TORONTO (04/27/2000) - The difference between setting up a business-building customer contact system today and just 10 years ago is about as great as the difference between checking an order status on-line and visiting Mr. Drucker at the General Store. And what's at stake is more important than ever -- building customer satisfaction and loyalty in a world where service is increasingly becoming the greatest competitive differentiator. Customers stayed with the General Store because it was the only game in town. Today, anyone with an idea and a URL can make a bid for your customers. As companies realize they need to update their customer contact strategies and systems, many are tempted by the idea of a "little pink pill" -- that one-step, shrink-wrapped system that will deliver the ideal electronic Customer Relationship Management (eCRM) solution.
But the pink pill for eCRM simply doesn't exist. An eCRM solution should give you a single, enterprise view of each customer, so that every interaction builds on the history of previous interactions. With this single view, you can anticipate customer wants, needs and expectations; each interaction works to strengthen your relationship and improve loyalty. That's why today's enterprise-wide eCRM architectures are complex. Companies need to apply expertise in multiple technologies and system integration to obtain a single view of the customer and apply emerging rules and actions, so that each customer interaction, regardless of the contact channel or the area of the company contacted, delivers a consistent experience that leads to the outcome you and your customer desire.
THE ONE-DIMENSIONAL VIEW
Most large companies have numerous legacy systems that grew up around products or company divisions. As customer contact channels expanded beyond snail mail to call centres, VRUs (Voice Response Units) and now the Internet and e-mail, each new channel was connected to the legacy systems as a separate project.
Projects were completed in an uncoordinated fashion by various divisions, product managers and IS groups. The result is a "spaghetti" architecture in which each channel is connected to legacy systems in a siloed manner. These siloed architectures do not allow for easy communication between contact channels or company departments -- one hand literally doesn't know what the other is doing. As well, siloed architectures cost 30 per cent more to build and maintain. And it can take as much as 30 per cent longer to execute business changes across channels and systems, a major time and cost disadvantage.
THE ENTERPRISE VIEW
Today's eCRM architectures require a broad approach, and a vision that encompasses strategy, process, operations and technical architecture. Several companies have been successful with a phased approach to implementing cross-channel architectures that support the entire enterprise. Successful strategies are grounded in vision, architecture, integration and business benefits. The system you employ today should also be ready to accommodate the growth in technology and in your business tomorrow. Arranging your customer interaction engine around a functional, flexible core allows you to leverage your investment into the future and become an early adopter of service techniques that give you a world-class reputation with your customers. The integration, methodologies and procedures required to create a truly customer-centric eCRM solution are staggering. It usually requires integrating, testing and maintaining technologies from seven to 10 vendors, including:
- Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) middleware for resource tracking and integrating messaging between access channels (VRU, Automatic Call Distributor, e-mail, etc.) - Web interaction, personalization and self-help software for collection and synthesis of a customer's interests, preferences and patterns on your Web channels. - An operational customer data repository to store customer contact events, contact history, preferences, value and current situation across all channels, products and divisions. This provides a single operational view of the customer to direct interactions and allocate contacts based on a customer's preferences, value, situation and historical interaction activity. - A soft data-based rules engine to route contacts across channels and prescribe actions to deploy. Actions might include: the script to play, Web page to display, product to cross-sell or pricing plan to offer. - Data-mining tools to examine the customer data repository for customer segments and trends in buying patterns, script response and behaviour after offers, automated replies and direct interactions. - A databased workflow/CRM package for process execution, case management, follow-up and fulfilment. - Reporting tools to provide feedback on the success of targeted campaigns, customer segments, and customized rules and interaction strategies. - Rules engines for targeted up-sell and cross-sell. - Communications services to databases, legacy systems and the channels themselves. - Channel infrastructure and enablers such as e-mail, call centre, Web application servers and network, etc.
Once fully deployed, the business benefits of a complete, true eCRM solution are phenomenal. Product managers and marketers begin to experiment with new customer target segments, new scripts, offers, Web pages and e-mail responses.
You can quickly change business actions and scripts to targeted customer segments -- coupled with a short reporting cycle to create an unprecedented environment that truly responds and interacts with customers. You can cross-sell based on a customer's needs -- not on the product or script "du jour". Complex contacts spanning Web, e-mail and call centre channels will be tracked in context, eliminating the need for the customer to explain a problem time and again. And these are just a few examples.
IT'S ABOUT CUSTOMERS, NOT TECHNOLOGY
There is only one reason to employ a world-class eCRM solution: growing customer relationships to grow the business -- creating loyalty that keeps your customers happy, faithful and coming back for more. As the Customer Relationship Pyramid shows, there are many levels of customer service. Most companies, due to the siloed effect, are stuck at the bottom two levels of the pyramid. Their customers are ripe for the picking by competitors because their service is spotty and inconsistent. Their customers don't know who the companies really are or what they really stand for. As products become more commoditized and new buying channels continue to appear, these companies will lose share and customer mindset.
THE ELUSIVE PINK PILL
Given all that's involved in creating a business-building, customer-centric eCRM solution, it's easy to see how some companies may yearn for the simplicity of a little pink pill. And while there are single-point solutions that deliver a fragmented customer view and service levels at or near the bottom of the Customer Relationship Pyramid, no complete pink pill solution exists. As in life, there are few simple answers to complex problems.
Greg Stack is a senior vice-president and co-founder of eLoyalty, formerly Technology Solutions Company's Enterprise Customer Management practice.