CRM Association-Netherlands Rocks Het Huis!

I'm in love with Amsterdam....no wait, I love it but I'm not in love....
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

I'm in love with Amsterdam....no wait, I love it but I'm not in love....no, hold on, I like it a lot, but I'm not in love, nor do I love it.

The Theory....

Interestingly enough (to me at least and who else am I really writing this for anyway?), while this may seem to be nothing more than the ramblings of an emotional confused sensitive male, during my speech at the CRM Association NL spectacular conference a couple of days ago I spoke about those very emotions as a way of looking at how granular the knowledge of emotional states are for each individual human being when it comes to truly knowing how you feel. Humans actually operate a.k.a. live with this incredibly complex knowledge of their range of individual emotions. This is not how many loyalty marketers look at it, though. While by no means am I opposed to the science of loyalty marketing, what I find as often as not is that traditional loyalty marketers tend to reduce their view the universe of human connections and relationships in scales - often from 1-5. Without any disrespect to those who don't, a scary number of them see a "granular understanding" as a scale of 1-10 instead of 1-5. Metaphorically of course. Maybe.

(The problem is that loyalty (and advocacy) are the results of emotional connections to someone or something which can't be truly measured on a scale of 1 to anything. For example, what can you tell me of the loyalty of a person who measures 4.2 on a scale of 5 versus the commitment of another person who measures 4.5 on that same scale? Nothing. Broadly, does it matter to me or you whether or not the demographic segment that this person represents scales at 3.8 rather than 3.6? If it does, please see someone. Really.

Again, putting my edgy New York sarcastic blade aside for a moment, the way customers actually work is to get involved with a company in a way that satisfies the emotional (and buyers) needs of some aspect of our personal agenda at some time and over some time. We don't scale things. We say "they're really cool!" Not "they're just so 4.6."

Chris Brogan, one of the social media mavens that I thoroughly respect and actually like too, told a story on Callie Lewis's Geekbrief TV the other day about how a car service that that was supposed to pick him up to get him to Microsoft headquarters didn't show. He tweeted his anger/anguish and a CEO of a national car service sent him a tweet with "here's my cell." Call it whenever you need a car and I'll take care of it for you." Car came, Brogan happy, loyal customer. As Chris rightfully said, "Yes, you may say its opportunistic, but he listened (to the tweet) and he solved my problem and now I'm loyal to him."

That's what I'm talkin' about!

While this might be a long aside, a version of it was part of my speech and at the same time, I'm in love with Amsterdam and the Dutch and love the incredibly high caliber the CRM Association NL works at and I like the food a lot.

Amsterdam is So 5.0...err...Romantic and Amazing

I flew to Amsterdam as the second to last leg of "PG's 41K Flyabout" I had committed to speaking there, which I felt I should as the EVP of the CRM Association of the United States. It was a fellow association, after all though 3700 air miles away. I was in touch with the man who has been its face for several years, Wil Wurtz, who also runs Metrics and More, a company that designs the measures for companies so that they have some idea of how they have to perform to make their customers - and shareholders - happy.

But I had never been to Amsterdam, nor had I known that much about the CRMA-NL except that they were expecting around 200 people at the event, pretty much 100% from the Netherlands.

The Practice

In Love

One of the reasons that I loved this trip was that I had the opportunity to meet both Mark Tamis, who came in from Paris for the event and Wim Rampen - who lives in the area. If you don't know these guys, shame on you. Both are becoming key Social CRM/Social Business (call it what you will) thinkers in Europe and thanks to blogs and Twitter, internationally. You can find Mark's blog here and Mark on Twitter here. You can find Wim's blog here and Wim on Twitter here. This was my first opportunity to meet them. Mark got in early after a 6 hour drive from Paris and we met about 1 hour after I got to the Savoy Amsterdam Hotel (more on that later).

Mark graciously gave me a 5 mile walking tour of Amsterdam (he is a Dutch native living in Paris) that was not only great in terms of realizing the history of Holland and the remarkable nature of the the city but also a great chance to get to know this very fine human being.

