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Measuring Customer Relationship

Management Performance:
A Consumer-Centric Approach
Markus A. Zinnbauer
Markus Eberl
ABSTRACT. The concept of CRM has evolved into an inherent com-
ponent of the sales processes of most medium-sized and large compa-
nies. However, despite the high costs involved, the quality of its
implementation has hitherto been neglected. To provide the conceptual
qualitative CRM control that is lacking, we have developed a measuring
instrument that allows the evaluation of the activities in the three core
CRMdomains, namely interaction, insight and offer. We pilot-tested the
tool in an automotive industry setting and the results reflect the CRM
status quo achieved by twelve national and foreign brands. [Article cop-
ies available for a fee from The Haworth Document Delivery Service: 1-800-
HAWORTH. E-mail address: <docdelivery@haworthpress.com>Website: <http://
www.HaworthPress.com>2005 by The HaworthPress, Inc. All rights reserved.]
KEYWORDS. Customer relationship management, automotive indus-
try, national brands
Business literature is frequently concerned with the numerous and
varied impacts, such as the yet to be ascertained change from a seller to
a buyers market and the increasing homogenization of products and
Markus A. Zinnbauer and Markus Eberl are affiliated with Ludwig-Maximillians-
Universitt of Mnchen.
Journal of Marketing Channels, Vol. 12(3) 2005
Available online at http://www.haworthpress.com/web/JMC
2005 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1300/J049v12n03_05 79
services, faced by business. It is therefore no wonder that the mainte-
nance and management of customer relationships currently pose a fun-
damental challenge to companies. Simultaneously, customersespecially
those in the end customer marketsare exposed to increasing levels of
stimuli, culminating in an information overload (Malhotra, Jain, and
Lagakos, 1982, pp. 27-29). In turn the latter makes mass communica-
tionoften the lifeblood of client communicationmore difficult.
In response to these developments, companies have for some time
adopted an approach that focuses on relationships with customers. Cus-
tomer relationship management (CRM) is based on the notion that suc-
cessful customer relationships are a prerequisite to better fulfillment of
customer requirements, which in turn translates into a strategic gain in
competitive advantage. The customeras a scarce resourcehas become
the main element of long-term company success.
From a review of the relevant marketing literature, which is often
concerned with theoretical applications and practical implementations
of CRM concepts, the following research question arises: To what ex-
tent are such customer-oriented processes implemented in the corpo-
rate reality? In general the quality of CRM measures implementation,
and, in particular, the issue of identifying a valid corresponding analy-
sis, have until now remained largely unexplored. That is why todays
CRM research is also concerned with the performance measurement
of CRMactivities and data integration aspects (Cuthbertson and Laine
2004, p. 291).
Existing concepts of CRM control usually stem from consulting
practices and are heavily slanted towards an investment theory perspec-
tivea concomitant rate-of-return orientationor evaluate froman inter-
nal point of viewonly. (Examples are scorecard systems by Foss, Stone,
and Woodcock (2003) or CRMmetrics by Younker (2001).) We, on the
other hand, will make the point that it is the customers perspective that
counts: one cannot judge the implementation of CRM from a technical
internal perspective. Active or potential customers never evaluate the
internal perspective of the firms CRM systems conceptualization or
set-up, but rather assess how they actually behave towards them, the
customers. And yet, most existing CRM measures do not focus on this
dimension of CRM implementation.
As far as the lack of precedents allows, this paper will develop a mea-
suring instrument capable of assessing relationship managements ob-
servable key dimensions. Since customer orientation is by nature a
dynamic process, the tool should also be suitable for regular application
in time-series studies. In addition, the results of a pilot study conducted
within the automotive industry will also be presented, thereby providing
a detailed insight into the status quo of CRM activities in the German
new car market (as opposed to used cars).
The automotive industry is an appropriate test market because, on
the one hand, product homogenization and dwindling levels of preoc-
cupation with prestige (and the associated increase in price elasticity)
can be identified, rendering classical generic strategies inadequate
(Cornette and Pontier 2002, pp. 177). On the other hand, there are ex-
tremely costly sales structures due to sales intermediaries key position
(e.g., Landmann, Wolters, Bernhart, and Harsten 2001). In such a mar-
ket environment channel management becomes a critical issue (Mehta,
Dubinsky, and Anderson, 2002).
CRM can potentially lead to a decisive and irreproducible competi-
tive advantage in the automotive sector, especially in the new car busi-
ness (Starkey, Williams, and Stone, 2002, p. 378). More emphasis should
therefore be placed on dealer evaluation by using qualitative measure-
ment standards (customer loyalty, among other things) and they should
be rewarded accordingly (Jackson, 1997, p. 2). By extending the conti-
nuity of relationships as revealed by after sales services, repurchases,
cross selling and recommendations, customer loyalty can have a posi-
tive impact on profit maximization in the long run (Palmer, 1994).
In the following section, the term customer relationship manage-
ment will first be defined and its relevance to the automotive market
highlighted. The CRMfeatures relevant to this paper are then identified.
Thereafter a measuring instrument as well as its constituent weight fac-
tors is discussed before the results of the pilot study are reported in the
final section of the paper.
