TMCnet - World's Largest Communications and Technology Community




Customer Relationship Management
October 2000


Leveraging Customer Metrics For Strategic Decision Making


In the past decade, the telecommunications industry has undergone a major paradigm shift. Deregulation and a wave of industry consolidation has created an extremely competitive landscape, one in which the stakes of implementing a CRM initiative are enormous. The winners will claim market dominance as a result of their ability to intimately understand and completely satisfy their customers. In turn, customer satisfaction generates bottom-line results by giving companies the ability to act on their customer knowledge in ways that enable them to retain current customers and acquire new ones.

To be certain, the ability to leverage customer-related metrics can give any telecommunications company a significant competitive advantage. Customer information is the focal point and primary enabler of competitive differentiation and must be created, maintained and protected as a valuable corporate asset. The customer knowledge base must be complete, accurate, current and made accessible to all appropriate organizations and functions within the company.

In particular, the information obtained from a call center or automated call distribution system (ACD) can provide tremendous insight on its own or complement additional information gathered from other systems such as CRM, operation systems and support (OSS), and workforce management. The challenge lies in creating a data-rich analytical repository that has four key elements:

  • Provides all users with a holistic, common, yet detailed view of the customer,
  • Features an IT architecture with the technological capabilities to integrate information from all customer-related sources,
  • Provides users with data that are truly meaningful and actionable, and
  • Is user friendly and intuitive.

At the end of the day, telecommunications companies, like most other organizations, are simply trying to gain a better understanding of what drives their customers' behavior. They recognize the importance of having a consistent view of their customers, regardless of what system or technical feature is being used, and regardless of who is viewing the information. For example, a data-rich analytical repository makes it easy for the marketing department to leverage customer intelligence from the call center system to make business decisions about product positioning and campaign analysis. From a strategic perspective, management may have a "balanced scorecard" initiative that focuses on customer retention and leverages key performance indicators from the customer care repository, all the more reason to create a repository that meets the above requirements.

Taking A Holistic Approach
Developing a customer-centric information architecture with the ability to enable all CRM applications and business processes is key. To succeed, CRM initiatives must have a solid foundation of customer knowledge, but in most organizations, this knowledge is fragmented in many sources and widely dispersed across many functions. The ability to view this knowledge from a holistic perspective, completely and consistently, across the enterprise, becomes a critical success factor for any CRM initiative. Creating, institutionalizing and leveraging a customer-centric knowledge base provides a solid foundation for enabling all CRM applications and business processes.

For example, call center data represent just one aspect of a strategic CRM initiative that can best be viewed as a continuum of customer care. With that in mind, call center metrics must be integrated with other elements such as brand management metrics and campaign management metrics. While many companies have become very proficient at examining the data coming out of their call centers -- average handle time, speed of answer, time in the queue, etc. -- it is important to ensure that these metrics complement information captured from other systems, including operational support systems (OSS), ERP and product management.

Integration Is Key
Telecommunications companies communicate with their customers through a variety of channels, including ACDs, standard call-ins, e-mail and postal mail. As a result, creating a complete view of the customer requires that back-office systems are able to capture information from every channel. More important, the underlying IT architecture must have the capability to connect those business processes, thus facilitating a single view of each customer regardless of who is viewing the information.

For example, the channel an individual customer uses to contact his or her telecommunications company can provide that company's marketing department with valuable information about how to target that customer in the future and what channel to use when contacting them about additional products and services. A customer who contacts the company via e-mail might be targeted for additional services using an e-mail campaign. Because e-mail campaigns are less expensive than direct mail campaigns, the company benefits in numerous ways from its systems integration. Having captured valuable customer knowledge in the first place, the company can then act on it in a way that provides the greatest return.

Generating Actionable Data
With the abundance of data being captured from "customer care," the real key to making the data usable is collecting the right information and delivering it to both strategic and operational decision makers. As with any other technology deployment, a successful CRM solution begins with a definition of what aspects of the business require improvement, what steps are required to realize these improvements, and most important, how the results will be measured.

