The onus is on management to lead by example and push for a customer focus

L9-390 Sian Golder Checkout operator in finals of The Sun contest, Asda Court Drive, Dunstable.
L9-390 Sian Golder Checkout operator in finals of The Sun contest, Asda Court Drive, Dunstable.

I LIKE to imagine it is possible to produce such erratic behaviour that there is steam coming out of the computer trying to track my shopping habits.

Like millions of people I have so many supermarket ‘loyalty’ cards that it challenges the meaning of the word.

I shop at different days of the week, different hours of the day and vary what I buy in different supermarkets.

It’s all born of a fear – maybe a form of paranoia – that if I’m too regular, there will be a sales person waiting for me next time I go in and I’ll be badgered to put this, that or the other in my trolley.

But supermarket cards are much more than devices to try to gain our loyalty. They are really all a sophisticated form of what is known as ‘customer relationship management (CRM)’.

CRM is a strategy or set of strategies for managing the way that companies interact with customers, clients and sales prospects.

One company I know sends birthday cards and newsletters out to customers to keep in touch and make them aware of special offers.

They also use websites, Facebook and Twitter to keep in touch.

Another company has seen constant growth by getting feedback from customers regarding every interaction it has with them.

If employees receive a low feedback, management is onto it. But customers feel engaged, listened to and trust the business.

Others firms welcome interaction and complaints, seeing someone with a gripe as a potential champion for them if the moan can be turned around into something positive.

It means, of course, that customer relationships must be central to the business strategy and that employees should buy into it.

An independent coffee shop I once used, but which shall remain nameless, had someone behind the till who failed to make eye contact, failed to say ‘hello’ and wandered off to do something else despite seeing me.

Their coffee might have been great but I didn’t stay around to find out.

The person who owned the little shop might have had the best customer care policies in the world but because this one employee failed to acknowledge it, I went into the nearest chain coffee shop where my existence was acknowledged.

The onus is on management to lead by example and push for a customer focus.

CRM is not just the application of technology to send people birthday cards and the like, it is a strategy to learn more about their favourite coffee and their favourite seats, which change over time.

But that itself can mean an enormous amount of information which can become cumbersome and difficult to understand for an ill-trained user.

Finding the right technology to meet the needs of the business then becomes critical.

Government help agency Business Link reckons there are four broad solutions when CRM technology is required.

They say solutions can be outsourced to web-based service providers, be bought off the shelf, be created bespoke or be managed.

Each of those has implications for cost and effectiveness.

When the information has been collected – bearing in mind the Data Protection Act – stored and analysed it can mean a more effective marketing strategy.

Many businesses find that a small percentage of their customers generate a high percentage of their profits, says Business Link.

That means companies can use information from CRM to target most valuable customers.

What it means for me and my weekly shop is, of course, that it is ultimately futile for me to escape that little print-out that offers me something off the price of one of my favourite items the next time I go in.