Multiplicity Means More

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[NOTE: This article is the first of a two-part series. The conclusion will appear in the May 2008 issue of CRM magazine.] Multichannel CRM seems simple enough, on its face: Allow a customer to start her experience in one channel and to complete it in another. The reality, though, can be complex: After beginning a purchase at a company's Web site, the customer may call the company's contact center (which should know, in real time, her pre-call Web-site moves); then, to finalize her purchase, she visits the brick-and-mortar store (where the staff needs real-time knowledge of both her Web-site and contact center activity). In other words, true multichannel CRM requires proactively implemented processes and technology to facilitate sharing real-time information across multiple channels. Best-in-class, multichannel CRM companies include J.C. Penney, Eddie Bauer, and L.L.Bean in retail; Allstate, E*Trade, and ABN-AMRO in finance; AT&T, Verizon, and Vodafone in telecommunications; and General Electric and Gateway (now Acer) in manufacturing. What makes these companies the best? First, they carefully segment their respective customer bases. Second, they know, within each identified segment, the exact channels their buyers prefer. And third, they have understood that multichannel CRM is a mandate for conducting business with the omnipotent Digital Client. To better understand the possibilities of multichannel CRM, let's turn to the 105-year-old American Automobile Association (AAA). Most folks know AAA as the tow-truck company -- but AAA is also one of the largest automotive and property and casualty insurers in the country, one of the largest travel agencies, and an increasingly important player in the financial-services marketplace. Moreover, unlike most companies, most AAA clubs already have multiple channels in place: the store (where you get maps or purchase AAA services); telephone (where you call into a membership, travel, or emergency contact center); ATM or kiosk (both inside and outside some AAA locations); direct mail (targeted mailings, AAA's magazine); online; and the emergency road service personnel who actually restart your car. So the potential to exploit multichannel CRM at AAA is plentiful. For example, customers can check availability or buy online and then pick up the product in the branch or store. But the back-and-forth between channels doesn't stop there: AAA can make cross-channel offers or promotions, permit in-store browsing before an online purchase from its Web site, offer online registration for store consultation, allow cross-channel returns, provide online access to information or loyalty programs that draw data across multiple channels, and much more. Effective multichannel CRM not only delivers a strong return on investment, but also reinforces the "single brand" concept: consistently positive experiences regardless of the customer's channel of choice. Retail customers using multiple channels for purchasing have two to four times the spend as those using only one channel. In retail banks, multichannel customers are 25 percent to 50 percent more profitable than their single-channel counterparts. In fact, within three years, in both the B2B and B2C sectors, 50 percent of customers -- and typically the highest-value ones, at that -- will be multichannel. We've seen an increase in the number of quality software applications enabling multichannel CRM: These typically provide a common platform to manage sales and service processes and knowledge across multiple channels; create common business rules and cross-channel workflows that permit continuous tracking of sales and service requests; and seamlessly integrate their CRM functions with information coming from the company's back-office (e.g., financial, manufacturing) systems. To deepen your multichannel CRM, research the latest offerings and case studies. Learn about your customers' and prospects' channel preferences. Then create a multichannel action plan that initially integrates processes and technologies across just two channels; later you can expand to more.
[NOTE: This article is the first of a two-part series. The conclusion will appear in the May 2008 issue of CRM magazine.] Barton Goldenberg is president and founder of ISM Inc., a CRM real-time enterprise consulting firm in Bethesda, Md. He is the author of CRM Automation and the publisher of The Guide to CRM Automation. Contact him at bgoldenberg@ismguide.com.
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