Has CRM lived up to its promise?

Computer World –

Last year, you were a hero. You brought your company to the forefront of the customer economy. You preached about the empowered consumer and the merits of personalized treatment, and you led the charge to invest millions of dollars in customer relationship management (CRM) infrastructure because it would yield returns tenfold. You spoke of missed opportunities across the enterprise of your organization because customers weren't being treated as individuals. "Loyalty and relationships are the key to beating our competitors," you said. And you were mostly right -- so why are you so nervous?

At a recent conference I attended, a premiere industry analyst boldly declared that less than 1% of companies had gotten the desired return on investment from their CRM investments. Indeed, CRM hasn't lived up to its promise -- yet. If you've spent lots of money on building a CRM infrastructure, so don't panic -- you've done the right thing.

But it's time to adjust your strategy to make these investments drive your bottom line. In general, loyal, growing relationships are good, but they don't necessarily make you money. Personal treatment of each individual customer is also good, but if personalization is based on a limited view of the customer, it can cost much more than it earns. To make money, you need to stop managing customer relationships and start managing customer value. Here's where to begin: Connect your customer channels.

This sounds basic, but believe it or not, according to a recent Gartner Group Inc. report, only 33% of companies can interact with customers via more than two channels. Another research firm recently proclaimed that only 23% of telephone agents can see customers' Web activity. Connecting customer channels enables you to accomplish five things that are paramount to driving your bottom line:

  1. Tie together disparate CRM systems in real time
  2. Leverage your company's existing investments in front-office and legacy applications
  3. Give your customers a consistent experience across channels
  4. Give you an enterprise wide view that maps each customer's path to profitability
  5. Convert customer relationships into profit

You've heard this mantra before -- "A 360-degree customer view," but more important to earning more of your customer's business is giving the customer a single view of you. Unless you've purchased your entire CRM infrastructure from the same vendor (and virtually no one has) your customer channels aren't sharing information in real time. This means you aren't holding an ongoing dialogue with your customers because they have to reintroduce themselves each time they choose a different channel for interactions with your organization. Even though you may be able to personalize interactions within channels, the treatment your customers receive is based on profiles that exclude up-to-the-second knowledge of their behavior in other channels. Your profile is incomplete and the result is inconsistent treatment of your customer across channels, the opposite of delivering a single view of your company to the customer. The cost -- failure to trigger profitable behavior and increased likelihood of customer abandonment -- is severe.

Every customer interaction must begin where the last dialogue ended. When a customer hits your Web site and then calls you a few minutes later (a typical customer behavior), the scripts and offers served up for your call centeer representative must be based on analysis of the customer's most recent behavior on the Web. That very behavior may indicate a fundamental change in how to drive profitable action by that customer, so ignorance not only misses the opportunity to earn more business, but can result in treatment that alienates the customer and causes abandonment. Only when every interaction is analyzed and shared with every other touch point in real time can the customer experience be consistent, and more importantly, only then can you be sure that your next interaction drives the customer to more profitable behavior.

You need your call center scripts, Web personalization, personalized e-mail, customer profiles for frontline personnel and direct mail, so the investments you've made are likely good ones. However, to optimize the return they bring to your company, you need them to be smart enough to drive an ongoing conversation with your customer. Tie them all together, and you will exponentially increase their value; the promise of CRM will be fulfilled.

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