Customer Relationship as a Vital Value
The foundation for research on customer relationship management
was laid in the late 1970s when discussions about channel management
led to a deeper understanding of intangible assets such as the relationship
with customers (e.g., Rosenbloom, 1978, p. 185 f.; Stern and El-Ansary,
1977, p. 222 f.).
Berry (1983, pp. 25) defined the concept customer re-
lationship marketing as attracting, maintaining and [ . . . ] enhancing
customer relationships. In doing so, a strict delineation of transition
marketing and relationship marketing was observed. The increasing
Markus A. Zinnbauer and Markus Eberl 81
significance of the relationship aspect was described as a new market-
ing paradigm in business-to-business (Blois, 1996) and consumer mar-
kets alike (Malhotra and Agarwal, 2002) while also deploying the
Internet (Bauer, Grether, and Leach, 2002). The transition led to cus-
tomer loyalty becoming the priority instead of customer acquisition,
maximization of sales volume and accumulation of anonymous customer
opinions. Accordingly, the traditional stimulus-response perspective gave
way to an interaction-oriented approach.
From a corporate point of view, the objectives of customer satisfac-
tion, customer loyalty and commitment or retention as well as cross
selling are therefore pursued in order to increase long-term yields (An-
derson, Fornell, and Lehmann, 1994, p. 54).
When acknowledging the existence of a marketing construct cus-
tomer relationship, the question of its controllability arises automati-
cally. It is this aspect of CRM that has attracted significant attention
from both a theoretical point of view as well as from the practice. In the
respective literature, CRM is mostly defined as a two-dimensional pro-
cess parallel to a customers life cycle and based on various manage-
ment concepts, producing a mutual advantage in the long run (for a
detailed overview of the sub processes, cf. for example Srivastava,
Shervani, and Fahey, 1998, p. 5 f.). With reference to the management
of such sub-processes, Reinartz, Krafft, and Hoyer (2004, p. 295) iden-
tify the evaluation of and interaction with customers as the main con-
trolling dimensions throughout the whole customer life cycle. Other
authors neglect the life cycle dimension and place more emphasis on
management aspects such as the selection, individualization, interaction
and integration of the customer.
Yet, despite the shift in perspective from object to process orienta-
tion, classic marketing instruments like price and product have not, of
course, become obsolete. Rather, activities have to take the entire busi-
ness process instead of individual parameters into account (Grnroos,
1990, p. 3).
Core CRM Capabilities
In order to make the implementation of CRM activities measurable,
the normative measurement standards used in this study are demands on
the company that have been inferred from the relevant theory. Making
such inferences is legitimateafter all, the customer is only able to judge
observable company performance from an external perspective, which
is why the perceived CRM quality is a unique target variable for the
company. The term subjective quality (Jiang, Klein, and Carr, 2002,
p. 145 ff.), as understood in general and in marketing-specific literature
on quality (cf., in particular, Zeithaml, 1988 and Garvin, 1984, p. 27), is
assumed to be valid in the CRM domain (Gummesson, 1987, p. 18).
The capabilities that any random company or automobile manufacturer
must possess to achieve the above-mentioned CRMgoals will therefore
be assessed and evaluated. In order to identify these capabilities, the rel-
evant literature has been analyzed and the observed CRMcompetencies
have been categorized.
As discussed above, the CRM process is often conceptualized as two
dimensions: the customer life cycle and various management concepts.
As the management concepts requirements do not vary widely between
the stages of the life cycle, our research objectives could profitably fo-
cus on only the management functions operationalization. Those capa-
bilities that are mentioned in the literature, and which various authors
have postulated for successful CRM implementation, are depicted in
Table 1.
All approaches obviously share one common component, either
communication or interaction with customers (e.g., Lin and Su, 2003,
p. 721). Morgan and Hunt (1994) have also shown that communica-
tion is a key driver of trust and relationship commitment. It is also un-
derstood as common grounda companys product and service range
is a central component within its relationship with a customer. Sharp
(2003, p. 9), for example, points out the importance of an early inte-
gration of customer needs into product and service development. Cus-
tomized product offers are also key for online offers (Srinivasan,
Anderson, and Ponnavolu, 2002, p. 42). Furthermore, the majority of
authors agree on the importance of getting to know the customer in or-
der to gain valuable insights (e.g., Reinartz, Krafft, and Hoyer, 2004,
p. 295). Directly linked to the latter are postulations concerning the
consistency of interaction (e.g., Day, 2003, p. 78 or Fill, 2001, p. 413),
which requires a comprehensive syste as well as data integration by
means of an integrated marketing information platform (Parvatiyar
and Sheth, 2001, p. 20).
Other aspects, such as organizational structure, arent relevant to this
study as they mainly affect corporate efficiency rather than having an
impact on the relationship itself.
