Church's Goal Is One View of Multiple Customer Channels

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UMCom, the United Methodist Church's communications agency, is unifying the church's databases to create a single strategy for building better relationships online and offline with the denomination's flock of 10 million.

UMCom, short for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, TN, handles all outgoing communications for the church. A short list of its products and services include several magazines, a teleservices unit, an e-mail news service, product sales including promotional and planning items, e-commerce Web sites, software and videos.

Until recently, UMCom has run each of these business lines as separate units, each with its own database. As a result, UMCom has more than a dozen databases with nothing to tie them together.

"It's like 15 different companies with 15 different needs, and some of the same customers, under one roof," said Chris Smith, IT director for UMCom.

UMCom had been searching since 1998 for a CRM provider able to meet all of its needs. The trouble was that while many providers specialize in certain business types, such as magazine circulation, finding an agency to serve a company with such diverse interests as UMCom was difficult, Smith said.

In the middle of this year, UMCom began working with StayinFront, Fairfield, NJ, after deciding that StayinFront's CRM system, called Visual Elk, could integrate all of UMCom's customer information into one database.

StayinFront's CRM system was customized to fit UMCom's business model, which includes telephone, online and e-mail customer contacts. When completed, the system will be integrated with several other business systems, including Microsoft's Great Plains accounting software, L-Soft's e-mail distribution system and VeriSign's credit-card payment system.

So far, UMCom has migrated its free-magazine subscription lists to the new system, Smith said. Smith hoped to have paid magazine subscribers migrated within a few weeks, and to have the whole system operational by this time next year.

He declined to reveal how much the system cost UMCom. However, he said the organization expected to save money by reducing the cost of maintaining multiple databases.

"We chose Visual Elk because it is flexible enough to integrate all points at which customers touch our organization," Smith said. "This will eliminate frustration and confusion that occur when information on one of our legacy databases is inconsistent with that on another, for example, if a name is spelled slightly differently in two places, or an address has not been updated."

UMCom's marketing team also will benefit by having access to everything the organization knows about it customers in one place, Smith said. Marketers will be better able to identify customer needs, for example, by offering Microsoft software at a special rate to readers of a UMCom magazine who have expressed interest.

StayinFront serves a wide range of customers, who include those who spend $10,000 a year on the company's CRM systems to those who spend up to $4 million. The company has offices in the Australia, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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