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June 13, 2008

Postmodern CRM


 
Researching another article, it struck Your Truly how “Postmodernism” percolates through the entire discussion of CRM 2.0.
 
If it's true that academic thought trickles down to real life after a while, and there's always a lag of a few years between academic and popular acceptance and debunking (for example, Marxism, which has been considered passé in academic economics for years, is still alive and well) then this is postmodernism's hour of popular acceptance.
 
An aside: One can easily note a serious lag in naming of eras. We went from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment to the Renaissance to Modernism, which simply means "what's happening now," and evidently we're past that, because Postmodernism means "what happens after what's happening now." It might make more sense for whoever is in charge of attaching names to historical eras, to rename “Modernism” as “Romantic Rationalism” so we can keep calling today “Modern.”
 
No doubt "Postmodernism" is a word you've heard bandied about with abandon, so best to get a handle on that before we look how it influences CRM.
 
University of Colorado literature professor Mary Klages has a good intro to Postmodernism online, noting that it basically rejects boundaries between high and low forms of art, rejects rigid genre distinctions, emphasizes "pastiche, parody, bricolage, irony, and playfulness."
 
Postmodernism "favors reflexivity and self-consciousness, fragmentation and discontinuity, ambiguity, simultaneity, and an emphasis on the destructured, decentered, dehumanized subject," Klages says.
 
Rejecting rigid genre distinctions, pastiche, fragmentation, destructured and decentered… sounds a whole lot like Salesforce.com (News - Alert).
 
Postmodernism rejects the idea that there is a standard, a canon, a "right" way of doing things, and embraces the cafeteria model: "here are the options, pick whatever works for you." No attempt is made to bring different elements into unity, to enforce — or even suggest — that there are any universal standards higher than "What I want now." Each person creates her own truth and reality as she sees fit.
 
Postmodernism has no set menus, no food pyramids, and its operative model is a la carte. Take a bit of this, a bit of that, and presto: your own reality. That's made Marc Benioff (News - Alert) a rich cafeteria proprietor — spread the table and everyone can take as much or as little of whatever they like. No standard package, no prerequisites, just go out and make it up as you go along.
 
Whereas Modernism emphasized allegiance to overarching institutions and concepts, like nation and duty and honor, Postmodernism emphasizes loyalty to your homies, your tribe, your immediate social network. This reporter's Modernist father and grandfather drove Oldsmobiles, rooted for the American League and bought whatever the Boy Scouts were selling because that's just what you did. It was tradition. Loyalty.
 
Postmodern thinking scoffs at the idea that tradition means anything. Buy whatever car you feel like buying at the time, root for whoever you want to root for and if you like what the Boy Scouts are selling, fine, buy it, but never do anything "just because." Loyalty extends only as far as today's Facebook (News - Alert) connections and personal preferences.
 
Interestingly, Klages cites Frederic Jameson's insight which she describes as "modernism and postmodernism are cultural formations which accompany particular stages of capitalism."
 
Klages says that Jameson "outlines three primary phases of capitalism which dictate particular cultural practices. The first is market capitalism, which occurred in the eighteenth through the late nineteenth centuries in Western Europe, England, and the United States. This first phase is associated with particular technological developments, namely, the steam-driven motor, and with a particular kind of aesthetics, namely, realism."
 
One can also associate realism with Henry Ford's noted customer service policy on the Model T: "They can have it in any color they want as long as they want black."
 
The second phase occurred from the late nineteenth century until about World War II, Klages says, and is associated with electric and internal combustion motors, and with modernism. Associate it, for our purposes, with the mindset that customers shut up and buy whatever companies feel like making. Fill out the Customer Complaint Card and drop it in the box if you must. There. Feel better? Now get back in line.
 
"The third, the phase we're in now," Klages says in explaining Jameson's ideas, "is multinational or consumer capitalism with the emphasis placed on marketing, selling, and consuming commodities, not on producing them, associated with nuclear and electronic technologies, and correlated with postmodernism."
 
Is this right? Check guru Paul Greenberg's wiki on CRM 2.0. There Peter Hascher says CRM 2.0 is "a unique customer experience that enables customers and companies to develop new products and use existing ones in close collaboration. The barrier-free flow of information allows the community to identify the respective needs immediately and deliver the right solutions in an Agile (News - Alert) fashion. Overall, CRM 2.0 is inspired by postmodernism rather than modernism."
 
Is Hascher right? Let's explicate his definition and see:
 
"Unique," yes, a hallmark of postmodernism. "Close collaboration," yep, no more being dictated to by Henry Ford or impersonal corporations, today's customers are collaborators saying I want it like this, not like that. "The community," the basic social structure of postmodernism, yes. "Identify needs immediately… deliver the right solutions" check; your average postmodernist has the attention span of billiard balls.
 
So Hascher's right on it when he says CRM 2.0 is, in fact, Postmodern. The emphasis is on the personal experience as opposed to the objective meaning, since according to postmodernism's intellectual progenitors, deconstructionists like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Jean-Francois Lyotard, there is no objective meaning.
 
Summing up, Postmodernism would say there is no one objective truth or reality, but that each person has their own definition of what constitutes their own subjective personal truth and reality, and that it needs to be experienced in community.
 
CRM 2.0 would say there is no one objectively good customer experience, but that each customer has their own definition of what a "good" customer experience is, and that it needs to be experienced in community with the provider of the customer experience.
 
David Sims is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of David’s articles, please visit his columnist page. He also blogs for TMCnet here.
 

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