Amsterdam is without a doubt a city that combines a remarkable history with a culture that might be unmatched anywhere in the world. Stunning churches with remarkably ornate rectories and ceilings that reached some point in the universe that was unviewable from the church floor - now museums. A culture that treated bicyclists as more significant than auto drivers. Thousands of cafes, restaurants, and bars, cobblestoned or bricked streets that saw human and bicycle traffic with the occasional car up on what you would think was a sidewalk. A people who are the tallest I've ever seen who drive cars half the size of what you see in the U.S. And are perhaps the most relaxed and funniest with, let's say, a lusty sense of humor, I've ever met.

At one point, yesterday morning, I looked out the window of my room at the Savoy Hotel and I saw a light rain falling that had coated the streets - made them damp with a little glistening, rather than really wet. Across the narrow street were these homes/buildings with courtyard like wide alleys - most of them built out of brick in the 17th century - also damp. There were two bicyclists - one riding slowly and steadily up the street; the other walking her bike. I started thinking "Van Gogh could have seen this exact scene" - which was entirely true until the BMW drove by. But the charm and romance of the thought really nailed me. I just simply "got" the city and the people at that exact moment.

I am in love with Amsterdam.


The CRM Association of the Netherlands (CRMA- NL hereafter), I would have to say, is the best organized, most substantial CRMA I've ever run across. Led by Wil Wurtz and Gerard Struijf, it has 200 member companies who support it wholeheartedly and in return it provides a range of services that any CRMA worldwide should be envious including this conference. This was a CRM Awards conference with awards for CRM Accelerator (went to UBS) and CRM Excellence (went to CarGlass) that are taken seriously. In fact, the only awards I ever saw taken as seriously were those that GreaterChinaCEM jefe Sampson Lee gave out at his conferences in Shanghai over the past few years to Chinese companies.

What also makes the CRMA-NL a gem is the way that they related to vendors. Unlike the incredibly ambiguous approach that U.S enterprise institutions have with the vendors - which is to treat them something like lepers with money - they treat vendors the same way as they treat practitioner companies - as companies who have something to sell because that's what companies do. Meaning the vendor sponsors are as integral to the growth of the CRMA-NL as the practitioners and are treated as equals - they co-mingle. They can talk with each other about anything they want. Sponsorships can be from Microsoft and Accenture as well as ING or DSM International. It kind of simplies what I alwasy see in the U.S. with conferences - contortions on the policy toward vendor sponsors. Our Dutch compadres have practitioner sponsors too - because of the way the vendors are perceived - as a company rather than a predator.

Lest you think I'm going soft, I'm not. Any company will still continue to be the public subject of my ridicule if they deserve to be. But other than that, they are on equal footing to me too.

OK. Now that I've protected my manhood, I'll continue on.

The conference was attended by both vendors and practitioner companies - mostly practitioners. I gave the keynote with a somewhat new version of the Era of the Social Customer (see below) -not the same as the one I did for the Lithium Social CRM Virtual Conference. I was told Dutch audiences are shy as an audience and direct as individuals. All true.

Here's the presentation. (Note: There this is a slidecast with creative commons licensed music. Maria Daines "Rollin'" Get it here.

When it was done, I spent the next several hours (except for an incredible interview with Sales Exactly correspondent Marielle Dellemijn that became so interesting a conversation, I was interviewing her as much as she interviewed me) fielding questions from individuals - being challenged (a little) on ideas, and having amazing discussions with the practitioners.

I was truly impressed by the commitment to CRM that these attendees had - meaning they were spending money implementing social CRM and traditional CRM.

