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Touchy, Touchy

Published
  • May 04 2000, 1:00am EDT
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This month, we will examine a critical component of e-marketing – leveraging the Web to enhance an organization’s strategy for communicating with its customers. While multichannel coordination is not a new problem for companies, the challenge of reaching and interacting with customers has been complicated by the Web. Though the Web is not the only channel for reaching customers, it is becoming the most preferred. Businesses around the globe have come to expect and demand the level of speed, efficiency and personalization the Web affords for any and all of their interactions with their customers. The goal: To extract the best customer and market knowledge possible and effectively target customers across all touchpoints. From a learning standpoint, we want to be able to understand something new about each customer interaction so we can feed it back for use during the next session.

Easily stated, not easily performed. From a marketing perspective, touchpoints are increasing. When we only had call centers, direct mail and direct sales, not many companies bothered coordinating the channels. However, the Web now adds another level of complexity – not only do we have to coordinate one more channel, but the customers using this channel expect instant response.

Then there is the wireless capability. Cell phones are another medium for information exchange, and handheld devices such as Palm and Miscosoft CE are important touchpoints to consider. Don’t forget more industry-specific touchpoints such as ATMs, kiosks and self-service check-in at the airlines. Coupled with the prospect of Internet appliances, how does one develop a strategy that addresses all these customer-facing touchpoints? (We haven’t even considered the needs of partners and the indirect channel.) It sure is getting complicated.

Let’s look at multichannel coordination from a couple of perspectives: company initiated and customer initiated.

Company Initiated

If you have been reading this column for a few months, you know I make no pretense that a campaign management backbone must control all customer communications. Whether it has been custom-created or a purchased package, the campaign management process must drive all company-initiated customer communications.

For each channel, a certain amount of analysis must be done to prepare for communication across the touchpoint. We can look at touchpoint analysis in three ways: information, content and feedback.

Information

What kind of information do we need to communicate with this customer across this channel? Do we need a mailing address, e-mail address, phone number, etc.? Do we need additional information such as account number, purchase history, customer status, special contract considerations, do-not-contact information or other customer information? What is the quality of this information? How often does it change? How do we capture these changes? How timely do we capture them? These questions need to take into consideration nuances such as change of addresses (electronic or the kind with a red flag). Basically, the information category takes a look from a channel perspective and tries to understand the logistics and complications with communicating across this channel.

Content

Content implies the actual creative content and pitch that will be delivered to the customer. This piece of analysis needs to take a look at the delivery mechanism of the channel: will it be an e-mail, a telemarketing script, a sales pitch, a banner ad, a mailer, etc.? Further, the content may imply certain information needs especially if the idea is personalization. Once again, we need to take a look at how that information can be acquired and if it is fit for use.

Feedback

Feedback analysis tries to understand how we are going to measure the success of the campaign. From a technical and business-process standpoint, this is the most difficult piece of analysis. Whether it is called response analysis, campaign analysis, usage analysis, conversion analysis or clickstream, this is the hardest part of the multichannel paradigm. Direct mail is always difficult and, unless the organization is willing to add an 800-number to filter the calls, it is going to be a date or purchase-implied response. I don’t care if a company has installed Siebel, Clarify or custom created a call center application, it seems the training for service representatives to ask the right questions of customers who respond to campaigns is not up to par. Cell and key codes are not captured, source codes are not filled and direct responses – which should be easy to flag – become difficult. Just imagine a marketer’s surprise after a seven-figure implementation of CRM technology that cannot track responses to campaigns. The same goes for the direct sales force.

Further complicating response analysis involves multilevel interactions between organizations and the campaign. For instance, how does one know that the customer actually received the communication? In direct sales, agent, broker or Web environment, we cannot automatically assume the customer really viewed the message. Therefore, a separate analysis – let’s call it contact analysis – is needed to track and confirm the delivery of communication. Did the sales rep, agent or broker personally give the pitch to the client? Did the user physically login to the Web site and see the message? This piece of information is critical to helping organizations measure the effectiveness of a campaign and gather the appropriate knowledge about a customer’s response for the next campaign strategy.

Campaign management tools are effective tracking mechanisms as long as the question can be answered with a query. Sometimes, in order to allow the question to be answered with a query, we need to make changes or campaign specific programs to detect a response. This implies programming and, while we do not want to program for each campaign, we must be prepared to do so when necessary.

Which leads us to the business process.

We need a business process to envelop this whole initiative. We need to understand the information, the content and the feedback and how we are going to address it per channel, by campaign. If you use third-party ad or creative agencies, project management is crucial. This effort could require coordination between the creative agency, the marketing department, data analysts and IT to make sure the campaign and channel "drop" correctly. The goal is to react quickly to market conditions and be able to develop a campaign and pick the appropriate channels at the speed of the market. This very issue is driving campaign management vendors to look very closely at including project management and workflow capabilities into their products. DataLogic, Aprimo and, to some extent, Siebel Marketing have a head start here – but not for long.

Customer Initiated

When a customer initiates a contact, different yet, in some ways, similar tasks take place. First and foremost, the contact needs to be logged. Many organizations have a call center and Web site. Many have other touchpoints where the contact is not electronically recorded (i.e., sales force). Many have touchpoints where the contact is implied (i.e., a purchase at a store). One way or another, an organization needs to build a central contact structure. With the Web, we may need to integrate clickstream tools to track events on the Web site.

Even though Seibel, Vantive, Clarify and their colleagues have a done an exceptional job of making sure that their modules show a 360-degree view of customer contacts, some companies forget to integrate contacts outside of these tools into their front-office suite. This could include Web or back-office marketing functions (direct mail, e-mail, etc.) or other touchpoints that the suite does not coordinate. A company’s front-office suite should be very open to take in outside contacts. In situations where there are different technologies per touchpoint, a shared contact database (possibly an ODS) must be created to integrate these systems. We have recently seen organizations pick one of the touchpoint databases (typically the call center) to own the contact history and each touchpoint writes and reads from this database. In some ways, the front-office suites act as an excellent ODS for customer information – similar to how ERP systems acted as an ODS for the back-office functions.

Even more interesting, as the front-office suite vendors roll out their e- commerce packages, they are integrating, almost to the click level, the Web contacts within their integrated database structure. With the difficulty of detecting these events, an e-commerce package integrated into a front-office suite is extremely compelling. In fact, these vendors are starting to store inbound and outbound e-mails as well as the text from live chats.

Now enter personalization. Knowing all contact that the customer has had from the company is important, especially if they were originated from marketing messages. However, they are typically not in the form to help the "touchpoint representative" articulate the message that this customer should receive. The right product and the right message for the right customer must be very easy for the sales rep, customer service representative, broker or agent to view and articulate. The Web site must reflect an electronic form of this pitch. Contact history will help the representatives understand, at the point of contact, what pitches have worked or at least been tried (per customer) in the past. Understanding the complaints and issues the customer has had must also be aggregated and displayed in a manner that the reps can take action on. Scrolling through the text of a live chat will not be helpful when facing an irate customer. Knowing that the customer has already tried to solve this problem a week ago on the Web site would be helpful. Personalization, through all channels, must mirror the customer’s current predicament and make an appropriate offer.

These personalization techniques must be driven from business rules. We know the power of CRM is treating each interaction in a special way. Next month, we’ll look at technologies and business processes to help you break the rules to increase customer satisfaction.

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