CRM: making every customer contact a marketing event

Delivering enterprise-wide, integrated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is rapidly becoming a priority for many organizations.

The objective is to consolidate and integrate customer information from across the organization and to provide simple end-user access to the right information, in the right form, at the right place, at the right time, with an appropriate level of detail. Building a CRM infrastructure is being driven primarily by the desire to eliminate “over-servicing” of customers and unprofitable service practices, leverage customer preferences and profitability, elevate each and every customer contact into a marketing event, and survive in an increasingly competitive business landscape (in some cases as a result of industry deregulation).

While it is being welcomed by many as an essential step towards developing long term, win-win customer relationships, unfortunately others are treating it as just another corporate flavour-of-the-month.

Like any far-reaching and labour-intensive initiative, enterprise-wide CRM needs to be guided by an overall strategy, rather than being viewed as the sum or end result of several discrete projects. An enterprise-wide CRM strategy includes the purpose and the envisioned future state of CRM for the organization. The approach needs to incorporate or consider:

Customers. Effective CRM is dependent on a customer-facing view that starts with the customer and moves back into the organization. The goal is to focus the organization on the customer experience, through all points of contact that the company has with the customer.

Business processes. CRM processes need to be reviewed and in many cases improved in order to acquire new customers, keep the best ones loyal and improve profitability.

Organizational culture. The organization needs to embrace a customer-focused perspective and reward model that transcends the traditional stove pipe divisional or departmental perspective in place in many large corporations.

Technology. Key technology strategies and migration plans for the near and long term need to be created and put into place. The technology infrastructure needs to be measured on its effectiveness to meet the service offering and service delivery goals as well as its technical attributes.

At the core of effective CRM approaches is an assessment of the entire customer experience — their interaction with your organization from cradle to grave. In order to put into operation a customer-facing plan, you need to understand the impact of all experiences a customer may have with your organization. Additionally, you need to understand how experiences with your company may differ from experiences with your competitors.

An appropriately structured customer experience is the cornerstone to generating value to the organization. While customer experiences are comprised of four key components (marketing, sales, service, and products and core services), CRM is dependent on an harmonious and aligned relationship between your organization’s people, processes and technology.

The need to take a step back to evaluate their overall CRM approach is becoming a growing concern in many large organizations. A large U.S. insurance provider was in the process of creating a start-up business providing fee-based personal financial planning services to consumers. As a key differentiator, they believed this service had to be offered with a total emphasis on the customer. Their plan was to provide a high-service, high-touch, single-face to the customer. Unfortunately, they had little clarity around their business service model beyond their overall vision and several capital decisions had already been made.

They began with an assessment of how the customer interacted with them across all customer channels (e.g. Internet, call centre, regional office) and how well their customers were being serviced (speed and quality). This resulted in a re-structuring of service offerings and a service delivery model that embraced existing capabilities and systems. While the technology infrastructure needed to be modified, they resisted the temptation to build from scratch. They were fortunate in that they were able to leverage their existing infrastructure, since in some cases this may not be possible.

An organization committed to being customer-focused needs to evaluate their CRM approach from both an internal and external perspective. Organizations need to identify opportunities for personalization and customization while ensuring that the technology infrastructure incorporates a customer response feedback loop.

At the same time, organizations must develop their go-to-market strategy and stick to it. Are they going to be premium providers, differentiating themselves through service offerings and service delivery, or merely try to stay in the game and minimize costs? Many industries do not require high levels of customer treatment, and it can be argued that not all companies should encourage customer or service-intensive relationships. Those that choose to go with enterprise-wide, integrated CRM are best advised to start with and maintain a close eye on the customer. While this may seem obvious it is not always the case.

Rosen is a principal consultant in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Market and Customer Management Practice and is PwC’s Canadian leader for Relationship and Database Marketing. He can be reached at