Skip to main content

by Phil Friedman, Marine Industry Consultant

In one of its brochures, a leading developer of CRM software explains customer relations management in the following way:

“… CRM is customer relationship management … CRM lets you store and manage prospect and customer information, like contact info, accounts, leads, and sales opportunities, in one central location … a CRM solution is a game-changing piece of technology for every industry under the sun — from retail and manufacturing, to real estate, construction, and many more … CRM can help you ,,, Increase leads … Close more deals … Drive customer loyalty and satisfaction ….”

If you have a relatively new car or boat that you have serviced at a brand dealership, you’ve likely experienced what I call the ‘New Age of Customer Relations Management (CRM)”.   Shortly after making your service arrangements, you received a text or an email confirming your appointment. Then a day or two before your scheduled visit, you receive an email or text reminder.

When you showed up at the dealership, your name was on a welcome board. During the work, you received one or more text updates on progress. Then a notification when your car or boat was ready to be picked up. A day or two after you picked up your car or vehicle, you likely received a survey by email (or maybe even a follow up telephone call) to see if everything was completed to your satisfaction and if you were satisfied with the treatment you received.

If you responded at less than a 10/10 level, you likely received a follow up telephone call from a “customer satisfaction advocate” (not from the Service Manager him- or herself because they are often too busy). Sometimes — but only sometimes — you will have received a follow contact from someone in a position to make right anything in your service-visit experience that was unsatisfactory. And on a more general basis, the New Age of Customer Relations Management will have brought you birthday and anniversary greetings and personal notes about product that the dealership’s contact stats say you might be interested in.

Customer Relations Management Vs. Customer Service

But while all this might have been part of your “customer experience” (CX), you should note that none of it involves actually customer service (CS). For CX ≠ CS, at least not in the real world.

I was recently discussing this with a long-time friend and major boat dealer, Gary Dobrindt. Gary has for 45 years owned and operated The Boat Center in Madison, CT, which serves the waters of the Hammonassett River and Long Island Sound. And he’s been a dealer for major lines such as SeaRay and ProLine, as well as having been for many years the largest Bayliner Motoryacht dealer in the country.

When I asked Gary what he thinks are the core components of a “good customer experience”, he said without hesitation, “Communication and, of course, Service. No matter how well you communicate with your customer, you ultimately must still deliver the service to go with it.”

For Gary, it’s not a mystery. If you sell a boat, you have to deliver it as and when you promised to. If something breaks, you need to fix it on a timely basis and you have to stand behind the warranty. If one of your customers leaves something on in his or her boat for several days and, as a result, finds on a Saturday morning the boat won’t start because of a dead battery, you need to send out a truck or boat to jump-start him or her and save their weekend picnic cruise. Simply sending a friendly text message or a birthday greeting is just not going to make it in those circumstances.

“There is a significant difference between customer relations management and customer service…”

Now, you might think that’s self-evident. But often, it’s not. Especially when you’re talking to fans of CRM — who, in my experience, tend to think an uncomplaining customer is a satisfied customer. Which I can tell you is far from universally true.

Some years ago, when I was running a multi-location Hatteras and Bertram dealership on the west coast of Florida that was in turnaround circumstances, I initiated a study of customer satisfaction. That study found customer relationship management — or more accurately, a cluster of the tools and techniques we now consider key elements of CRM — could often be used to quiet customer complaints. However, that didn’t mean customer dissatisfaction went away, only that it was submerged. We found, in other words, that dissatisfied customers often remained friendly to our sales and other staff and just went away without making a fuss. Not a great result by anyone’s standards.

“At its irreducible core, customer satisfaction requires delivering fair value for what was paid, no ands, ifs, or buts. No excuses…”

And no mountain of CRM-generated thank-you notes, customer surveys, solicitations for suggestions to improve service, or other CRM-generated stroking will substitute for genuine customer service.  CRM can be used to keep your customers quiet because few people care to make trouble for those whom they like and who are friendly to them. But, if it is used in that way, without being paired with genuine customer service, it does so by wearing the customers down.  And a worn out customer doesn’t come back.

Customer Satisfaction Tips

As my good friend, Gary Dobrindt, points out, you can’t satisfy everyone all of the time but you can satisfy most customers most of the time… if you:

1) Deliver what you promise and accept payment for;

2) Deliver a level of quality in goods or services that is at least commensurate with, but preferably, in excess of the price you charge;

3) Promptly correct or redress any problems or fulfillment shortfalls that crop up as the result of your firm’s errors, missteps, or over-representations — and sometimes even redress problems that do not originate with your company.

That’s what customer service is all about. And unless your target market is limitless, and you can maintain and grow your business while continuing to burn through quietly dissatisfied customers, you need to see beyond “managing” those customers to satisfying them. Moreover, you need to see CRM for what it is, namely, an adjunct to Customer Service, not as a replacement for it.    —  Phil Friedman

Author’s note: Interested in reading more about customer relations management versus customer service?  Go to:

About Phil Friedman   –   Phil is a marine industry consultant, project developer/manager, and marketing and small-business startup expert with the Port Royal Group in the greater Fort Lauderdale, FL area.

With 30 some years in the marine industry, he has worked variously as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine business manager, yacht surveyor, consultant, yachting writer and editor, and industry educator. He’s also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiating and mediation. His current work includes the start-up management for two new yacht lines being built in China.

Phil is always up for talking about new projects and can be contacted at 1.954.224.2145 or

DockMaster Software is an industry leading management system for marinas, boatyards, and boat dealerships. DockMaster includes Unit Sales, Prospecting and F&I with fully integrated financial management and numerous integrations with CRM applications, dealer websites and text/messaging services. The Service module includes estimating, labor tracking, and complete parts management with ordering/receiving, subcontractor fulfillment and invoicing. DockMaster Mobile allows technicians to clock on/off jobs from any mobile device. Visual Marina™ management includes storage & billing, occupancy tracking, reservations and dry stack management, including integrations to leading consumer applications for boat rentals, online reservations, concierge/launch scheduling and our new Fuel Integration with FuelCloud. DockMaster also includes Point of Sale, Order Entry with eCommerce and a complete accounting system. Learn more at and follow DockMaster on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and LinkedIn. Or email

Leave a Reply