and you can share the logic
    as these features, speak to sugar, totally not getting Social CRM. These are contact management (and account in one point) feature set.


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