If there was one central notion emphasized at this year's AIIM conference in Boston, it was that of integration. Presentations echoed the key idea of collaboration among applications and processes. The future of CRM, attendees were repeatedly told, rests on putting to use Web 2.0 techniques and entering into the conversation with user-generated content (UGC).
In a compelling presentation, Bryant Shea from the Molecular interactive agency extolled the importance of "Building Online Communities." The session provided case studies for successful integration of UGC--and also several horror stories. The lesson was that today's consumer has too much power to be ignored. The Molecular group lists five reasons CRM vendors should sit up and pay attention to UGC: to gain insight into the customer; to reach the customer in a new way; to extend brand loyalty; to increase sales and decrease costs; and to promote brand awareness. (See "Power to the People," December 2007, page 28, for more on UGC.)
UGC's benefits may be clear, but what can it really do for CRM? Computer giant Dell hit the UGC integration jackpot with its message board--style site IdeaStorm. To engage the customer and promote customer service, Dell asked site visitors to submit ideas for new products. Within a short period of time, Dell received overwhelming input from users requesting pre-installed Linux on their PCs. Over the span of a few days and with relatively no money spent, Dell gained new insight on what customers really want. No need for surveys or test groups.
Shea referred to message boards as virtual "smoking lounges"--prime spots for consumer venting, praising, questioning, and informing. Integrating customer service into the user-generated arena can prove valuable for both parties.
An August 2007 survey from online research publisher Bazaarvoice showed 97 percent of consumer respondents found ratings and reviews online either "extremely helpful" or "very helpful." At Amazon.com, for example, gathering consumer ratings contributed to the site's enormous success. "If you look back to Amazon with their ratings and reviews, people believe in them and people like them," Shea said. "They are the biggest mainstream vendor that gave a voice to customers." Now the bar is set for other companies: Consumers expect to be engaged in a conversation. UGC makes CRM a truly two-way street.
According to Shea, UGC has two other implications for CRM. One, it can help customer service providers work more efficiently. With Web-based resources, an increasing number of people are educating themselves online first before reaching out to contact centers. This cuts down on phone time for agents--customers are more efficient with relaying their problems.
On the flip side, Shea suggests that, because consumers are more educated than ever before, they now have higher expectations from the agents on the other end of the line. He draws a comparison with people going out to buy a new car. "They are saying, 'I want this, this, and that for this amount of money.' In essence, that is the same as call centers: Customers are saying, 'I did the basic research, I expect you to be one step above that.'"