In summary, three core capabilities have been identified that are pre-
requisites for successful CRM and stable customer relationships: inter-
action between the company and customer, the product and service
Markus A. Zinnbauer and Markus Eberl 83
TABLE 1. Required Competencies for Successful CRM
Author(s) Identified CRM Capabilities
Laine (2004)
Customer knowledge
Customer contact
Process of data capture
Orientation (focusing employees on customer retention)
Communication and therefore gaining of customer data
Configuration (utilization of the data during interaction and developing
of products and services offered)
Seamless intra-organizational interaction (consistent
information flow through system integration)
Organizational incentives
Gaining understanding of the market structure
Customer interaction
Customer insight
Lin/Su (2003) Customer knowledge
Customer interaction technologies
Customer value
Ling/Yen (2001) Analysis to gain customer insight (Profiling)
Customer interaction
System integration
Sheth (2001)
Team structure
Role specification
Common bonds
Planning process
Process alignment
Employee motivation
Monitoring process
Tzkoas (2002)
Engaging customers in learning relationships as part of value maximization
Market orientation
Analytical capabilities
Operational capabilities
Hoyer (2004)
Customer evaluation (understanding)
Customer interaction
Design of transaction processes
Sharp (2003) Interacting
Analyzing and learning
Planning (market strategies)
Contact Interactivity
range (customer offer) and the perceived consistency of the interactions
with the company.
In the following, this core capability structure provides the basis for
the construct CRM qualitys further operationalization.
Customer Interaction
According to Parvatiyar and Sheth (1994, p. 1), a core capability that
will determine the degree to which the value of customer relationships
is increased is the development of close interactions with selected cus-
tomers by means of a sensibly organized and interactive sequence of
verbal and nonverbal communication.
During the first stage, the initiation phase, there is no formof interac-
tion. At this stage the channel enabling a customer to seek contact with
the company is established. Interaction only occurs when some form of
verbal or nonverbal communication has taken place in this pre-relation-
ship phase (Andersen, 2001, p. 172), and during which the communica-
tion normally possesses the potential to bring about behavioral change.
It is important to differentiate between direct and indirect customer
interactions since the communication that each demonstrates has a dis-
tinct level of individualization.
Indirect market communication can be described as a form of mass
media appearance which is not addressed or personalized, but is con-
structed to generate reactions by means of a clear invitation to act.
Therefore indirect communication describes a mediated connection be-
tween communicator and recipient.
The publishing media are specifically characterized by a one-sided
(on the senders side) application of technique (Picot, Reichwald, and
Wigand, 1997, p. 64). Under this category, the various advertising carri-
ers, such as daily newspapers, popular magazines, brochures and fliers,
can be differentiated. Consequently, it is possible to activate responses or,
through the layout of the advertisement, evoke distinct responses.
In comparison, direct customer interaction takes place during per-
sonal dealer visits, i.e., either when a customer visits dealers or during
telephone calls. Such bilateral interactions are a prerequisite for develop-
ing the relationship to the level of negotiations (Dwyer, Schurr, and Oh,
1987, p. 13). The dealer can approach the public or individual customer,
too. There is an increasing belief that, relative to other variables, direct
communication and the accompanying individuality and interactivity
will be far more important in future (Landmann et al., 2001).
Markus A. Zinnbauer and Markus Eberl 85
Since there is no clear boundary between direct and indirect interac-
tions in the literature, this paper classifies commercial advertisements,
brochures, e-mails/letters, websites and newsletters as indirect cus-
tomer interaction. Communication channels such as call centers and
personal visits to the dealers are categorized as direct communication.
Customer Offer
When discussing customer relationship management issues, one
must not forget that not only communication aspects impact on the rela-
tionship quality, but that they are also heavily influenced by an individ-
ual product and service range. This is achieved by proactive marketing
and the availability of a customized and individually tailored offer
(Day, 2000). Individualization in production involves the manufactur-
ing and selection of products. The possibility of offering tailor-made
products with individual modifications, such as highly individualized
auxiliary services, is becoming increasingly important. Ford USA, for
example, already offers customized automobiles straight from the plant
(Winter, 1999, pp. 21)a move contrary to its founder Henry Fords phi-
losophy that: You can have any color car you want as long as its
black (Pine, 1993, p. 7). This study does not explore unrealistic ideas
like maximumindividualization translating into absolutely unique auto-
mobiles, but rather the kind of product individualization that has already
surfaced and takes the formof a variety of designs, engines and extras.
Consistency of Interaction Channels
As shown above, apart from aspects of customer-specific interaction
and products or services, another constitutive capability has been identi-
fied. Many authors have particularly emphasized the aspect of understand-
ing customers needs in order to gain insight into their motives and
behavior. Strictly speaking, customer insight refers to the customer-related
information that a company possesses and which is relevant to its situation
in the market. The objective is to have the clearest possible picture of the
customers need structure and behavior. Hence, the gaining of insight acts
as a catalyst between the interaction/data gathering in the front office and
the back-office processes such as, for example, product development. Con-
sequently the saving, transmitting and processing of customer data within
and between communication and interaction channels have become major
research interest areas.
Acompanys knowledge of its customers becomes accessible by verify-
ing the consistency between the contact channels, since a customer always
wants to receive congruent information regardless of the chosen communi-
cation medium. The understanding of customer demands is therefore not
only reflected by the ability to offer adequate products or services, but also
by the ability to deal consistently with a customers requests. Thus it is of
utmost importance to ensure that information disseminated to a customer at
different points of contact is constantly and seamlessly coordinated and
synchronized (Fleischer, Hersch, and Hollman, 2001, p. 62).
