Content Management for the Multichannel Consumer

For most retailers, interacting with customers is tricky business these days. Although the integration of the Internet and "Web 2.0" into consumers' everyday lives brings additional opportunities for retailers to sell, the back end of each transaction also involves these additional touch points. Today's consumer may buy the latest music player online, but expects to be able to voice a problem over the phone and then return the product in a physical store, all while expecting the retailer to "remember" all the different interactions. Moreover, consumers demand a high level of relevant content and content access -- it simply isn't acceptable to "get back to you" anymore. For retailers in industries where product lines change and update rapidly, the problem is even more pronounced. Large amounts of product information need effective managing and accessibility for the "multichannel" consumer. For these retailers, having a steady grip on product information and possessing the ability to deliver that information to the consumer over a variety of channels is essential to success in today's retail environment. From a technology standpoint, this problem can be mitigated with enterprise technologies and services that streamline the content authoring process, allowing for the quick creation of documents and information, and the ability to deliver that information through the multiple channels consumers use. Still, a larger issue looms -- how to get that information instantaneously to a consumer who is asking for it through a given channel. This is where content management systems (CMS) and enterprise content systems (ECM) come into play. A retailer may know what a particular consumer wants and through a CRM system, be able to predict a response, but needs an effective way to organize, manage, and update large quantities of product information that will eventually be passed on to that consumer. A best-in-class CMS/ECM can help a retailer accomplish just that. Taking the solution to the next level, companies can now link CRM and ECM/CMS systems seamlessly so that directly relevant content is retrieved from the content management system based on data entered into the CRM system. In this scenario, consumer-facing employees, or in many cases consumers themselves, deal with only one interface, avoid duplicate data entry, and receive appropriate content in real time for use in sales, service, customer support, or self-service. But taking the solution to the next step can allow retailers the opportunity to use electronic fulfillment mechanisms such as email, Internet, fax, or other electronic methods to deliver content directly to customers or service representatives in consumer-specific formatted documents available online or through mobile devices. This type of strategy allows content to serve its most useful purpose -- to drive the business forward in ways that positively impact revenue and customer satisfaction The key, however, is not in the technological integration, but in the solution design. The solution must be designed to provide "contextual access." Contextual access is the ability to access content that is directly relevant to the situation at hand, in the right format and tailored to the user. This last part of the described approach can have profound effects on how retailers may be able to serve their customers. In the recent past, a major agricultural / equipment manufacturer, for example, has successfully brought together ECM / CRM to link field technicians' diagnostic equipment to a wealth of problem solving / troubleshooting data. Today, a field technician in Kansas can use his / her wireless diagnostic equipment to determine a problem with a large farm tractor a number of hours away from his / her office and, in real time, pull down information through that device containing instructions, information, and a list of needed parts to fix the piece of equipment. As a result, days are taken off the repair process, providing the company significant time and cost savings. For retailers, the same approach to CRM and ECM/CMS could lead to similar benefits. Say Jane, a long-time shopper from Retailer X, wants to address a problem with her new computer over the phone. If Retailer X employed this solution, a contact center representative would have both the consumer's history of troubleshooting problems as well as relevant content addressing the "new" problem at the push of a button, enabling a faster response time. But if Jane wanted to take the computer to a physical store, a wireless device or similar technology could be used to diagnosis the problem, pull down relevant customer information, and recommend the proper solution to fix Jane's computer. For retailers with rapidly changing product lines, linking CRM with ECM/CRMS systems could lead to enormous bottom-line results, and perhaps more importantly, create loyal consumers that know they can get an "Internet-quick" response no matter which channel they choose.

About the Author Gary Walker is the Senior Vice President for the Applied Technology Solutions Group of Baltimore, MD-based RWD Technologies. RWD Technologies is a leading provider of human and operational performance improvement solutions that help employers maximize the return on their investments in people, processes, technology, equipment, knowledge and customers. Contact Gary at gwalker@rwd.com.
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