Customer Relationship Management is now considered something of a proven success. It’s all about making the right offer to the right person at the right time and if a system can help you do that, then you’d be a fool not to sign up surely.

Or would you? What about luck, what about learning from mistakes? Their role in forming strong, lasting relationships with customers could be being sacrificed at the automated altar of CRM.

Just over 59 years ago, Alan Turing, the pioneer of modern computing, tragically took his own life. His name lives on, not just in a shameful story of how a national hero was all but killed because of his sexuality but also in the Turing test.

The experiment is still the ultimate test of artificial intelligence. It basically involves a blind conversation between a machine and a person. If the computer can convince the person they are a human being then the holy grail of artificial intelligence will said to have been reached.

That, in an ideal world, is what our CRM systems should be doing. People like dealing with people.

No machine has ever passed the Turing Test.

Computer CRM works on a relatively simple model. What a customer did in the past, they are likely to do in the future. There’s logic – of course, these are computers – in that, but what about the flash of inspiration and the happy accident that a human can bring to these transactions? They are sadly lacking, and the way they work also limits the opportunities of customers to chance upon things they may really want.

Already, experts in education and philosophy worry that we’re living in a world where predictions rule the day. Google autocompletes your search query based on what you’ve already looked for. Will we end up going down the same well-trodden paths?

Marketing research from the University of Maryland’s Professor Rebecca Ratner confirms that humans remain reassuringly human. That is, infuriatingly unpredictable to the extent that subjects in her study often choose to do things they had no particular wish to, even when offered an alternative which they knew they preferred. We’ve all probably got memories of doing something out of duty or because we feel we ought to.

In marketing terms that’s possibly interesting, but almost impossible to work with. Until you discover that Professor Ratner’s team found that these less-preferred choices reinforced the pleasure of the preferred choice and made subjects more loyal to it for longer.

So, perhaps we should turn off the CRM occasionally and throw our customers a curve ball. What is your experience with the effect of CRM on customer relationships?