The above mentioned CRM aspects are without doubt differently in-
fluenced by company characteristics and the time period. Our measure-
ment model is primarily concerned with the level of activity in each core
capability. Before the theoretical constructs like customer interaction,
customer offer, and consistency of interaction can be operationalized,
the directly observable, and therefore measurable, variables (indicators)
have to be defined.
Since the simultaneously complex and soft research issues do not
allowa purely mathematical examination, only a scoring procedure will
be practical and, above all, universally applicable Moore and Baker
(1969, p. 214). In respect of the absolutely justifiable criticism of scor-
ing approaches,
Lucas and Moore (1976, p. 4), for example, stated that
such models support procedural rationality, thereby making decisions
more comprehensible and controllable. The constructs are deconstructed
into several levels: the main criteria are followed by various levels of
sub-criteria depending on the complexity and variety of an issue. Finally,
at an operational level, indicators that are measurable, i.e., items, are used
for observation purposes. They are then assessed and aggregated at each
level using expert-approved weight factors. Consequently, the relative
significance of the single factors can be examined in the participating au-
tomobile manufacturers evaluation of CRM activities. The level of ac-
tivity can also be identified at any level of the catalogue of criteria. The
weights of the various criteria were also validated by a secondary study
on the purchase of new cars in Germany (Zinnbauer and Eberl, 2002).
To calculate the index weights derived from the measurement instru-
ment, the following approach will be adopted: the sum of all weighted
factors within a channel, or, rather, at each criterion level, yields 100
points, as illustrated in Figure 1. All variablesmostly measured on a
seven-point rating scaleare standardized according to the applied scale,
ranging from 0 to 100 points.
Markus A. Zinnbauer and Markus Eberl 87
Operationalization of Customer Interaction
The following sections briefly describe the most significant features
of our survey tools design.
First, the main criteria and the corresponding main communication
possibilities which enable the measurement of a companys CRMactiv-
ities in the field of customer interaction will be investigated. The com-
munication media will be taken into account in keeping with the Media
Richness Theory (Daft and Lengel, 1984) and the Social Presence The-
ory (Short, Williams, and Christie, 1976) that claim that the communi-
cation media are capable of transporting the richness of information and
guarantee sufficient social presence. In March 2002, two focus groups
and two in-depth expert interviews were conducted, leading to an evalu-
ation scheme consisting of six channels: publication (a commercial ad-
vertisement and brochure), e-mail/letter, website, newsletter, telephone
and dealer visit.
Through the most recent publications in practical journals as well as
two further focus groups and interviews with the two experts mentioned
above, sublevels were identified and relevant fine criteria developed, as
shown below. Subsequently, seven expert interviews were conducted in
order to validate the produced catalogue of criteria and to determine the
relative importance levels of the channels and their subordinate items as
shown in Figure 1.
Call Center
Dealer visit
Mfrs Website
Dlrs Website
25% General dsgn.
Info. offer
Info. gain
40% Product pt.
Product info
Dealer search
Qual. of ad.
FIGURE 1. Exemplary Section of the Weighted Criteria Catalogue
More often than not, the first (time-wise) type of communication media
a company utilizes is publication, e.g., automobile manufacturers and deal-
ers commercial advertisements and brochures. The contact possibility
(interaction channels offered, contact costs), motivation to contact and
possibility of response (coupons, etc.) will therefore be evaluated. In the
pilot study, manufacturers commercial advertisements in newspapers and
dealers advertisements in the local classified directories and daily newspa-
pers were examined. Brochures were requested from all the participating
manufacturers via their respective Internet sites.
E-mails and letters were treated as equivalents and analyzed identically;
an extra criterion called proactive follow-up (i.e., an offer by a dealer to
make contact in the future) was added. All written communication sent out
by manufacturers and dealers were considered equally important. These
activities were evaluated by posing standardized questions to manufactur-
ers and dealers (on both test drive possibilities and their products). We then
analyzed the quality and swiftness of an automotive corporations reply, or
of its dealer networks reply to a consumers request.
The evaluation of the (end customer) automobile manufacturers and
dealers websites is sub-divided into three main criteria: general de-
sign, information offer (e.g., search for dealers, car configuration,
and downloading possibilities) and information gain (generation of
personalized customer data, e.g., via the request for a prospectus or an
offer of a test drive). The ratio of manufacturer to dealer website is 3:1,
because the latter has minimal significance with regards to an informa-
tion search. As known from the literature, individual services, like car
personalization and configuration (Sorge, 1999, p. 5), offered to cus-
tomers as well as the general appearance of the site, known as the char-
acter (Srinivasan, Anderson, and Ponnavolu, 2002, p. 46), are especially
important. We obtained comparable results in respect of our survey
when structured search mechanisms were used on a test computer.
The evaluation of newsletters as a communication channel is based
on three main criteria: formal aspects (e.g., registration process, per-
sonalization), content aspects (informative and motivational (to seek
contact) elements) and innovative, special characteristics.
In the case of call centers, service and technical aspects (e.g., in-
curred phone-bill, business hours and waiting time), social compe-
tence possessed by the call center agents (e.g., conversational skills,
conversational atmosphere, and intelligibility) and the agents techni-
cal competence (which is especially relevant) (Hall, 1992, p. 141) were
assessed from a customers point of view since this is the only valid
measure for service quality (Miciak and Desmarais, 2001, p. 347).
