The Secret to Continuous Customer Management

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NEW YORK — From YouTube to Twitter to LinkedIn to WordPress, it's difficult to pinpoint what channel will be hot with customers and when. Connected and Web-savvy consumers have become channel agnostic to a certain degree, causing businesses to sweat it out in the distance. But if social CRM transcends tools and technologies as so many say, then what is there to connect enterprises with social customers? Newly announced Altimeter Group partner Ray "R" Wang told attendees at today's CRM Evolution conference that the secret sauce to connecting to customers lies in customer data. (Coincidentally, today Wang was announced "Analyst of the Year" for the second year running by the Institute of Industry Analyst Relations.)

"Customer data is at the heart of all these social CRM efforts, but we never see it," Wang said. Business people are no strangers to gathering data, after all. Wang went on to say, "We are collecting more data than we can humanly consume or address. We will be in dire straights if we can't make this data useful." 

In his presentation, Wang stated the need for enterprises to adapt continuous customer management. The enterprise strategy consultant relayed that not only is social CRM challenging today's businesses, but organizations are experiencing massive changes on other fronts:

  1. Macroeconomic changes — Because of globalization and commodity prices, consumers have lost a degree of faith in capitalism and the government.  Their shifting faith is shattering the perception of what's real, Wang said.
  2. Altered workplace dynamics — Wang asks attendees, "Do people even go to work, anymore?" He pointed to airline company JetBlue, a shining star in the realm of customer experience, that has a less-than-ordinary call center. JetBlue's call center doesn't exist, Wang said. Every agent is working remotely or from home. This concept of a global workforce brings forth the need for global tools and it means that efforts are no longer spread among cubicles - rather, they are spread across a federated workplace. In essence, workplace "norms" have flown out the door. 
  3. The emergence of new business models — "If I told you 10 years ago that a search engine company would be ... more [profitable] than [General Motors], you wouldn't believe it," Wang said. Globalization, regulation and deregulation, and business process outsourcing are challenging previously held notions about business models.
  4. The pace of technology adoption — "As soon as you adopt the next Twitter ... in your daily work, something else pops up," Wang said. "By the time IT figures out what's next, it's over." Consumer adoption of technology is rapidly outpacing that of the enterprise and according to Wang, "Connected ubiquity drives new adoption models."

Why is any of this important? "We are all trying to figure out how to sell something to someone else - trying to figure out how to get attention," Wang said. He made the point that we relate to people as individuals and not as businesses. "I can't find a B2B customer," he said emphatically. "It's actually a B2C customer." Wang said that he believes we never sell to companies - only just individuals. Part of this is because the experience of selling to a different person within the same company can be a completely different experience. "Companies mean nothing to me," he said.

Wang conveyed to CRM Evolution attendees that using customer data as a strategy to support continuous customer management provides the following benefits:

  • Consistent information in a social CRM world trying together multiple departments — marketing, sales, customer service, order management, or billing; and
  • Key technologies for success including data acquisition, cleansing, de-duplication, hierarchy management, reference data management, integration and synchronization, event management, data model management, data governance and stewardship, and security and privacy.

Furthermore, Wang offered six tips for continuous customer management:

  1. Start with people and focus on change management.
  2. Allow business units to experiment. There's a good chance they are, anyway.
  3. Design process scenarios around business units — not vendor forced best practices. "There are no sales best-practice methodologies that will solve your problem here," Wang said. "The scenarios have not been defined."
  4. Think about the information supply chain — "Make sure the data is coming in and you aren't wasting that as an asset," Wang said. "There's a lot of data being wasted because that information isn't being put to use."
  5. Innovate in cost-effective way.
  6. Chose technologies — This tip is last for a reason. 

"Continuous customer management never stops," Wang reiterated. He stressed the importance of identifying customers and acting upon the consistent data made available. The problem? There's no end-all, be-all solution. Master Data Management (MDM) and customer data integration tools when combined can solve many of the issues such as cleansing, de-duplicating, and matching. And when customer data is matched to something else, that's where the real insight comes from. Wang also mentioned that combining master data efforts with social tools such as Lithium, Radian6, or Telligent can be beneficial.

"I don't know what's happening in the marketplace," Wang admitted to attendees, "but we have a lot of ways and channels to pull this together and hopefully take a good guess." Bear in mind that in today's environment, the notion that past performance is no prediction of success or failure applies, he said. "Just as you've got it figured out, it's going to change. A new tool will arrive," Wang said pointedly. "This is why it's important to get the processes down and to not focus on the technology."


CRM Evolution '09 concluded earlier this week in New York. Full coverage can be found here.

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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