Knotice's Concentri unifies touchpoints

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Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of customer management systems. Campaign managers generate lists for outbound direct mail, e-mail or telemarketing. Real-time interaction managers react to individual customers during a Web site visit or telephone call.

The technologies needed for the two approaches are significantly different. Most interaction managers use the single profile table to ensure quick performance, while most campaign managers access multilevel customer databases for complex segmentation and in-depth analysis. Even systems that do both interaction management and campaign management run different internal processes. Many companies deploy entirely separate systems for each approach in each channel.

Actual message delivery is usually handled by yet another set of systems. E-mail and text messages are exceptions. Many customer management systems can transmit these directly.

This fragmentation has organizational as well as technical roots. But the costs are severe. Beyond the considerable expense of supporting multiple systems, businesses must rely on administrative processes to coordinate the treatments received by individual customers. Inconsistencies that slip through can reduce value and sometimes do serious harm to important customer relationships.

Concentri attempts to unify customer management systems for e-mail, Web, mobile phones and interactive TV. Structurally, it maintains a shared customer database with levels for profiles, activity history and responses to forms such as surveys. This falls between the simple profile table of interaction managers and the complex marketing database of the campaign managers. Data matching, transformations and consolidation must be done outside the system before the tables are loaded.

Concentri supports both batch selections for outbound campaigns and real-time responses for interaction management. These are managed through a single campaign interface, which lets users define selection rules that can be attached to e-mail campaigns, SMS mobile text messages, Web pages and WAP mobile Web content. The system delivers the e-mail, mobile messages and Web pages directly.

Concentri's use of segmentation to both select lists and control real-time content is the specific trick that lets it combine outbound and interactive marketing. The segment definitions themselves are fairly conventional. Users select from pull-down lists of data elements, operators and values to build logical expressions that can be combined into multi-condition queries. The data elements draw from the customer profile, activity history and form responses. Non-technical users can add custom elements through an interface.

For outbound campaigns, the segments can create lists that are either frozen to store a specific set of customers or reselected each time the list is chosen. E-mail and mobile messages can be sent to the list on a schedule or when triggered by behaviors captured in the system.

For interactive campaigns, the segment can be treated as a "content display rule" that is attached to a specific piece of Concentri-created content. For example, content displaying vegetarian products could be linked with a display rule that selects only vegetarians. What makes this interactive is that the data determining who matches a particular display rule is updated in real time by the system's activity tracking and form capture components. So a customer who answered a particular question a particular way could automatically be shown Web content that reflects this information and be sent an e-mail with suitably customized contents.

This approach takes some getting used to. Conventional interaction management systems work a bit differently, defining a sequence of customer actions and system responses such as a telemarketing script. Concentri's approach is more similar to Web advertising systems that use business rules or call an external recommendation engine to pick content relevant to a particular customer.

Either way, Concentri should provide the practical benefit of real-time interaction management, that is, the ability to react to customer behaviors as they occur.

Concentri also differs from conventional interaction management systems in providing functions to create the content it delivers. The system includes base templates for e-mail, Web pages, Web forms, text messages, WAP pages and WAP forms. Users modify these with design tools and attach specific contents to regions within the templates. Display rules are attached to the content, not the template.

Content elements can either be created for a specific channel or defined as "master elements" used in templates across multiple channels. Sharing these master elements provides a consistent customer experience and makes it easier to understand which messages have been sent to each customer. Concentri automatically adjusts how master elements are displayed in each template to accommodate different channel formats.

Content management includes practical refinements such as Web page or e-mail previews. Web contents can either be embedded within an external Web page as "live zones" that call Concentri when the page is rendered or displayed with a Concentri-built page that is reached through a link. The content resides on a Concentri server.

Concentri automatically adds the contents displayed to each customer to its activity history. At present, it uses third-party cookies to track Web visitors, although the vendor is exploring use of the more reliable first-party cookies. The system also can use standard interfaces to import data on customer behavior captured by Web analytics systems such as Omniture and Visual Sciences. It can insert those systems tags in Concentri content, allowing them to capture Concentri activity.

Reporting includes conventional Web, e-mail and mobile measures. It also reports on total impressions for each piece of content, in total and by campaign.

Concentri is offered as a hosted service by Knotice. Pricing depends on channels used, activity levels and level of support. A system used across all channels would cost $350,000 to $500,000 or more each year, depending on volume. n

David M. Raab is president of Client X Client, a consulting and software firm specializing in customer value optimization. Reach him at draab@clientxclient.com.

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