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Want to eliminate customers? Here’s how.

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Customer Elimination Management (CEM), a term coined by Direct Marketing Hall of Fame member (and father of your loyal author) Herschell Gordon Lewis, is Customer Relationship Management’s evil twin. It is, ironically, the unofficial goal of many putative CRM initiatives.

Don’t believe me? Here are two cautionary tales from the CEM archives:

Our first lack-of-service provider is a well-known credit card company. One of its credit cards sits in my wallet. Nonetheless, I receive promotional mailings from this company every week offering me pre-approved credit cards. As with its competitors, most of these mailings offer me a low, low initial APR of they-pay-me-to-take-their-money for the first three months, after which they make a Mafia loanshark look like a piker (I think “APR” stands for Abysmal Public Relations, but I’m not sure). Customer disloyalty programs like these, that reward non-customers while penalizing current ones, are a hallmark of CEM programs.

I actually opened one of these mailings, disguised as it was as a monthly statement, and read of a new card offered by the company that awards travel miles. My current card doesn’t do that, so I called, only to find that no, they can’t add travel miles to my existing account. They would, however, be more than happy to give me a second card that does award travel miles. All I’d have to do is fill out an application.

Hold that thought.

Second company: A Wi-Fi service provider. As it handles an airport through which I travel rather frequently, I have an existing account. So when I was traveling through another airport recently for which the same company provides Wi-Fi services, I decided to sign in, only to see …

A different login screen — this one asking for my cell phone number and offering to add the cost of the service to my cell phone bill. A bit of searching reveals that you can just give it a credit card instead, if you’re the kind of heathen who uses someone else’s cell phone. But nowhere can I login using my existing account.

Who cares — it costs nothing to open an new account, so I start to do so, when a link to the company’s privacy policy catches my eye. It’s a good privacy policy, too — ironclad protection of my personal information. There’s even a “supplemental privacy policy.”

To provide further safeguards? Here’s what it says: “We disclose that information, and you consent to such disclosure, to those merchants involved in the transaction, to your credit card company and bank, the merchant bank, merchant aggregators, Payment Processor and other companies or service providers used to facilitate or complete the transaction (‘Third Parties’). Information about you received by those Third Parties will be governed by their own privacy policies, not this User Agreement or the AT&T Wireless Privacy Policy.”

Which is to say, this provider awards to everyone in the world the right to use my information however they see fit without my ever knowing about it, all the while claiming points for protecting their customers. (Credit where it’s due: Ed Foster has written about this subject, with regard to Ticketmaster, which has a similar privacy policy, in Gripelog — www.gripe2ed.com.) This isn’t a privacy policy. This is a complete absence of privacy policy.

No thanks.

Two companies, two industries, but kindred spirits. Both have invested heavily in customer relationship management. They’ve issued press releases extolling the virtues of their programs and the value they’ve received. Their IT leaders have been interviewed and extolled as visionary thinkers helping their companies advance their business strategies.

Yet neither provider is even able to keep track of me as a customer.

The first wants me to fill out a new application form, to give it information it already has about me, so it can sell me a new product I don’t want instead of providing the service I do want. CEM at its finest.

The second also can’t keep track of its customers — at different airports it uses independent account databases and billing schemes, while hiding a craven lack-of-privacy policy behind the excuse of third-party contracts. It could, of course, have negotiated those contracts to ensure the privacy of its customers, but it didn’t bother.

Neither of these companies has grasped the most basic notion of CRM — that it’s about managing customer relationships.

What about that is so difficult to understand?