As smartphones, cloud computing and social networking continue to change the ways we communicate, applying CRM-based customer insight is becoming increasingly complex. There is growing evidence that many of the techniques and practices that relied on CRM-based insights to drive customer engagement online in years past, e.g., email marketing, lifecycle messaging, alerts and loyalty programs, are becoming less effective. While CRM remains a powerful source of customer insight, the lack of a customer communication capability that enables an organization to act on that insight and engage customers has become a critical problem.
It’s not that legacy CRM systems aren’t as nimble as they should be. It’s that they are designed to manage the customer relationship, not the customer communication. Many CRM systems in place today were created for the customer from 10 years ago who was using a desktop PC hard-wired to the Internet, and a phone or basic email for all communication. The reality is that a big chunk of any company’s customer base today interacts with that brand through small screen smartphones and mobile wireless, and through emerging channels like SMS text and IM.
Today, consumers communicate cross-channel without even thinking about it. They post to Facebook via text message, track and respond to friends’ comments through email and upload photos directly from their mobile phone. Smartphones and tablets, even PCs, have transformed into cross-channel devices that give users access to email, SMS/MMS, IM, social messaging and notifications all through one screen. Which channel comes into play can depend on a number of variables including relationship, convenience, cost, time of day or simply personal preference.
Yet, when today’s businesses interact with its consumers it’s an entirely different story. Most companies still approach communication as a marketing exercise. Emails are sent to customers from addresses that recipients can’t even respond to, let alone switch the conversation over to text or IM as they can with a person-to-person interaction. Even when well-planned email campaigns are structured around richly sourced CRM intelligence, they can only achieve limited customer engagement if they’re carried out as conventional one-way interactions.
CRM systems were designed to capture detailed customer intelligence. While the data and customer insight is being captured, the lack of communications agility prevents it from being acted upon. Shortcomings with the underlying IT are the root cause. For instance, communication is often siloed within an organization. The customer care department might have IM, but marketing doesn’t, or marketing has multi-channel campaign management with mobile capabilities, but SMS text is unavailable to the rest of the organization. So the question becomes, how will cross-channel engagement between brands and their customers work?
Many companies have brought customer interactions in the social realm under the CRM umbrella with channels kept separate, rather than a comprehensive enterprise-wide approach to all conversation-oriented interactions that happen in email, IM or text. What companies should really focus on is finding a customer conversation platform that their transaction systems and CRM can use to support discussion-style interactions no matter which messaging channel the customer chooses. Such a platform would need to provide several features including cross-channel dialog capabilities, advanced message management, high-volume messaging capabilities and response processing.
Today, control over the B2C conversation has firmly shifted to the customer and because of this, businesses must rethink how they approach customer engagement. If CRM and other customer interaction solutions are going to maintain their position as the central nervous system for engagement, then all enterprise systems will need to acquire the ability to effectively communicate through all the channels available to consumers today.