In my last two columns, I have been looking at contact optimization. I started with a definition (drive all customer communication based on behavior, preference and sophisticated predictive analytics) and continued with an explanation (develop a matrix to document communication priorities and provide a mechanism for enforcing them).

Solving the organizational challenges and gaining agreement on communication priorities is a sound start; however, leading relationship managers take their contact optimization strategies well beyond that. They develop contact programs that support personalized response-driven dialogs and prioritize individual communications for millions of customers simultaneously. Customer actions are continuously monitored to identify significant events that should trigger communications. Channel capacity is balanced with customer preference to ensure that each channel is focused on top priorities for both the customer and the business. Taking optimization to the next level requires an automated contact application that can balance all of these activities and still apply the organization’s business rules and priorities. This month, I will look at the capabilities inherent in world class optimization software.

Customer trust is built one communication at a time. A dialog between organization and customer must exist, and communications must be driven by customer response. The ability to execute multistep, response-driven campaigns is a must. To explain how to facilitate a multistep, response-driven campaign, I’ll use a relatively simple, single product sales offer. First, the organization determines the possible customer responses to the offer and maps them out like a decision tree. Typical paths in the tree could include no response, a not-interested-in-the-offer response, a sign-me-up response, a request for more information and a please-call-me-back-later response. Each of these possible responses will yield its own set of action steps, and every follow-up communication with the customer is tailored to the customer’s initial and ongoing reactions. Hence, the response-driven component proves that the company really does listen and can react according to the customer’s needs and preferences.

For example, in our product offer, both the not-interested and the no-response paths cause the process to stop and the campaign to end. If the customer asks for more information, the process moves to a step that packages and sends the requested information. After sending the material, the process waits for a reaction from the customer. If there is no action from the customer (e.g., a purchase of the product) for a specified time period, the process moves on to a customer call-back step that can yield several actions, depending on how the customer responds to the follow-up call. Because all responses in a multistep communication are customer-driven, it is also important that once this dialog has started, the organization sees it through to its natural end without interruption. Even if the communication stream takes weeks to complete, your decision tree (and the optimization software behind it) should account for the fact that a dialog is in progress and not interrupt the natural communication flow with an additional promotion or offer.

World class optimization also provides tracking for all leads in the communication cycle. In a complex environment where customer behavior is continually monitored to detect events indicating the need for a communication, the possible contacts must be continually prioritized. Campaigns must be ranked or weighted to determine priority for execution, leads within each campaign must be prioritized so that only the most relevant are fed into the actual communication channels, and the communication matrix (described in my June column) must be applied to ensure conformance with organizational policy. Customers can drop out of the process at any point, and a sophisticated optimization application will pinpoint all the customers receiving the communications as well as those that get clipped off the execution list at each stage in the prioritization process.

An additional capability to look for is the ability to automate the distribution of leads across all the available communication channels. This is not as simple as it sounds. As an organization enhances its communication and campaign execution and adopts event-based marketing concepts, it can be juggling hundreds of potential communications per day. The optimization software must be able to understand the capacity of each channel and limit the number of leads passed accordingly. To further complicate things, many organizations have specialists within certain channels and need to additionally refine the number and type of communications and leads passed, potentially down to an individual agent or company representative. Leads that are initially targeted but get clipped off the list due to channel capacity limits can sometimes be placed into an overflow category and passed to an alternate channel (e.g., email) for a different type of follow-up.

Multistep, response-driven customer dialog, prioritization across many variables, the ability to pinpoint lead disposition at any point in the process, application of the communication matrix and channel configuration are all technology capabilities required to support a robust contact optimization strategy. Automating this process is a must, and the optimization software should scale to support all of these activities across many campaigns and a large customer base.

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