Markus A. Zinnbauer and Markus Eberl 89
The quality was assessed by three standard telephone scenarios that
reflect three different levels of (technical) difficulty. The difficulty lev-
els were taken into consideration during the evaluation of this studys
empirical findings. Since, for example, waiting times tend be perceived
as double as long when one is queuing (Cleveland and Harne, 2003), a
wait of more than three minutes is graded as unsatisfactory.
Personal conversations conducted during dealer visits, i.e., visits to
the dealer, were evaluated according to the following main criteria:
technique/service (opening times, waiting times), external appear-
ance of sales room and sales person, social and technical competence
of sales person (analogous to a call center) and sales person seeking
contact after the visit.
A particularly important criterion is the documentation of customer
data. This makes it possible to approach a (still undecided) customer
with a renewed offer later if the customer data are captured initially.
In order to examine this aspect, two different scenarios depicting short-
term intentions to purchase were developed for each of the dealers in the
volume and premium segments of the automotive industry. These scenar-
ios were role played by test persons (silent shoppers) on comparable week-
days with regard to two independent dealers of every car brand investigated
in this study. The scenarios tested the salespeoples ability to identify the
prospective clients social style, which is widely recognized as a key skill
(e.g., Spiro and Weitz, 1990, or Rich and Smith, 2000) as well as the sales-
persons self-efficacy (Srivastava, Pelton, and Strutton, 2001, p. 15). The
results were immediately registered at the end of the visits.
Operationalization of Customer Offer
An offers potential degree of individualization was also measured.
The main criteriacore product, direct and indirect auxiliary of-
fersserved as the basis of this evaluation.
The car itself and its primary design fall under the heading core prod-
uct. Vehicle-related offers like services, accessories and individualized
financial offers like leasing and insurance, dealers network and deliv-
ery possibilities were classified under the main criterion direct auxiliary
offer. Other than the possibilities for complaint and feedback, the main
criterion indirect auxiliary offer includes instruments for nurturing cus-
tomer loyalty, such as the existence and composition of a customer club,
customer magazines and online offers.
In the area of customer offer, most of the relevant data are of a techni-
cal nature, for example, the number of possible configurations. This in-
formation was required for the pilot study and could mostly be obtained
from the manufacturers information brochures. To acquire survey in-
formation on the dealer network, information was sought from the call
centers. Some informationlike the service efficiency and capacity, for
examplewas acquired during anonymous dealer visits.
Operationalization of the Information Channels Consistency
The final core capability to be evaluated was the consistency of the in-
formation channels. We assume that consistent communication from the
customer to the firmis mostly achieved and in general unproblematic (ex-
cept for cases of intransitivities, etc., that are not covered here). Consis-
tent communication fromthe firmto the customer is more problematic as
it assumes that the firm has a customer knowledge base at its disposal.
One may also call this knowledge base the quantity of customer insight
on which the firm can draw.
This customer insight was evaluated in our study by the consistency
within a channel or between multiple parties. An efficient CRM is only
possible when data are organized and transmitted in a loss-free and struc-
tured manner (e.g., from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to
the dealer). An additional essential condition is the provision of a soft-
ware-technical reflection of CRM within the dealers operations (Holt,
2002, p. 33). This is a prerequisite for the creation of a comprehensive
profile of the customer and his needs, which in turn enables the develop-
ment of successful product innovations and adaptations (Davenport, Har-
ris, and Kohli, 2001, p. 67). The network connecting all the points of
contact is critical because the customer should always be able to choose
the medium that is most readily available and most preferable in terms of
price and service.
The evaluation of the overt, and therefore measurable, customer in-
sights can be achieved by means of diverse and realistic scenarios that
utilize a combination of channels (cf. Table 2). We started with all theo-
retically possible combinations of first and second contacts and devel-
oped plausible settings for typical customer inquiries for all of them.
Again experts from the automotive industry evaluated the scenarios
with regard to validity and typical appearance in corporate practice. The
settings were analyzed by means of the criteria data integration and
consistency in content and the results of all the scenarios were equally
Markus A. Zinnbauer and Markus Eberl 91
The results collected in the pilot study with the instrument developed
in this paper were next evaluated. The pilot study assessed 12 automobile
manufacturers and their dealers in the Munich region. Since the manufac-
turers follow a regional dealer monopoly policy, one or two dealers of
each brand were available for evaluation. In order to control for the differ-
ent corporate strategies, manufacturers with plants in Germany were dif-
ferentiated from importers, while volume providers were distinguished
frompremiumbrands. The individual manufacturers were categorized by
experts from the automotive domain.
This research strategy is also supported by the data, which confirm
that volume and premium providers show significant variances in their
CRM activities. From this one can infer that only the manufacturers be-
longing to the same segment are comparable with one another. Table 3
provides an overviewof the research objects, i.e., the brands, and the car
models that were used in the mystery shopping scenarios. Acomparable
standard configuration was chosen for every model.
