McKnight would like to thank Dan Stanford of Stanford Consulting Works, Inc. for his assistance in writing this month's column. Next month, McKnight will resume looking at the value proposition for the CRM-ready data warehouse in support of the major customer interaction systems.

Vendors of e- CRM (electronic customer relationship management) solutions have muddied the true definition of e-CRM. They all say, "We do e-CRM," but typically their solutions only addresses a specific subset of e-CRM functionality. This column defines the component pieces that together form a comprehensive e-CRM solution.

E-CRM is not just your call center, self-service Web site, sales force automation tool or the analysis of customers' purchasing behaviors. E-CRM is all of these initiatives working together to enable you to more effectively respond to your customers' needs and to market to them on a one-to- one basis. It's about the customer, not any individual piece of technology. If we evaluate and understand how our customers behave and how we need to respond to them, then we can begin to understand the component pieces of e- CRM.

Today, there are many ways a customer can interact with a vendor including via a salesperson, Web site, catalog, e-mail, store, trade show exhibit or advertisement. With today's technology, it's possible for each of these contact points to be driven from the same base of information about the customer. However, it is not unusual for these contact points to be driven from discrete bases of information which are not coordinated and do not have the same content. Your sales force doesn't know about your customers' interactions with your Web site. Your call center doesn't know the customer was visited by a salesperson last week. You send e-mails without consideration of recent catalog purchases. Consequently, the customer thinks you don't have your act together. An integrated customer information architecture to support all of these applications could prevent this lack of coordination.

The first need identified in delivering true e-CRM is an integrated customer information architecture. Creating and maintaining this integrated information architecture is not a trivial process. The various applications contributing to the architecture need to be identified. The architecture needs to be designed to support the various applications and technologies involved, and vice versa. The data must then be extracted, transformed and loaded into the environment. Replication strategies may need to be incorporated to keep the applications in synchronization with each other. Creating and maintaining this architecture may cost millions and still not be perfect; however, the architecture is the fundamental cornerstone of comprehensive e-CRM.

The next step is to segment and analyze what we have. We need to understand why, what, where, when and how our customers make purchases. We need to understand where we make money. We need to know which channels are working and which ones aren't. We need to understand what our competitors are doing. There are statistical analysis techniques that can provide this insight. However, these are not for the layperson. You should have marketing and statistical analysis experts on your staff to use the tools and make sense of the outcomes of the analyses. The tools to answer these questions are the true OLAP (online analytic processing) tools on the market today. There is also a special subset of tools that facilitate the heavy-duty statistical analysis or data mining.

Once we better understand our customers, we need to be able to promote to them in a direct way. In today's business environment, this can take many forms. We may want to personalize their interactions with our Web site, e-mail, pagers, voice- mail, faxes or other telephonic messages. We may want to personalize the script on their next calls to our call center or have our salespeople call them with specific product or service offerings. We need to be able to construct and manage promotions using a variety of channels and monitor the success of those promotions. We need closed-loop processes which allow us to initiate, manage and monitor promotions through all of our channels. Tools to support this area are fragmented and solution-specific. Sales force automation (SFA) and call center applications only address one piece. Personalization engines only cover the Web. Broadcast engines only deal with telephony.

It's only when a customer initiates a purchase and that purchase is recorded by the sales, inventory, general ledger and other transactional applications that we obtain the raw material we need to further understand the customer and to evaluate the effectiveness of our promotions. Oftentimes we have multiple versions of these applications to handle specific products or channels. It's not just these transactional applications, but also the transactions being captured by our SFA and call center applications. The challenge is to extract the necessary customer transaction data from these discrete applications and incorporate that data in our CRM-ready data warehouse. It is then that we have "closed the loop" and can truly attain one-to-one and permission marketing relationships with our customers.

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