  1. DSM (which is an international company) is carrying out a significant series of social initiatives that they are linking to CRM systems - particularly in e-commerce run by the Director, Corporate E-Business, Marc God. They are as good as or better than any I've heard of anywhere.
  2. Financial services giant, Robeco has a department, led by an industry veteran, Gerard Wolfs, who's sole purpose is to develop customer insight. Hear that? Not manage customer data, not use analytics per se - but to develop customer insight. An entire department. A whole department. Insight.
  3. The MC was a brilliant host named Rens de Jong. He is a radio personality and managing editor at BNR Nieuws Radio. Let me tell you, as a host, the man knows how to move a crowd. But more germane to Social CRM, he led an initiative at BNR, which is not a small entity, to develop a community of known listeners - and they are 4000 strong within a few months. Think about it. Radio listeners don't usually have names and lives associated with them listening. They just listen. The only data that normally is gathered is transactional such as the data that Sirius/XM has for those who subscribe or the names of donors to National Public Radio (NPR) in the U.S. But with the BNR community we are talking about living, breathing humans.
  4. Carglass Nederland (which does car glass repair and is international)  won the CRM Award 2009 for their company wide B2B and B2C implementation of an integrated customer centric strategy aiming at 100% satisfaction of customers. This involved all levels of the business and creative thinking around it.  For example, if your windshield breaks while driving, they send someone to you to replace it on the spot.  Customer experience indeed.  UPC Nederland, a cable company won the CRM Acceleration award for their progress in their customer-centric implementation and strategy. Meaning they don't allow it to bog down in the bureaucracy we often see when it comes to CRM programs.

Those are only a few examples. On the vendor side, Microsoft and Accenture along with BrixSoftware, a Dutch SugarCRM partner were particularly prominent. Martin Hermsen, who runs the Benelux CRM Practice at Accenture, was so astute and good natured that he got me a little closer to the "let bygones be bygones" stage with Accenture, with whom I've had a long standing animosity.

Okay, I know that this isn't some big "how to" piece on Social CRM or related to the ongoing discussion in social CRM practice that needs to continue. Honestly, if you have a jones for that right now, you should be reading Graham Hill's very important  "A Manifesto for Social Business" over at CustomerThink, and (note I didn't say "or) read Esteban Kolsky's absolutely extraordinary and groundbreaking series of five posts on "The SCRM Roadmap" (it starts with #1 here). They are groundbreaking. Any one or all of them will take care of that for you - and I'm sure that I'll have something to say to each of them because I never know how to keep my mouth shut.

But if there's anything I think characterizes Social CRM or the whole science of CRM in general its that it is a science of business that attempts to reproduce the art of life. That means what actual people are doing to improve how we contact each other is what really is exciting. So when I am blessed (in a secular way, of course) with the opportunity to meet those who are doing it in the business world - who are real humans, and not personas or avatars, once in awhile I'm taken so much by the experience that I feel compelled to deal with it one of the ways I know how - which is to write about it. Because the human part of it, not the processes, measures, or technology, is electrifying.

Like a Lot

I have to say that the overall hospitality was pretty amazing too. The Euro-style hotel, the Savoy Amsterdam (which makes all the sense in the world in Europe), had the requisite small room,

Savoy Amsterdam - See how charming it is?

Savoy Amsterdam - See how charming it is?

but unlike the Hudson Hotel in NY, of Margin of Utility infamy, the room was well laid out - i.e. I could get out of bed without smacking my head into a wall; and the amenities were meaningful - a free, full Dutch breakfast;extraordinary but low key service from the front desk; a free mini-bar. Even though the mini-bar was just a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, the idea was amazing.  "Free" and "mini-bar" are not a phrase you see strung together frequently.  Additionally,

The Room - Smaller than it looks, but great

The Room - Smaller than it looks, but great

there was a free bar - a help yourself kind of bar in the lobby - though I didn't partake.  What was astonishing to me in the "like a lot" was the hotel exceeded my expectations, which had been tempered by the Hudson Hotel in NY, because it was supposed "euro-style." Here not only were the accessories high end, but the value adds were wonderful and the service excellent - and most important, the room just big enough and comfortable enough to make its purpose successful - sleeping in it. Thus, the additional stuff went from being an ineffective mask like the Hudson, to a delightful set of additional benefits.

Enough No More

So, thank you to the CRM Association - NL. This was the best leg of the 41K so far.

The lesson on the Social CRM side, since I'm not supposed to be writing travelogues for ZDNet?

Loyalty doesn't lie in stats or data, it lies in humans being human and how you apply your business principles to that simple understanding.

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