Customer rights, salesforce.com on a roll

Posted: March 3, 2007 in CRM

There have been a lot of things to write about this week.  The two things that peak my interest and that I think will have long range implications are the emerging discussion of customer rights and salesforce.com’s latest announcements of its financial vertical focus.  I don’t see how the two overlap and I won’t try to relate them, but I think they each deserve some analysis.  First, let’s talk about customer rights.

Congress and the airline industry have started making noises about customer rights in the wake of this month’s incidents in which several airlines were guilty of keeping passengers confined in planes sitting on tarmacs for hours on end.  The planes couldn’t take off due to bad weather and the gates were too crowded to let the planes come back to let people off.  The result was planes full of people waiting and waiting—some for as long as 9 hours—without adequate facilities.

You don’t need special education or training to know that this is terrible customer policy and that it shouldn’t happen again but what would concern me would be a rush to legislate policies that fit circumstances that are too narrow.  Let’s make sure that we lay down some governing principles that could apply to broad categories and that companies should be asked to sign up to them to demonstrate their CRM 2.0 chops. 

I would hate to see a customer bill of rights for airlines and another for department stores with a third for car companies and so on.  If that were to happen we’d be sunk under a pile of incomprehensible and sometimes conflicting rules.  A bill of rights should be universal and it should be broad enough to cover any vendor-customer interaction.  If necessary, Congress could write the specifics into law but in the first instance, if the vendor community isn’t willing to sign up I am not sure legislation could do much. 

For a good example, you only need to go as far as the US Constitution.  While I do not claim to be a constitutional scholar it’s pretty plain to see that the free speech amendment, for example, applies equally well to publishers of documents like newspapers—the primary media of the period in which the constitution was drafted—as it does to all the electronic media that came after.  As a protection to society, the legislature was still able to draft libel laws for situations where people abuse free speech and the courts have acted in their role as a check and balance and the whole machinery has been working well for a long time.

In the same way I think my friends and I over at the CRM 2.0 wiki ought to get busy articulating customer rights in a simple code of conduct that any company would want to agree to.  So, for example, the code might say that customers should be treated with fundamental respect and courtesy at all times; that they should never be subjected to conditions that threaten their health, security, and safety; and that customers have a fundamental right to privacy in their dealings and in securing their personal information.  If you have ideas I would love to hear of them.

Salesforce.com

Salesforce.com CEO, Marc Benioff, was in New York this week introducing the first of a proposed set of CRM applications for the financial services industry.  In what has almost become a rote performance the company earlier announced significantly improved earnings, more users, more customers, and large expansions of use within some individual customers.  Most of the information was delivered in a phone briefing for financial analysts last week but Benioff managed to have some surprises of his own such as the fact that Merrill Lynch is salesforce.com’s largest customer with more than 25,000 user seats.

The real news was that the company introduced its first financial services application for wealth management.  The solution is crafted from IP gained in working with Merrill Lynch to support its agents.  Salesforce.com is not the first company to take this route to introduce a wealth management solution but the style of the application definitely sets it apart.  For starters, the solution is based on the company’s platform technology which affords it important new approaches to customization and integration.

While it’s true that customization and integration are inherent parts of most enterprise software, the platform makes it possible for any of the more than 500 Apex partners to add an application to the core financial services functionality.  Moreover, the platform technology enables the business users to mold the application to their needs.

The first application the company is delivering is wealth management—a solution to support your friendly financial advisor who, in a prior day, might have been called a stock broker.  What’s interesting here is that this is only the first application; it will be joined in due course by modules for banking, mortgage origination, and others that you might expect in this sector.

Salesforce.com SVP Tien Tzuo told me that while the aim of the effort is to bring out additional modules, it isn’t clear who will build them.  Salesfoce.com could certainly do the job but so could a partner like Merrill Lynch which was instrumental in nurturing the wealth management module, or it could be a different third party.  If it is all built on the same salesforce.com platform, integration will be automatically taken care of, and that’s the coolest part of this.

At the beginning I said I didn’t see how customer rights and salesforce.com’s financial services announcement meshed, but perhaps the thread running through all this is the obvious need for systems that support best practices and the ability to create them.  In the end that might be the easy part.  The hard part will be re-programming the electro-chemical computers between the ears of a lot of executives who reflexively think first and last about the bottom line.

So, what did you think?

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