In today's business environment, providing excellent customer service requires having access to key information about customers and prospects. The more information a company has about its customers, the better its ability to personalize, individualize, anticipate and even predict the successful outcome of its customer interactions. For telecommunications companies, call centers provide an invaluable source of information from which metrics and performance measurements can be generated.

However, most telecommunications companies make the mistake of gathering too much information, most of which is never put to use. Measuring call center metrics and performance means gathering information about those areas that will drive utilization and affect service reps in terms of staffing. This information can also be extremely advantageous when it comes to product management.

Viewing your customer information from a holistic perspective and integrating all customer-related systems creates data that become actionable for users in a variety of functions, from marketing to financial to top management. For example, say a telecommunications company marketing analyst is using the Web to analyze data and notices an anomaly about a specific customer. He or she then uses the company's CRM application to look up the name of the customer's national account rep and e-mails the data directly to the rep. Upon receipt, the account rep can take immediate action. Meanwhile, the analyst has created an ad hoc view that can be bookmarked for future use. He or she can also set a threshold alert that will indicate when something is wrong.

The above example demonstrates the importance of having information that is easy to access, relevant to specific business problems and can be delivered to a broad range of users in a format that is easy to use. Many telecommunications companies have taken steps to turn their data into actionable customer intelligence by leveraging data assets and decision-support technology. Analytical applications address this need by combining relevant business information with business-specific analysis logic and presenting the information in an intuitive interface. They enable corporate executives and knowledge workers to access and use valuable corporate information assets to more effectively measure, manage and expand their businesses.

According to Elizabeth Shahnam, senior program director for data warehousing and business intelligence at META Group, "Customer relationship management (CRM) deployments are booming and strong analytics are key for effective CRM. Every CRM deployment the consultancy has seen that lacked a strong analytic component was unable to improve customer relationship initiatives."

The Web As A Strategic Tool
Once a company has taken steps to give users a holistic view of the customer by providing clean, actionable data, distributing that information in a timely and relevant way is key. The Web can facilitate this process, disseminating information that is specific and meaningful and appears on each user's desktop in a personalized manner.

The power of the Web is a highly touted subject, and telecommunications companies and their call center customer service users are no exception when it comes to the types of companies that can benefit from Web technology. For starters, deployment of any Web application typically requires a one-time effort, and because it provides an interface people are accustomed to working with, training time and costs are minimized. Users can quickly adapt to using it, without having to wait for new desktops to arrive.

Enabling Success
A telecommunications company will live or die based on its ability to successfully execute a CRM initiative. The right IT architecture offers enablers to help these companies reach their goals of implementing a holistic CRM strategy that integrates all customer-related systems, produces actionable data and is easy to use.

Just as a strategic CRM initiative should be driven by business objectives, so should an organization's strategy for leveraging call center metrics. Achieving the identified business objectives will depend on your organization's ability to analyze the right business dimensions, whether they involve the market, products, customers, or various financial and statistical metrics. Are your measurements intended to appease Wall Street, internal customers or external customers? Metrics mean nothing unless they answer the questions being asked. Likewise, throwing technology at customers won't make them loyal unless the technology contributes to their satisfaction with the products and services your organization provides.

Dennis Sparacino currently leads the AlphaBlox Professional Services practice in the Central Region. Cindy O'Reilly is regional manager for ThinkFast Consulting, Inc. in the Mountain Region. AlphaBlox and ThinkFast Consulting are strategic partners for the development of analytical applications.

[ Return To The October 2000 Table Of Contents ]

Customer Information: Integration Before Management


Customer relationship management (CRM) is no minor undertaking. A great deal has been invested and expectations remain high. But in their haste to implement CRM systems, many companies are discovering that something with such a simple premise can be extremely difficult and expensive to implement successfully.

According to Boston-based International Data Corporation, businesses are expected to invest more than $300 billion in CRM technologies and services over the next five years. But there are no quick fixes. Now past the initial craze of CRM "solutions" offered to businesses rushing to develop an e-business presence, thoughtful multichannel organizations realize they need to reconsider the very fundamentals of CRM, beginning with the single view of the customer.

