So you think you know your customers. When evaluating
your customer information database, you may believe
that it contains all the relevant information you need
to know about your customers and prospects. You may
have several thousand, perhaps million, customer
names, along with addresses and other contact data. If
you are a financial service organization, for
instance, you probably know your customers' credit
information along with their account numbers. You may
also have information about their spending habits. All
of this information is very valuable.
You should, however, ask yourself the following
questions. Does your database system link various
business units so that the system includes all
customer-related information, such as visits to your
Web site or calls for customer support? Does your
database personalize communications, noting
information about customer lifestyle choices, which
can be used for future company offers?
Unfortunately, most customer information databases
used by business-to-consumer and business-to-business
sales and service organizations are nothing more than
glorified ledger systems and address books. The
exceptions to this are those few organizations ranked
highest in terms of performance by their customers and
by the stock market.
Knowing Your Customers From Cradle To Grave
Your database needs to help you present the right
product to the right customer at the right time. It
must provide comprehensive customer service
information in a timely, knowledgeable, effective and
satisfying manner. It should contribute to your
company's service excellence and should help reduce
your administrative marketing costs to a level below
those of your competitors.
When using customer information as a strategic
asset, an organization needs to be sensitive to the
maturity of the relationship being built with each
individual customer. If customers are to volunteer
information about themselves, they need to understand
and appreciate the benefits of doing so. Building the
relationship with customers starts with setting
customer expectations and continues when you
repeatedly deliver on these expectations, building on
the trust and empathy established at the start, with
each new interaction.
Security information protects the customer and the
company from abuse of the relationship, or even fraud.
Personal likes and dislikes, even financial status
information, enable an organization to make
responsible sales and service propositions.
Maintaining a record of such items as preferred
payment mechanisms (e.g., credit card numbers) and
dispatch instructions enables new orders to be
confirmed more easily. Understanding customer behavior
patterns ensures that company-initiated customer
interactions take place at appropriate times through
If you are to manage customer information
successfully for the benefit of your customers and
your organization, you need to ensure that the
information is consistently accurate. Your
organization needs to own the responsibility for
maintaining accuracy, and customers need to know and
understand how and why your organization uses it. Most
important, not only should the information be
consistent, but the means by which the information is
collected from the customer must be equally consistent
Emerging Global Trends Affect Customer
Is this a customer relationship or just a
one-night stand? You only begin a relationship with
prospects and customers once you engage them in
dialog. Traditionally, this might be face-to-face or
by phone. With the emerging global trends in
technology, however, you need to include in your
contact strategy the Web, e-mail, interactive TV and
other emerging manifestations of these channels, such
as the video kiosk and 3G cellular services. What you
need to recognize is that customers demand choices and
must be assured that whatever channel through which
they choose to interact, at whatever time they prefer,
the experience will be convenient and consistent time
The implications from a technology and operational
perspective are that you should have coherent CRM
systems with a single interaction strategy for the "conversation"
that follows, as well as a common database. CRM
systems need to be set up to address future
technologies, incorporating new ways to channel to
customers. How well is your CRM system set up to
participate in these future trends?
With globalization and the ability to work in a
distributed network or virtual environment -- where it
doesn't matter where the agent is or where the
customer is -- your CRM system must be able to handle
multiple channels and be equipped to work with voice
and data. If you aren't sure whether your CRM system
is fully globalized, consider the following questions:
- Is your system able to support the emerging
standards in data access, such as XML?
- How well is your system able to work in a voice
over IP environment?
- Does your system embrace communications with
customers through SMS messaging, rapid telephony,
personal digital assistants, WAP telephony, video
kiosks and other touch-point operations?
It's not just the phone or the Web anymore --
industry trends are moving fast, offering new
touchpoints and channels for customers to choose from.
Your CRM system should be ready to support these
channels and, in turn, your customers.
Whatever the channel of choice, it's the
information you collect that will enable you to
identify your customers for future interactions after
the initial contact. There are numerous techniques to
simplify the process for both parties. Of course,
there is the fundamental information: correct name,
address, phone number and e-mail address.
Additionally, there are other data to use in order to
identify prospects and their requirements. For
instance, if a prospect responds to a direct mail
piece, include a specific reference number on the
mailer that will later link the respondent with the
specific offer. Or, if you are direct marketing
through television or print, have a specific phone
number, e-mail address or Web address for that
Try to establish a secure identity with the
customer at the earliest opportunity, using his or her
user name, password and personal reference information
such as a memorable date, hobby or pet's name. This
will quickly allow you to confirm the customer's
identity during future interactions. By ensuring the
customer consistency in information, across all
channels, regardless of which touch point is used, you
will have the makings of a customer relationship and
not just a one-night stand.
