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Spotlight conversation: The evolution of CRM

Janet Rubio, chief insights officer at Engauge, reveals how the evolution of CRM is being driven by channel maturity and opening up new ways for marketers to structure their customer contact strategies. Challenges in the space are centered around funding for new strategy investments and the changing tide of consumer control.

Q: How has CRM evolved since you first got into the business 20 years ago and where is it today?

A: CRM has become a lot more complex with many complicated components involved. Today, people are talking a lot about CRM in terms of engagement and the experience that a consumer has with the brand. The experiences are not the old customer service experience. They are online and offline and very integrated.

In addition, the definition of what CRM is continues to evolve. When customers and clients use the term CRM, we stop them and ask them what it means to them, and we always get very different answers. Some brands are looking at a contact management kind of approach to managing the relationships and others are defining it’s as involvement with their customers. Others are wondering how many times you can touch the customer to help build the relationship without being intrusive.

Q: Who or what is leading the evolution of the channel?

A: It’s almost as if it is a marketing or a direct marketing maturity that seems to be the driver. So marketers that have customer databases and are comfortable with those databases, tend to the be the ones pushing the envelope more into new ideas in CRM. Companies that don’t have inside capabilities for data already tend to be the ones that are trying to figure out the basics of CRM.

Q: What are some of the tactics you’re seeing in these varying CRM programs?

A: Most, if not all of, the clients that we work with are putting together contact streams. So basically what is happening is a variety of communication vehicles are being developed. They may know that within their contact strategy that they want to touch the customer over a number of times over a certain amount of time in places such as on the phone or in-store. So marketers are laying out the channel that they want to communicate in and then forming a communication and interaction that is appropriate for that channel and can drive a CRM interaction.The real art is in the mix of these types of messages and the vehicles that they are creating to be able to smoothly deliver those messages within this overall architected contact database.

Q: Are you seeing more clients crossing over into more digital channels for their CRM programs?

A: Depending on the level of sophistication, the clients that we work with are aware of new opportunities. But many of them have only been doing this for a bit and that combined with shrunken budgets have made getting into new technologies less viable. We don’t have any active clients at this point in time that are stepping out there.They are maybe shifting more and more to e-mail delivery in terms of the contact stream, but in terms of adopting whole new technologies for their CRM database, it is not happening yet. Everybody is interested in it, but the potential risk of getting it wrong is still outweighing giving up something that we know is working.

Q: What opportunity do you see in the CRM space?

A: We are very focused on driving our clients to thinking about CRM in conjunction to thinking about our thinking on engagement. We encourage brands to think about the holistic relationship that they want have with customers and what type of emotional connection you need to forge and what kind of structural relationship do you need to forge. We are encouraging people to move beyond loyalty and adapt in a world that is changing and becoming a lot more uncontrollable for the marketer. The experience that a customer has is the brand. It is not just about your messaging, it is about what happens when you interact with them.

Q: Is CRM challenged in a time when the message becomes less controllable by the marketers?

A: That very statement is the heart of what everybody is grappling with. Every day it becomes harder. When a video is posted on YouTube and Twitter before it is on TV, brands can get feedback from their community and the audience has more input in shaping the message.  The customer is now in much more control. The whole heart of CRM implies that the marketer is in control, but we are not anymore. We have to work with the consumer.

Q: Where do you see CRM going in the next year?

A: We believe that analysis and insight is the wave of the future. But it’s not traditional statistical models that are prediction prospects based on customers and how they are described. It is the ability to capture data coming from all of the various touch points. So it is the ability to appropriately cookie someone on a landing page or on a direct mail piece that you sent and tying that all back into a database. It is the ability to have a data infrastructure that is fully synthesized. The database is the new marketplace.

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