In their quest for complete control over customer interactions, today’s marketers face two tasks. The first is to manage outbound communications such as advertising, direct mail and telemarketing. These are traditional marketing responsibilities, managed with standard tools such as campaign managers and marketing automation systems.
The second task is to control inbound interactions such as information requests, order processing and customer service. This is the responsibility of operational managers and systems. To have an effect in these areas, marketers must either persuade operational managers to modify rules in the operational systems, or deploy interaction managers that accept operational input and return decisions for the operational systems to execute.
Though outbound and inbound communications seem distinct, they overlap considerably. Outbound campaigns depend on customers to initiate their replies; inbound contacts present an opportunity to deliver company-selected messages. So customer management systems must eventually accommodate both.
Revenio Dialog (Revenio Inc., 781/852-2600, www.revenio.com) primarily delivers outbound campaigns. Revenio calls these “dialogues” because they can begin immediately after a customer action and can include many branches for messages and replies. This is interesting but not unique: Most marketing automation systems can do something similar. But Revenio also can take a customer-oriented, rather than a campaign-oriented, approach. In particular, it can ensure that customers receive the most important messages from multiple dialogues while still limiting the total number of contacts with each customer. Implemented properly, this provides a foundation for sophisticated customer contact strategies.
Revenio’s dialogues are built in a graphical interface that lets users drag shapes to form a flow chart. The shapes can represent external events that start a dialogue; selections based on logical decision rules, random samples or the number of records already processed; waiting for a specified time period, date or additional event; or outputs, including e-mail, fax, pager, direct mail or telemarketing messages. The system stores e-mail, fax and pager messages internally so it can generate them itself. Direct mail and telemarketing messages go to external systems with a package or script ID to indicate the appropriate content.
Shapes also can call for externally generated model scores, enforce contact limits, screen out customers who have already received a given dialogue, issue alerts based on the number of records processed and direct the flow to another dialogue. This last capability is particularly important because it lets the system route customers automatically through a network of interrelated dialogues in response to their behavior. This ensures consistency and simplifies customer management. Revenio ships with a dozen or so shapes and gives technical users an application program interface to build their own.
External systems notify Revenio that something has occurred by writing to an event API. Each event is created by a technical user and can pass Revenio up to four pieces of information. Once the event is registered, nontechnical users can use it within dialogues. Technical users can make external data available to dialogues through a data API.
While detailed data are read from external systems, Revenio does maintain an internal database with a limited amount of customer information and a record of the customer’s position in each active dialogue. This database lists all events for which each customer is waiting, so the system can react quickly when one occurs.
Revenio also can gather information directly from e-mail surveys. Survey forms are created outside the system but carry special HTML tags to identify questions and replies. This approach lets Revenio read the answers immediately when a response is received, rather than waiting for the answers to be posted to an external database. This makes it easier to use response information within a dialogue. Survey responses can be stored permanently or not. Revenio tags are available through plug-ins for the Front Page and Dream Weaver Web page creation programs, or can be inserted manually. The system can store both HTML and text versions of its surveys and will deliver whichever one is appropriate based on a customer’s system.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of Revenio is its Traffic Cop, which lets users limit the number of messages received by a customer during a set time period. When a dialogue is ready to send a message, the Traffic Cop checks whether the customer has already reached the limit set for the current period; if so, the message is placed in a queue for future delivery.
Each message is assigned a number of days it can remain in the queue and priority of high, medium or low, both of which are specified when the dialogue is set up. When the current traffic period expires, the system checks all messages in the queue and decides which to send based on priority and expiration date. Marketers can exempt selected messages from the Traffic Cop to ensure they are delivered immediately. Traffic Cop also can ensure that customers receive a minimum number of messages per time period.
The current version of Traffic Cop applies only to e-mail messages, but a release due in December will allow separate limits for different media and message types. The new release also will let customers specify how many messages of each type and channel they are willing to accept. However, the system still will apply the same traffic limits and priority ranks to all customers, will allow just three priority levels, and will not be able to reserve capacity for future messages. All these features could be refined to allow more precise customer management.
Revenio Dialog was released in September. The current version reflects this newness: It has limited file segmentation, simple decision logic, no integrated statistical modeling, no start and stop dates for dialogues or shapes, no cost calculations or revenue budgets, limited result reporting, and no differentiation in security among different classes of users. Many of these functions are already scheduled for improvement.
The system runs on Windows NT/2000 servers, Oracle or SQL Server databases, and the Microsoft Explorer browser. Price is set at $250,000, although $40,000 buys a two- or three-month hosted pilot. There are a half-dozen current installations.
• David M. Raab is a partner at Raab Associates, Chappaqua, NY, a consultancy specializing in marketing technology evaluation.