Customer Relationship Management Or Customer
Faced with the challenge of collecting, analyzing,
maintaining and manipulating meaningful customer
information for use across multiple channels for
sales, service and credit control applications, many
organizations leap to the panacea of technology and "the
CRM system." Among the plethora of CRM packages
available, many may not accommodate the core
competencies expected and demanded of such systems.
|Once your system is up and
running and your staffing is in place, be sure
to avoid the following common pitfalls:
Multiple iterations of data. Your
CRM system should retain old data while
entering new information.
Inconsistencies in building your CRM
system. Your system should treat each
customer and agent interaction identically by
employing process-oriented business practices.
System inflexibility. Your
CRM system must be seamless and able to
collect new data easily.
A disjointed system. Your CRM
system should maintain contact information
When selecting a CRM system, define your customer
service strategy and your marketing strategy and
refine your product set. Cosmetically, an application
may look very attractive and, once developed and
customized, may be very straightforward. However, if
it does not integrate with your problem-tracking and
resolution system, your accounting system or your
phone system, it cannot incorporate the complex and
security-conscious processes required to bring a new
customer on stream. Nor can it manage sensitive and
secure customer service interactions.
Some of the key questions to ask when evaluating
the appropriateness and ability of a CRM application
to provide real cradle-to-grave "relationship
- Is it an open and flexible database that can be
changed and enhanced to reflect the evolution of
an organization's structure, size, products and
services, and customers?
- Does the CRM database fit your business model,
or do you have to model your business to fit the
- Can you incorporate business processes into the
application? Can you impose a discipline and
consistency on short-term interactions such as
phone calls or Web sessions so customer service
representatives and customers are led through the
most effective routes to achieving their
- Can you build longer term workflows into the
application to manage the duration of the customer
relationship -- triggering and managing activities
according to plan, circumstance or context, and
guaranteeing fulfillment requirements and
appropriate escalation procedures? Or, as with the
database, does the package claim to provide all
the processes your business will need so long as
you fit your business to the package?
- Do the database and processes enable
personalized customer marketing and support
strategies to be adopted and adhered to?
- Does the package have a common presentation
across media so that the contact center agent and
the customer browsing the Web have a common view
of information and follow common navigation
through the system (albeit the customer may not
have access to as much information as an
- Does the package integrate with the latest
information technology -- networks, databases,
phone systems, WAP, content providers, financial
and ERP systems?
- Does the package embrace a knowledge engine so
that an organization's intelligence about its
products, services, policies and procedures can be
incorporated into the application? Can you ensure
that customers, regardless of channel, will
receive the most up-to-date and consistent advice
and that all employees will provide the same
answers to the same questions if asked by a
- Does the package manage voice, e-mail, fax and
Web interactions through a common and integrated
- Does the package provide real-time and historic
performance monitoring tools and report personnel's
processes and business objectives, such as sales
- Does the package record all customer contacts
across all media types and, by so doing, provide
you with a holistic view of your customer
interactions and "touch points" with your
- Is the package customer- or technology-centric?
Will it enable you to provide your customers with
a choice of contact channel, while maintaining
consistency across all channels to enable you to
deliver service excellence?
- Does the CRM application merely organize data,
or does it provide the processes and information
you need to acquire, support and retain profitable
customers in a competitive environment?
Staying Competitive While Keeping Costs Down
Reducing costs is always an attractive goal to set and
can occur when your system is set up to do more in
less time with the same number of employees.
Self-service, one-interaction service and rapid
verification are three areas where costs can be
With self-service capabilities, your CRM
transactions are performed when you offer multiple
channels such as interactive voice response through
the phone, the television or the Web. The customer can
solicit assistance without speaking to an agent.
When agents are empowered to handle the customer's
entire list of requests in one interaction, it's a
win-win for all. The customer benefits from not having
to be transferred to another number or worse yet, to
have to redial another number. The agent benefits by
having the necessary systems and tools to complete the
interaction and to go on to another customer.
By using rapid I.D. and verification of the caller,
the agent is able to handle the customer's issues more
effectively. With an improved database, your
applications and processes are synchronized so more
time can be spent handling the call rather than
validating the caller's information.
Staffing: The Greatest Challenge For Future
Perhaps the greatest challenge for the future of
customer interactions will be for the employee and the
employer, rather than for the customer. As call
centers become contact centers and as customers expect
to "interact" by video, e-mail and Web browsing in
addition to voice, employers must recruit and retain
versatile customer service representatives. Employees
face technology trends and the need to do more than
read a sales script. The new teams of customer service
representatives must have a broader skill set.
Hopefully, the technology that supports
sophisticated customer information databases will not
completely replace the personal touch of managing
customer relationships. Employers are challenged more
than ever to find the right people to be trained to
conduct video intakes, write customer letters and
serve as agents for their organizations. As stated
earlier, building the customer relationship starts
with setting expectations and continues when you
deliver again and again with each new interaction.
Roger Marsden is a consultant for Datapoint.
To The September 2001 Table Of Contents ]