NEW YORK—When it comes to business relationships, the power has drastically shifted away from companies and into the hands of customers, speakers agreed on day two of the CRM Evolution conference at the Marriot Marquis hotel here. "Companies are trying to think about cross-channel interactions and cross-channel experiences, but customers don't see channels. They just see engagements," Volker Hildebrand, vice president of product marketing of CRM at SAP, said during the keynote panel Tuesday morning, "and that's where our focus has to be as well."
Before companies can effectively engage with their customers, however, a culture of internal engagement must be thoroughly embedded internally, Bob Stutz, group vice president of Dynamics CRM at Microsoft, said. Though businesses are actively striving to tear down the silos between marketing, sales, and service departments, divisions remain and communication barriers consistently prevent the kind of interorganizational engagement that the current market requires. "Of course engaging with customers is crucial, but you can't hope to do that effectively if you can't get the people in your company to engage with each other," Stutz said.
Because today's consumers are not only socially connected and digitally savvy but also "channel-blind," the biggest challenge for companies is gaining a single view of the customer while simultaneously giving her a single view of the company as well, Charlie Isaacs, the chief technology officer of consumer connection at Salesforce.com, said. "We need to start thinking of engagement as a service, and engage customers on a one-to-one basis consistently while maintaining context throughout the buying cycle," he explained.
In the financial services industry, for example, companies have learned that engaging customers isn't about choosing the right channel, but rather offering the right combination of channels. In the past, direct mail was the most effective way to reach customers—the vast majority of applications were filled out on paper, and mailed to companies. Today, though direct mail remains the most popular way to send out credit card offers, more than 43 percent of applications are completed online, Margot Vaughan, senior vice president of global customized marketing at MasterCard Advisors, said. "Most of the banks have pretty much stopped mailing applications. Most just mail out an offer with a unique invitation code that can be redeemed online."
Financial services companies such as Citi Bank and Bank of America are using other channels to drive engagement as well. Citi Bank, for example, uses YouTube videos to inform customers about existing rewards programs and offers, while Bank of America