NEWS ANALYSIS: Tank! questions the role of CRM - This year's summit in Monte Carlo put relationship building under the spotlight

"Most people don't want a relationship with their bank." This was

the controversial opening statement made by Bob Tyrell, director of

Sociovision, at this year's tank! Forum, the summit for direct marketers

in financial services. His comments were particularly stark considering

that the two-day conference in Nice last month focused specifically on

CRM.



Tank!, now in its fourth year, is a private club with hundreds of

members from more than 80 firms in the UK and abroad. Drawn from senior

decision makers, of which 76 per cent are at director level, all have

one common goal: to consolidate best practise and raise standards of

customer communications.



Tyrell's words were a wake-up call to the delegates whose jobs are

precisely about relationship building. CRM as most of the audience

understood it, he added, was dead: "You have to get real and decide what

your customers mean to you and why."



Every company, he asserted, must identify whether a one-to-one

relationship with customers is really what they are striving for. If

not, they must decide whether the relationship they seek should be

purely value-based.



"It's a choice between CRM - something that's important in the longer

term - or CVM (customer value management), where the focus should be on

the 'now'," he said. "You must put technology, churn and retention, and

this year's profits above building a relationship with your

customers."



But with technology often the reason why CRM projects fail in the first

place, there were no surprises when the IDM's Julia Foster unveiled the

results of Gartner's latest survey: 65 per cent of CRM packages do not

fulfil their promise.



According to Caroline Marsh, sales director at Virgin One, technology

should not be bought as an end in itself. Speaking to delegates, she

said: "Technology is an integral part of CRM, but it must be

intelligently combined with people."



The critical issues up for debate, such as customer-centricity, had all

been identified by delegates in the previous six months since the last

forum.



This sort of communication is at the heart of the summit, both in terms

of networking opportunities and dissemination of industry knowledge and

insight. But at this summit it was announced that the Tank! Forum would

no longer be about one-off, soon-forgotten events: it would now operate

a "continued learning process", according to Sean Larrangton-White,

chairman of Tank! and marketing communications manager at Royal Bank of

Scotland.



He revealed that he, along with fellow "Tank! drivers", will work to

sustain dialogue. Tank! will communicate with delegates and designated

people within their companies all year round by direct mail, email,

phone, fax, visits, and even one-day seminars. "Tank! is unlike any

other conference, anyway," he explained. "This will allow us to review

the progress and learning gained in the lead up to each future

summit."



The ethos of Tank! is based on the constant improvement of techniques

and, as a result, the reputation of direct marketing in the financial

sector. This is mainly achieved through the world's largest direct mail

bench-marking system which it has in place, collated and monitored by

ACNielsen MMS. Industry standard data is collected every six months from

participating members in complete confidentiality and provides a chance

to share and compare results with member companies.



Using this direct mail library, Tank!, in collaboration with the Royal

Mail, created the People's Choice Awards. Presented on the first night

of the summit, it is the only consumer award to recognise direct mail

excellence in financial services and identify those who are performing

to the highest of standards. The mailings are split into five categories

and the winners were: credit cards: Egg; personal loans: Co-operative

Bank; savings: Capital One Bank; general insurance: Prudential; and life

insurance: M&S Financial Services.



With 68 delegates, numbers were not as high as had been expected. "But

when you consider that 40 per cent of UK conferences have been

cancelled, let alone international ones, it was a huge achievement,"

said Larrangton-White.



Delegates unanimously agreed that Tank! is undoubtedly the only way

forward for the industry. And the numbers of institutions taking part

pays testament to its importance, proving that the financial sector is

eager to improve its reputation.



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