Consolidating CRM Resources

The very idea behind CRM is that the best way to serve and sell to customers is to understand them better and respond to them consistently across all channels and touch points. Now, two major customer touch points and data streams are coming together in what promises to be a leap forward in CRM operational efficiency. Web traffic data is starting to be integrated with call center systems to create a multichannel perspective of the customer. As these pieces fuse to a common interface, it allows unprecedented insight into real customer needs, interests and preferences.

One of the first examples of such integration is the melding of the WebTrends Data Conduit from leading Web analytics vendor NetIQ with the Siebel eBusiness Applications and the Siebel Call Center. Web information and analysis is fed directly to sales and service people via the addition of two new tabs to the familiar interface that a rep would regularly use. By clicking on the Web Visit summaries and Web Events tabs, sales and service reps can see histories of Web visits from a variety of perspectives, by customer account and by individual. There's no need to simultaneously run multiple applications to view this information, and together, the data represents a more holistic view of customers than could be achieved if the information is assembled in pieces.

The infusion of Web data gives live call center agents a clear picture of customer interests based on how they browsed a site. Screen views show how many different pages a specific visitor may have viewed, when he arrived, which products he clicked on or what parts of the knowledgebase he visited and how many minutes he spent there. "While a customer service rep is speaking with a customer, she can look back on a record all of the places on the knowledgebase that that particular customer may have searched for information," says Coleen Carey, director of product marketing at San Jose, Calif.-based NetIQ. "The beauty of this information is that these people have come to you."

Michael straub, director of alliances, technical services at Siebel Systems, says that such integration is a common demand among its call center customers. "We have seen a very widespread need to be able to integrate this Web traffic so that when registered users call in, there is comprehensive data kept in the Siebel depository to help improve conversion rates and build loyalty."

Mixing Apples and Oranges
Identifying decision makers and hot prospects, as well as turning browsers into buyers and buyers into loyal customers is indeed a technical matter of correlating massive amounts of Web data with information in other databases. "I think what businesses are finding out today is that Web data are massive in scale and highly complex in nature," Carey says. "You may have 60,000 records in your CRM system, but your Web site might get one million unique visitors on a daily basis." To manage such volume, Web data are housed in NetIQ's trademarked CommerceTrends Visitor Relationship Management (VRM) Web house and then exported to the Siebel database. In fact, Web data can also be integrated with a transaction database, a registration database, an ERP system or other databases. "As you can see from our Siebel integration," Carey says, "the CRM data are what we think is most critically important." CRM systems have all of the company, contact, product and transaction history information that, when combined with the behavioral Web activity, help create a single view of a customer across multiple touch points.

How quickly this information can be integrated is critical, especially given the pattern that many people go first to a self-service Web site to find information and then subsequently switch to the call center to make a transaction or to follow up. Customers could switch channels the following day or perhaps even hours or minutes later. At present, with the CommerceTrends system, data from the VRM Web house are imported to the Siebel database via batch processes that occur at intervals that the customer decides. Depending on how a company plans to use the Web, data could be loaded even on an hourly basis.

Real-time integration is just around the corner. According to Carey, NetIQ's next generation product will enable real-time reporting and is scheduled to hit the market "in the course of the next couple of quarters."

The links between these two systems enables some unprecedented functionality. Using Siebel workflow, a company can make a qualifying Web event a trigger for action at the call center. Such events could be when a visitor enters a particular section of the Web site, clicks on a banner ad or does something like download a free offer. Anytime one of those things happens, provided the information is loaded, an alert can be sent to a sales rep to follow up in a timely manner. Or in a service environment, if the system reveals that a particular customer is coming back multiple times to an area of the knowledgebase, such information could trigger a proactive service call to that account to make sure that the customer received the information she sought and was able to resolve whatever issue she had.

Something for Everyone
The integration of Web with other enterprise databases benefits the marketing department, so that they can better target and analyze the effectiveness of certain campaigns; sales, so they can identify cross-sell and upsell opportunities; and services, so that they can clearly understand issues or concerns that customers may have and respond proactively. It can also improve information sharing between a company's departments. "This provides the ability for a salesperson to understand the service issues that this person may have faced historically [so they can] be more sensitive and responsive or more timely in terms of the communication they make with the customer based on what their issues are," Carey says.

"It makes something that was an academic exercise into something that you can truly use in an operational sense," says Guy Creese, research director of Internet analytics at the Aberdeen Group. "They are making it much more operational than it has in the past, because the more people use the data and weave it into their daily lives, the better the company will be at analyzing how the Web site is used."

Web analytics has unfortunately been for a long time the bailiwick of only IT or marketing. Initially IT managed analytics, since they were trying to figure out traffic loads, and then a of couple years ago marketing got involved since they wanted to know their customers better and understand how people were moving through the site better. "I'm convinced that a lot of the value of Web analytics is passing this insight around the company to different types of people," Creese says. He says a product manager who is trying to figure out what features to put in a new version could get insight by looking at what features people check when they visit the online product page. "The information is there. It's just not passed on to those people who can use it," he says. Access to Web analytics is akin to having an ongoing focus group with potential benefits for multiple departments.

But to make sense of any Web-visit data, it does require customers to register and opt in to the collection of information. "In that sense, I don't see this as a panacea," Creese says. Not everyone will want to do that. "It's an absolute requirement [that companies have] a clearly stated privacy policy indicating what kind of information is collected and how that information will be used," Carey says. The most effective way to encourage registration, she adds, is to provide a satisfying level of return to the customer for allowing the information to be collected. That could be providing information on products or customizing part of a Web site to a particular enterprise with unique pricing, promotional offers, the ability to participate in customer surveys and so on.

The promise of real-time integration of the Web and the call center brings us closer to the goal of providing customers a consistent experience across all touch points. This space will undoubtedly take off in the coming months as Web analytics companies like NetIQ integrate with other CRM vendors and, likewise, Siebel and its competitors integrate with additional Web analytics providers.

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