The Future Is Now

It is 1973. You are at Disneyworld. You enter Tomorrowland, and after a whirl on Space Mountain you decide to check out the new exhibit on the future of marketing. You hear ...

"By the early 21st century companies won't need to deal directly with customers anymore. Robotic computers, called CRMs, will handle all customer relationships. And, in fact, two companies will be able to create relationships with each other without any human contact, as their computers court each other to build a lasting friendship."

In 1973, delegating customer relationships to computers would have seemed ludicrous. 1973 was also the year Woody Allen introduced us to the "Orgasmatron" in his movie Sleeper. The idea that computers would some day substitute for human interaction was the stuff of satire.

But ...

A few weeks ago, one of our commenters at tompeters.com included a link to the wikipedia.com entry for customer relationship management (CRM). I clicked on the link and saw that the entry did not talk about customer relationships. It talked about software.

A few Google clicks later I was at the whatis.com definition of customer relationship management, which described, "methodologies, software, and usually Internet capabilities that help an enterprise manage customer relationships ..."

Hmmm. If you read these definitions you'd think that businesses don't need to deal with the messy task of managing customer relationships on their own. Why bother, when you can delegate this task to a computer?

The November 2007 cover story in National Geographic is about memory. The article sheds some light on this problem, describing a, "vast superstructure of technological crutches that we've invented so that we don't have to store information in our brains. We've gone, you might say, from remembering everything to remembering awfully little. ... What have the implications of this outsourcing of memory been for ourselves and for our society? Has something been lost?"

Yes, something has been lost. The relationship itself has been lost.

Using technology to support collective corporate memory is not a bad thing. The bad thing is using the crutch of the computer to become brain-dead and impersonal.

We need to remember this: CRM systems don't manage customer relationships. People do.

My challenge: Will anyone suggest a definition of customer relationship management that doesn't include the words, "software," "application," "system" or "database?"