TABLE 2. Scenarios Used to Verify Consistency
Assessment of the
reply via
letter/e-mail from
the manufacturer
Call to the
call center
Visit to dealer,
or calling the dealer
Input on the
Enquiry via the
Internet (for more
detail on the
letter/e-mail see
under heading
Operationalization of
customer interaction).
Complaint about not
receiving prospectus
which had been
requested via the
Internet. Questioned
call center on
whether the previous
contact had been
Complaint that the
prospectus which
was requested via the
homepage did not
arrive. Questioned
dealer on whether
previously logged data
can be accessed.
Visit to dealer,
or write-up by
the dealer
Enquiry at the dealer
(for more detail on
the letter/e-mail see
under heading
Operationalization of
customer interaction).
Test enquiry to call
center to check
whether enquiry with
dealer could be
Not applicable.
Call to the call
Technical enquiry
with request for a
reply by letter or
Test call with respect
to previous com-
plaint call.
Recorded if dealer
followed up request
for test drive through
the manufacturer.
Since the automotive industry is very active in terms of product
launches, advertising, and back office processes, the risk of this study
was that changes over time could lead to biased results. To avoid this,
all evaluations were conducted from April 23rd until May 11th, 2002.
Customer interaction and consistency between channels were analyzed
by 24 graduate students in order to provide unified backgrounds during the
mystery shopping scenarios within the channels call center and visit to
the dealer. We selected students with a low level of knowledge of the in-
dustry, rejecting those with personal experience of or family bonds to the
automotive industry, and gave them a joint in-depth briefing of the study
and evaluation criterias goals. They received course credits for their par-
ticipation and in regular reviewing sessions during the fieldwork they re-
ported and discussed their findings and evaluations. During the play acting
the students adopted the role of young professionals with a high buying in-
terest, since in Germany this is a typical group of potential buyers of the
volume- and premium-segment models selected for our survey.
For reasons of comparability every team covered only one specific
channel as a medium of first contact. Each team, comprised of two stu-
dents, had to arrive at a mutual evaluation. Consensus was achieved in re-
spect of all evaluations.
This method had the advantage that grading within a channel was done
as consistently as possible throughout the brands. However, it was impos-
sible to control interpersonal differences regarding grading and biases re-
garding brands at this stage of the pilot study, but they were evened out to
some degree by the mean evaluation of the various teams per channel. For
the measurement of interaction capabilities in the publication channel, re-
gional and national newspapers and magazines published during the field
work were analyzed.
Markus A. Zinnbauer and Markus Eberl 93
TABLE 3. Segment-Specific Classification of Manufacturer and Types of Stan-
dard Models
Domestic German Importer
Volume segment Ford (Focus)
Opel (GM) (Astra)
Volkswagen (Golf)
Fiat (Stilo)
Peugeot (307)
Renault (Mgane)
Toyota (Corolla)
Premium segment Audi (A4)
BMW (3-series)
Mercedes-Benz (C-Class)
Jaguar (X-Type)
Volvo (S40)
Customer Interaction
Table 4 illustrates the values allocated to the individual automobile
manufacturers at the main criteria level; their aggregated totals for the
core capability customer interaction are also included. An examina-
tion of the aggregations of manufacturer-specific score values reveals
that only one of the 12 manufacturers achieved more than 50 points. Just
as interesting is the fact that the defined groups did not demonstrate any
differences. This implies a general, relatively lowlevel of exhaustion of
the possible measures of interaction.
The low total values are without doubt largely attributable to the uni-
versally lowscores in the domains publication, brochure and newslet-
ter, which is true for all the examined manufacturers.
The publication (commercial advertisements) criterion ranged from
11 to 23 and from 10 to 18 for the volume providers and the premium
segment respectively. However, this criterion has a particularly special
position which has to be considered in the interpretation of results. It is
likely that commercial advertisements, especially those presented by
the manufacturers, do not just target a behavioral response in the form
of contact seeking fromthe recipients. The advertisements are rather in-
tended to have an effect in respect of engagement, especially in this case
as automobiles are high involvement products. This assumption is sup-
ported by the survey outcomes: an investigation of the dealers adver-
tisements consistently revealed more possibilities for the customers to
TABLE 4. Measurement Results of Customer Interaction
Premium provider Volume provider
Criterion Weight
Call center 12% 70 60 63 31 62 49 63 56 63 70 32 48
Visit 50% 71 46 47 33 40 40 46 54 34 48 36 32
Internet 18% 55 53 64 33 61 53 50 55 47 52 48 33
Publication 5% 18 16 10 13 18 23 20 11 11 19 14 15
Brochure 5% 23 18 32 8 40 9 25 19 27 20 20 34
Letter/e-mail 5% 29 53 39 23 23 23 32 37 29 57 49 40
Newsletter 5% 33 0 0 0 15 0 0 0 0 35 35 0
Total (100%) 59 44 46 28 43 38 43 47 36 48 36 32
seek contact, thereby largely making use of the mediums interaction
potential; other than telephone numbers and contact addresses, e-mail
contacts were also usually provided.
While none of the researched commercial advertisements utilized the
possibility of a response element, one of the brochures provided by the
premium provider Volvo did do so. Other manufacturers excluded both
the response element and other contact possibilities in their brochures.
