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Caps and Gowns

This is the time of year for graduations. And, it is the time of year for graduation speeches. One of my favorite stories about graduation speeches was something that ran a circuit through the web a few years back. Apparently, the highlight of a graduation address made by Kurt Vonnegut Junior at some nameless school was the recommendation to wear sun block. Ultimately it turned out to be a misrepresentation, and Mr. Vonnegut, one of my favorite authors, never actually delivered the much acclaimed speech. I wish I did not know the truth – because I thought it was a really great recommendation.

This year I have heard my share of speeches. One of them was along the lines of what is probably the ultimate graduation speech cliché – this is not the end of something, but, rather, it is the beginning. That was all fine and well and I could have done a cliché blog entry as a follow up, but it was the last of the addresses that I sat through that I enjoyed the most. When a student is selected to address their own graduating class, there is a very good chance that this person earned that honor based on their academic record, and the correlation with being a bit of a nerd is, therefore, pretty high. Because of that, it was all the more poignant that this speech came from the very mouth of someone who fits in that demographic classification.

After being in a school gymnasium for already much, much too long, this was not a monologue I was looking forward to. And, it started out predictable. Then, all of a sudden, this individual with a GPA higher than statistically possible makes a personal disclosure. If you are nice to other people, she learned in the last weeks before graduation, they will be nice to you in return. Then, amazing revelation that it was, she declared it is actually possible to have fun and be a brainiac at the same time. Outstanding.

I am not altogether sure if everybody in the school gymnasium was hearing the same thing I was hearing, but this 18 year old was confessing in front of 2000 members of her community that she just figured out how to be a happy functioning member of that same community. Wow. It turns out that is not all about performance. Her summary advice to her peers – make sure you balance enjoying life with working hard. The message wasn’t the revelation. The fact that this was such a recent revelation to her was the revelation.

Conveniently for coming up with blog material, two of my clients at the same time were reaching a similar conclusion. Being nice to customers causes good things to happen – you can have fun and perform effectively.

Much of the focus of my work with clients is centered around strategic planning. You have read previous entries on this site referencing my recommendation that CRM programs should target growth, efficiency or customer experience as a primary direction. Without question, the extreme majority of programs focus on growth or efficiency and seldom do the programs I encounter target the improvement of customer experience. Fun does not pay the bills.

A number of years back I did some research on the origins of CRM. There is a bit of variation in the general history, but there are roots in the three primary functions, sales, marketing and service. Each root of this family tree seems to take credit for the genesis of CRM. From a customer service perspective, some of the original focus on improving customer interactions was given life from the quality movement of the latter part of the previous century. The whole value proposition in that argument was that an improvement of customer service quality would lead to increased customer satisfaction. Interestingly, at that time, an improvement in customer satisfaction was viewed as something to pursue.

For the last decade, the concentration has been on the other two potential business outcomes. CRM investments must to lead to improved revenue growth or decreased cost of commercial activity or it would not get funded. What happened to the good old days of the quality movement? Is customer satisfaction no longer a viable business benefit?

Then out of the blue, two clients want to use CRM to improve the quality of the customer experience, with the belief that doing right by the customer will do right for the company. Next, I hear a speech declaring the importance of balancing high performance with fun. All the while we have things in the news about the need for bringing back business ethics to combat our economic problems – the era of “greed is good” is finally over.

Are these things related? I’ll let you decide. My advice?

Wear sun block.

Flying Mortar

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