Underwater Basket Weaving

People of a certain age will remember this: Back in the ’60s and ’70s, UBW was the kind of “useless” course you supposedly took in college if you were part of the countercultural fringe. Regardless of whether this was true back then, these days it’s difficult to find a program that is truly academically challenged. A degree in customer relationship management (CRM) is the closest to a Ph.D. in macramé that you’re probably going to get.

A couple of weeks ago, Operations & Fulfillment assistant editor David Pluviose struck up a conversation with a shuttle bus driver during a business trip. The driver, who was studying marketing at a local university, was taking a course on customer relationship management. He was part of a team of students whose assignment for an entire semester was to define CRM. “He said they had dozens and dozens of definitions,” David reports. “They were wracking their brains and could not for the life of them come up with anything, and were concerned that they were going to fail. I was shocked at the seriousness of this.”

As well he might be. If this is what universities offer for the tens of thousands of dollars students plunk down, is it any wonder that we bemoan the state of American education? Dumbing down, jock courses, abysmally low SAT scores, and reading skills five years below grade level have become part of our lexicon.

I’ll concede that a traditional classical education may not help anyone earn a decent living today, but the so-called mercantile subjects can not only be taught with an equal amount of rigor and discipline, they are also practical enough to help you become more successful at any type of commerce. For example, recent research at universities has shown how to apply conventional quantitative models to Internet businesses. But why would you need to take college courses to be nice to customers? It isn’t as if CRM is a discipline with bodies of knowledge to build on. One hysterical sales pitch I received for a CRM show trumpeted that the event would feature exhibitors from “e-crm, mobile data, call center, knowledge management, sales and marketing automation, marketing database, contact management, field service management, data warehousing, marketing strategy, and many others.” Vendor terms all; nothing academic about this, and nothing that requires months and years of study and discussion. If you plan to go back to school for CRM, my counsel to you is what David advised the bus driver: “Don’t sweat it.”

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