Both the volume and premiumproviders brochures only rarely provided
the features studied in this paper. Offers of interaction were sometimes
confined to a link on the website, or a telephone number that was not
toll-free, thus leading to a low score rating. The mean of the examined
brands is 22.8 points.
Only four manufacturers/dealers offered newsletters as an interac-
tion channel. Their lowscore values are universally attributable to a low
level realization of both the contents of interaction possibilities and
In contrast to the automobile manufacturers rather minimal usage
of the classic communication medias CRM potential, the possibili-
ties of customer interaction via website were better utilized. A no-
ticeable difference between premium and volume providers was
again observed: while the former has been awarded a mean of 53.2
points, volume providers achieved 48.3 points on average. Differ-
ences are especially visible in the information offer aspectan item
heavily weighted in the measurement instrument. With the exception
of Jaguar and Toyota, this aspect demonstrates a relatively narrow
range of evaluation outcomes. In this dynamic medium, the risk of a
permanent competitive disadvantage is particularly real for latecom-
ers (Clemons, 1991, pp. 26). Moreover, at first the (financial) costs
outweigh the saving potentials and usage (Alford, Sackett, and
Nelder, 2000). The high scores in the information gain aspect were
interpreted with caution: a theoretical maximization of information
gain would not necessarily lead to better relationships with custom-
ers. This applies particularly to the acquiring of personal data. This
trade-off with which the manufacturers have to contend is also re-
flected in the score values. In this context, the score values are inter-
preted as completely satisfactory.
The majority of manufacturers was awarded more than 50 (out of a
total of 100) points for one of the research variables, the direct interac-
tion channel call center. The mean of the investigated brands is 55.5
points. It is once again interesting to note that the group forming the six
most active providers consisted of three premiumand three volume pro-
Markus A. Zinnbauer and Markus Eberl 95
viders. However, individual manufacturers exhibit very clear differ-
ences in single aspects, as reflected by the manufacturers Peugeot and
Audi which were awarded more than 70 points each for their call cen-
ters CRMactivities; these values being more than twice that of Renault
and Jaguar. The identified differences can be traced back to technical
issues covered by the evaluation criteria, for example, a 24-hour ser-
vice, a toll-free telephone number, or the waiting time before an agent is
reached. There is a tendency for providers with national plants to ex-
hibit a higher level of activity than importers; the former obtained a rela-
tively high mean of 60 points, while the latter achieved a mere average
value of 48 points. An exception is Peugeot whose activities have
already been mentioned.
In contrast, manufacturers call centers demonstrate little variance
in social competence when dealing with general information enqui-
ries. The mean of this aggregated criterion is 65 points, which high-
lights the fact that most of the manufacturers undoubtedly recognize
the importance of the social competence factor for customer relation-
ship. Although room for improvement does exist, the employees
have been well trained. Only manufacturers who ascribe little overall
significance to call centers also scored low on social-competence-re-
lated activities.
In the event of a complaint call, the main criteriondocumentation of
customer data and recognitionis of particular significance. Almost all
the manufacturers achieved 100 points for this aspect. These results im-
ply that manufacturers appreciate the important role often (and legiti-
mately so) played by complaint management in customer relationship.
The agents at the telephone center have permanent access to the contact
history and, to a large degree, meet the social competence demanded
from them.
Contrary to the call centers, dealer visit meets only a fewof CRMs
demands. With the exception of Audi, which achieved 71 points, none
of the other research participants obtained more than 54 points. Yet, the
result findings show the sales persons social competence to be a rela-
tively highly evaluated factor; the scores are comparable to the corre-
sponding evaluations obtained for the respective call centers. In the
context of dealer visits, all the manufacturers performed unimpressively
on the critical factors, namely documentation of data and re-seeking
contact. All the researched participants documented less than half of the
data that could have been recorded. Eventually only Audi and VW deal-
ers made telephone calls to follow up on sales.
Customer Offer
Both the values of the main criteria and the aggregated total scores of
the core capability customer offer are presented in Table 5. The re-
sults reflect clear differences between the national manufacturers and
importers groups. It can thus be claimed that, in the context of the main
criterion core product, national manufacturers offer a wider range of
models and car variants than importers. This also applies to premium
and volume providers. National manufacturers consistently achieve
values of over 50 points, while none of the importers obtained more
than 50. This finding supports the assumption of there being differences
in the strategies adopted by manufacturers with respect to the breadth of
the product palette offered within the country.
The criteria direct and indirect auxiliary offers yielded a similar
picture. However, there is a tendency for national providers from the
premium segment to be awarded higher index values (ranging from 64
to 75 points), while the corresponding national volume providers only
managed a range of 45 to 68 points. Consequently, it can be said that
premiumproviders offer a broader spectrumof auxiliary services. The
same applies to the importers. However, this finding is not surprising
because differentiation by means of auxiliary services can be regarded
as a constituent component of premium positioning. In this case it is
not only the qualitieswhich were not measured in the context of this
studythat are important; rather, it is the quantity and the concomitant
freedom of choice (with respect to the auxiliary features) which are
more significant.
