The Adventure of the Missing Magazine

Note collection

In parts I & II of my blog series, CRM & the Cost of Doing Nothing, I wrote about my time working in a bookstore and all the ways in which having access to a CRM solution would have made my life easier and the store more successful. Up to this point, I’ve focused on how CRM software could have refined and expanded selling opportunities. And unquestionably CRM is good at that. But the area in which I think we would have seen the most dramatic before and after impact is customer service.

Our customer service case management process went something like this. A customer would approach the help desk, complain, yell, cry, and in a few cases, reasonably explain the situation and ask for specific assistance. The salesperson on the other side of the counter would listen, apologize, and try to fix the problem. If they could, great. If they couldn’t, the exchange was relegated to breakroom fodder. The problem with that approach is two-fold: It’s all or nothing; either the issue is resolved when it’s first brought to an employee’s attention, or it never is. And, it relies on dumb luck in terms of pairing a disgruntled customer with a salesperson who happens to knows what to do in that particular situation.

One of the uglier customer services messes I remember concerned a special edition of Royalty Magazine and a regular who really, really wanted the January issue. We didn’t have it; but because the bookseller the customer originally spoke to was great at his job, he got in touch with the distributor and arranged to order her a copy directly. She didn’t trust the people in her building with packages, so she asked to have it shipped to the store. It never showed up. Or at least, that’s what the person working the cash register told her when she came in weeks later to pick it up. This went on for almost a month with her coming in every few days to ask after the magazine. A dozen different times she asked a dozen different people for help, and she got nowhere—until she cornered our receiving manager (a gruff, wonderfully competent human being who ran the back room and refused to deal with customers) on his lunch break. He went straight to the shrink wrap pile where items that came wrapped in plastic, got taken out of their plastic, and needed to be re-wrapped went to die. It was there.

At the time, the take-away was: Always check the shrink wrap pile. Now, I think about how much less painful the process would have been for the customer, and how much less embarrassing it would have been for us as a company, if we’d been able to log and track cases against a specific contact. The Aberdeen Group reports an 8% year-over-year improvement in retention rates for companies using CRM software. I believe that. In this case, we could have had a record of the issue from the beginning, and we could have availed ourselves of the collective wisdom of the store then and there instead of waiting for a stroke of luck. If we’d applied that approach across the board, we could have improved the overall quality of our customer service, and the woman who ordered the magazine probably would have continued to be a regular.

Like the other examples in this series, The Adventure of the Missing Magazine has what Terry Pratchett called a “happily-til-next-Tuesday-after” ending. In Part 1, we cultivated successful relationships with customers, but we missed cross-selling opportunities. In Part 2, we hosted fun in-store events, but we barely broke even. And in Part 3, we fixed the problem, but not soon enough to retain the customer. We won the day, but never the war. What was missing in all three cases was the ability to anticipate problems and opportunities and respond proactively. From our positions in the trenches of the bookstore floor, none of us ever saw the whole map. For us, operating within that system of piecemeal knowledge and best guesses was the cost of doing nothing.

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AndyWhitehouseAuthor: Andy Whitehouse