CRM (r)evolution: digital customers demand change

Tim Minahan Profile picture for user tim_minahan October 16, 2014
You are no longer in control of your brand, your marketing, or the sales process - digital customers are. But how do you engage them?

“It’s about giving the power to the people…anybody knows that the people have the power. All we need to do is awaken the power in the people.” – John Lennon, 1969

Let’s be honest. You are no longer in control of your brand, your marketing, or the sales process. The ‘people’ are. And the people are better informed and less trusting.

Today’s consumers are digitally connected and socially networked. They rely on social ratings, peer recommendations, and online research to shape their buying decisions and formulate opinions on your brand -- long before ever engaging with your company. And they no longer conform to the push-marketing, sales-funnel models upon which traditional commercial organizations and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems were built.

Reaching these newly empowered consumers requires entirely new models for engagement that are fundamentally shaking the foundations of how and where we sell; when (or if) we market; and how we service customers beyond the initial sale.

Customer engagement is no longer about forcing customers through a pre-defined marketing and sales funnel. It’s about connecting with and guiding them through a dynamic, consumer-led buying journey - from initial engagement in new channels like social and mobile through post-sale support - all with a consistent, branded, and integrated experience.

Businesses and their CRM systems must evolve to meet demands of today’s empowered customer.

Beyond CRM

Traditional CRM solutions were designed to manage the customer record and meet the needs of discrete, and often disconnected, functions and channels. Worse yet, they were built for a bygone era when sales and marketing professionals believed they controlled a structured sales process. They are not built to fully support the preferred (and often meandering) buying journey of today’s empowered consumer.

Connected and more informed consumers and the proliferation of new sales channels is straining the ability for CRM to live up to its initial promise. While purporting to provide a ‘single view of the customer’ across channels and businesses processes, most CRM systems capture only partial customer information and transactions that occur in other systems, in a myriad of channels and devices, and through offline interactions. In addition, CRM systems often lack deep functionality required to meet the needs of any given customer-facing functional area.

As a result, a host of specialist – so called “best-of-breed”-- applications have cropped up to address distinct processes like sales force automation or marketing automation. But these specialist apps have limitations of their own. They lack a holistic customer lifecycle view, failing to connect business processes and systems needed to engage customers one-on-one across all channels of interaction throughout every step of their journey.

The result has been a disjointed view of the customer for your functional leaders and an integration nightmare for your IT department. Worse yet, CRM’s struggle to keep pace with today’s more informed consumers and their omni-channel requirements has resulted in a fragmented and often frustrating experience for customers. It’s no wonder the majority of consumers today say they would consider moving to a different brand for perceived better service.

The Customer Engagement Era

Reaching, winning and retaining today’s empowered customer will require an entirely new model for one-to-one engagement. And entirely new systems to support it!

Instead of trying to control the customer’s journey, companies need to act as a guide or orchestrator of that journey. They need to map the customer journey and make it the foundation for their new model for integrated engagement, delivering a consistent and personalized experience across all channels:

  • McKinsey & Company reports that 71% percent of consumers who’ve had a good social-media service experience with a brand are likely to recommend it to others.

If a consumer is researching your product or service on Twitter, Facebook, or blogs from their mobile device, you need to listen and, if appropriate, engage in the conversation with valuable insight that responds to their question and guides their buying decision.

Social media is no longer a hobby for your marketing interns. As CRM godfather Paul Greenberg put it in his Social CRM rethought series, CRM is now inadequate without social engagement:

CRM without social channels might as well be called dCRM – deficient CRM. The incorporation of the use of social channels for both communication and data gathering is now table stakes for the CRM industry.

Today, the entire purchasing process requires a great customer experience – on any device.  If the customer wants to order your product or request your service online, you need to be prepared to capture that order with a simplified and seamless process. If they want to pick up part of that order at a local retail outlet and have the rest drop shipped to their home or office, you need to support that too. All with a seamless, connected, and branded experience across every channel and device.

And the customer journey doesn’t stop there. Today’s empowered customers demand ever-increasing levels of post-sales service and support. No longer will they hold endlessly on your help line, replying to countless automated prompts, or repeating their personal information and problems to multiple service reps. Today’s empowered customer expects you to understand who they are and what they’ve bought. They want you to anticipate their problems and provide prompt resolution.

Supporting this end-to-end customer engagement model requires solution capabilities that extend beyond the scope of traditional, control-based and sales force oriented CRM applications. To meet the needs of today’s empowered customer, CRM must be extended to support the customer-led buying journey.

To engage customers at the right time, with the right offer or response, and deliver a superior experience that drives brand loyalty - and ultimately revenue - requires tight integration across business functions and all aspects of the commerce process. And this can only be achieved through a combination of:

  • Contextualized marketing and service, serving the needs of each individual consumer at the time of need.
  • Fully integrated process and order orchestration across all sales and commerce channels.
  • A harmonized customer experience across physical and digital channels (e.g., social, web storefront, retail) and all devices (e.g., smartphone, tablet, PC).
  • A platform not just built on customer data, but on customer intelligence allowing companies to ‘live and engage in the moment’ with each and every customer.

Customer Engagement in Action

While a major departure from traditional, structured, and long-held sales and marketing channels, this new model for customer engagement is rapidly emerging a competitive necessity. And leading companies are turning it into a disruptive advantage across multiple industries:

When STM, one of the largest public transportation companies in North America, wanted to increase ridership and develop new revenue streams, it knew it needed to do something different. STM had a loyalty card program for frequent customers, but it didn’t guarantee increased ridership or provide sufficient insight into rider behaviors or preferences. Taking a page from other industries, STM replaced its static loyalty card with a mobile app that offered greater insight into customers and new opportunities for meaningful engagement with them.

Thanks to geo-location features, STM now knows detailed rider behaviors and can offer up real-time information on service delays or offer alternative routes for speedier travel. STM uses this same service to present special, personalized and contextual offers to individual customers, such as alerting a rider to a service disruption and offering them a discount at a local coffee shop while they wait out the delay. This new model for rider engagement has increased ridership and enhanced loyalty among STM’s customer base:

Nepresso differentiates itself on helping customers achieve a superior coffee shop experience at home both simply and consistently. This vision is also reflected in its customer engagement model. Nespresso has reengineered processes and systems to deliver a consistent, branded, and personalized experience in every channel and across the entire customer lifecycle.

The company tracks and connects every interaction, retaining information on customer buying habits, preferences, and order frequency. This allows Nespresso to truly understand its customers and deliver a consistent and personalized experience both online and in physical retail outlets.

Customer engagement is no longer about customer relationship management. It’s about customer-managed relationships!

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