Markus A. Zinnbauer and Markus Eberl 97
TABLE 5. Measurement Results of Customer Offer
Premium provider Volume provider
Criterion Weight
Core product 60% 56 68 60 24 50 67 53 66 36 50 44 48
Direct auxiliary offer 25% 64 68 75 40 44 48 45 68 54 42 34 39
Indirect auxiliary offer 15% 47 40 53 0 30 20 33 47 40 27 20 0
Total (100%) 57 64 63 24 46 56 48 64 41 45 38 38
Consistency of Interaction Channels
Table 6 illustrates the aggregated and weighted total scores of the
core capability customer insight. It is striking that as a rule of thumb
all the volume providers had higher evaluations than their premiumcoun-
terparts. The only exception is Mercedes which, like Renault, achieved 81
points, thereby reflecting its achievement of the greatest degree (rela-
tive to the other participating companies) of data integration as mea-
sured by the formulated scenarios listed in Table 2.
The manufacturers have to a large extent realized the centralization
of customer data. The call centers of the brands BMW, Peugeot, Volvo
and VW were unable to access customer data that had already been pro-
vided online. Of all the dealers, only the Renault dealer could access
data that had been entered on the manufacturers website. The consis-
tency of the data flowing from manufacturer to dealer appears largely
healthy; however, none of the researched brands had a data integration
mechanism that emanated from the dealer. These results point to the
dealers needs with respect to the technical requirements for an inte-
grated CRM; however, the results are plausible in the context of an
intra-brand competition between dealers.
The criterion of consistency between the requested information ob-
tained from different sourcescall centers and dealerswas verified by
means of the delivery data of the investigated standard models. This cri-
terion was fulfilled in all the cases in which it could be researched. In
other cases the problemwas overcome by assuming that call centers are
basically an indication of their respective dealers competence.
In comparison to other criteria, the partial criterion test drive via
Internet presented problems. The interest in a test drive was expressed via
the manufacturers website. However, only four dealers followed through
with the promised telephone call. In three follow-up calls by importers, a
TABLE 6. Measurement Results of Customer Insight
Premium provider Volume provider
Customer Insight 50 44 81 25 44 75 75 63 69 63 81 69
smoothly functioning data flow between the various interaction channels
as well as between manufacturers and dealers was demonstrated.
In this paper we have shown that customer relationship management
activities should not only be evaluated from an internal process-driven
standpoint, but also from the customers perspective since the success
of CRM activities can only be judged by considering the target groups
As existing evaluation systems for CRM activities mostly draw on
efficiency measures like ROI, we propose a new approach by control-
ling CRM with a scoring model, therefore allowing for a more efficient
allocation of a companys CRM budget. One could therefore consider
this instrument as a measure of market outcome in contrast to the fi-
nancial input-oriented measures that have been used to date.
The natural affinity between the selected theoretical concepts derived
from the customer-interaction offer, the information-consistency triad
and the chosen-point evaluation model are highly suitable for research
purposes due to the associated transparency and relatively smooth ap-
plication. Our concept therefore contributes to current research efforts
by delivering a more rational controlling tool for CRM activities which
is particularly needed for qualitative aspects.
To provide management with a quicker overview as well as for sum-
marizing purposes, we propose to deploy a specialized score card which
displays all the maincriteria analyzedwithinthe surveyconcept (Zinnbauer
and Eberl, 2003, p. 47). Figure 2 presents an exemplary score card for one
of the evaluated brands in our study. It shows the scores for interaction
and offer on both overall and more detailed sublevels. Note that for clar-
itys sake consistency is depicted as only a total value.
The results of the pilot study within the automotive industry have con-
firmed that both premiumand volume providers have yet to fully exhaust
the CRMpossibilities. This is true whether the company is an automobile
manufacturer located in Germany or an importer. As expected, premium
and volume providers excelled in the individual offers dimension, but
surprisingly not in the customer interaction dimension: volume provid-
ers also strove for a deeper understanding of their customers needs.
Fundamentally, a lower score can be regarded as completely congruent
with the company strategy; after all, CRMactivities have to be planned ac-
cording to specific target groups and budget restrictions (Rigby, Reichheld,
Markus A. Zinnbauer and Markus Eberl 99
and Schefter, 2002, p. 103). It is merely a question of what importance a
single CRM activity is allocated in a manufacturers portfolio, not one of
performance. The latter can be easily judged through objective criteria as
found in our instrument, while the former has to be determined in respect of
the consumers habits. For example, why is the Internet less relevant to cer-
tain groups than to others (Novak, Hoffman, and Yung, 2000, p. 34)? Only
as far as soft variables like competence and friendliness are concerned, does
it not make sense to argue why more does not necessarily mean better?
Irrespective of the industry in which the tool is implemented, a cross-
industry comparison of CRM efforts is recommended. Industries like
banking and insurance could, for example, serve as benchmarks for the
automotive sector. These industries share the opinion that the relation-
ship with the customer is an indicator of company success and the prod-
ucts that they offer are also high-involvement goods. Companies could
therefore procedurally benefit fromCRMstrategies adopted by similarly
structured non-competitors.
For further research we suggest developing a unique tool with which to
control CRM within non-profit organizations, since Arnett, German, and
Hunt (2003) found that in this context different relationship characteristics
FIGURE 2. Exemplary Score Card
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