CRM Cannot Succeed Without A Single Customer View
Whether through observation or experience, companies have learned the concept of CRM may be simple, but the implementation is fraught with risk. Many have learned -- at extraordinary cost -- that success requires much more than simply buying new software and installing it in sales centers.

The true challenge lies in achieving a single view of the customer. Internally, this requires that you first quickly integrate all of the internal information that your company has on a particular customer. Externally, you must then recognize and treat customers consistently and knowledgeably across channels -- whether they reach you via your call center, Web site, catalog or retail outlet.

This critical enterprisewide single view of the customer has been an expensive stumbling block for most businesses trying to manage their information in a multichannel environment. Companies typically maintain multiple databases and share little data between them. Under these conditions, CRM simply does not -- and frankly, cannot -- work. In fact, a recent META Group study of the largest end-users in the CRM market underscored this problem. According to META,

"Most CRM projects (counter to their obvious purpose) are highly fragmented and lack customer focus."

That's a clear warning to businesses with na�ve perceptions of the extent of the CRM challenge.

Boston's Aberdeen Group puts it this way:

"As enterprises focus on the customer by implementing multiple CRM systems, they sometimes blur rather than sharpen their view of their customers. Different CRM systems, such as sales force automation, telesales and customer support systems, typically use different keys and look at customers from different points of view. Consequently, enterprises find it difficult to connect these disparate data sources together in order to create a holistic view of the customer."

Due to these issues, the META Group study concluded that most current CRM initiatives "are in serious risk of failure."

Part of the problem can be traced to the fact that companies have attempted to quickly implement CRM systems only in the customer-facing areas of their operations rather than across the enterprise.

But the other major barrier to successful CRM implementation has been the absence of an effective customer data integration (CDI) technology that can fully integrate the customer information isolated in multiple databases and then deliver it to all points of customer contact in real-time. This is essential because you cannot manage all your customer information unless you can see it all at once.

In recent months, a new level of CDI technology has been introduced. It solves the problems of rapid enterprisewide customer data integration, and it delivers a single, accurate view of the customer in real-time. CDI technology, by definition, makes successful CRM implementation a considerably easier and far less risky proposition.

How CDI Technology Clears The CRM Hurdle
In brief, this new technology uses enormous data resources as its foundation. The data in this "knowledge base" is both current and historical. For each name, business and address within the knowledge base, the technology creates a distinct identifying link. Variations over time (for example, in an individual's name as a result of marriage, divorce, etc.) are noted and linked to avoid duplication.

Links are assigned from the knowledge base to the corresponding records in the company's databases. Once these links are assigned, an individual customer's data can be quickly and easily accessed and integrated across the enterprise.

As a result, CDI technology provides the company -- from call center to accounting -- with a clear and complete portrait of the customer. Instead of looking at the individual from the fragmented and incomplete perspectives of individual business units, the enterprise now looks at the customer with a single set of "eyes."

The links also enable data to be integrated, and even augmented with additional external information, in real-time via the Internet. This makes demographically enhanced data available immediately, for the first time, at the point-of-customer-contact level for true customer relationship management.

In short, the new CDI technology allows CRM to finally work the way it was intended to all along.

Risk Mitigation And Increased Profitability
As e-commerce rapidly raises customer expectations of immediate, personalized service, all businesses are being driven to meet or exceed those expectations in order to acquire and maintain market share.

This type of service can only be achieved through effective, real-time, enterprisewide CRM at every point of customer contact. As we have seen, limited and partial CRM efforts can easily become costly failures.

Customer data integration technology solves the fundamental problems of successful CRM implementation. By integrating internal databases enterprisewide and enabling them to function as a single information resource -- plus providing real-time information delivery and augmentation -- CDI technology empowers companies to better understand and serve their customers.

Steve Brighton is strategic direction leader at Acxiom Corporation, a global data integration company headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas. Acxiom's AbiliTec technology facilitates a single, accurate view of the customer.

[ Return To The October 2000 Table Of Contents ]

Technology Marketing Corporation

2 Trap Falls Road Suite 106, Shelton, CT 06484 USA
Ph: +1-203-852-6800, 800-243-6002

General comments: [email protected].
Comments about this site: [email protected].


© 2024 Technology Marketing Corporation. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy