CRM Integration: If You Don’t Coordinate, You Might Alienate

Decades ago, before the advent of CRM, bank tellers all knew their customers by name. They kept manual ledgers of their transactions and simply by looking at them, they knew the ebbs and flows of each customer, his needs and how best to serve him. A personal relationship existed, allowing banks to upsell to a very receptive customer. Today, the need to personalize, in every type of business, is just as acute, but everything else has changed, most notably the technologies our businesses run on. How did we get here?

During the 1970s computerization first came to the forefront, and banks and other businesses quickly learned to scale operations to accommodate not just a hundred customers, but thousands or even millions of them. One-to-one personal ledgers were replaced by numbers hidden in software on mainframe computers. The customer experience became more impersonal. That golden personal touch got buried inside a digital jungle.  

In CRM's second wave, starting just before the turn of this century, a new approach, analytics, appeared on the scene, ready to solve the customer alienation problem computers had caused in the first place. Often data would be presented visually to provide feedback on a particular customer. The information displays were fairly basic, such as traffic-light-type queues or scores onscreen. But it was at least something to help guide customer service in the general direction of CRM concepts.

In CRM's third wave, prevalent during the past 10 years or so, the success of analytics at determining what might work best for customers spurred the trend toward digital automation efforts throughout the enterprise, but not usually as a single coordinated effort.

With the third wave centering on mainstream campaign automation, outbound marketing automation soon followed, becoming the inspiration for the new vanguard of inbound marketing automation. Organizations became bullish on blasting out campaigns via mail, email, ad tech, and more. More automation (and more volume) was always better than less, it was assumed.  But it is now clear that that doesn't work well for the customer. As consumers use more channels, they get more messages and offers—some might call it SPAM—and this multichannel marketing frenzy has turned them off.

And so we arrive at CRM's fourth wave and quite a different set of issues. There are now a huge number of channels and touch points, including Web sites, mobile apps, networks of interconnected ATMs, call centers, and new social channels that are popping up every day. Consumers are engaging 24/7. As brands we need to move with them and coordinate marketing messages across them—not simply duplicate. Brands face the problem of coordinating many disparate marketing systems. Locked away in silos, key customer profiles are widely dispersed and hard to access.

It's not realistic or desirable for brands to rip out all those level-three systems and start from the ground up to achieve the interconnectivity needed for modern cross-channel marketing. Most brands run Web content management systems that manage their Web sites, campaign management systems that push out campaigns to their customer base, databases (and even "data lakes"), business intelligence and analytic packages for devising insights, digital asset management platforms to store content, social media software to track sentiment, and many other tools.  

These systems all do their jobs fine in isolation, but of course none of them were designed to work together, much less in real time. So even if a brand has the best customer data, the best in customer analytics in place, and actually knows precisely which journey each consumer will want next, they simply do not have the capacity to pull it off when it comes to execution. The very technology that is supposed to enable good marketing can actually hold us back.

A New Opportunity

The emerging CRM solutions are focused on providing the intelligence to connect and synchronize all the different marketing tools—helping them do a more coordinated job and leading to a happier and more engaged customer.  

This new generation of cloud-based solutions has the potential to create real-time connections across one’s existing marketing systems to support the complex customer journeys of today. When done best, this is by no means a "rip and replace" but rather a system of connections between the existing infrastructure and customer data and centralized rules that provide the best course of action or message to present at that moment. This approach is fast becoming a popular mechanism for supporting the customer-centric requirements in the omnichannel world of today.

As one example, a major European airline sought to better engage its patrons with much more focused interactions that were individually relevant across channels. It was saddled by a legacy CRM system, campaign management system, call center infrastructure, Web site, and more. The technologies were from different vendors and weren't designed to work together, a familiar scenario.

This airline aspired to engage flyers individually via a "tablet in flight," which would throw yet another piece of technology into the mix. Rather than go through the costly process of replacing its infrastructure, the airline undertook a customer engagement hub (CEH) approach, building a system of interconnectivity with the ability to guide individual interactions.

Now, because the journey logic is stored centrally in the hub, it may be reused anywhere the brand desires, allowing it to easily add new channels at any time.  

Like this airline, the first real examples of success in CRM's fourth wave are popping up. From insurance to retail, from fast food to healthcare, businesses are learning how connecting across channels, and centrally controlling all that marketing automation, really does work to improve business results.  

By making the consumer experience more personalized and working in real time, businesses can see a doubling or tripling in consumer engagement on interactive channels, and perhaps more importantly the same kinds of increases in revenue coming from e-commerce sales that result from such engagement. We’re still in the salad days of the fourth wave, but these initial results show how such integration can deliver massive ROI to businesses that take up the challenge.

Mark Smith is president of Kitewheel, a Boston-based provider of a cloud-based customer engagement hub for orchestrating real-time consumer journeys across any channel. Prior to joining Kitewheel he held leadership positions at Pitney Bowes Software, Portrait Software, and was the founder and president of the predictive analytics software firm, Quadstone. He has a Ph.D. in mathematics and statistics from the University of Edinburgh. Contact him at msmith@kitewheel.com.

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