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Software // Information Management

Content and CRM: Completing the Picture

Tap into Web sites, syndicated information, e-mail messages, bills and statements to add dimension to your customer. The effort to integrate and mine content pays off before -- and after -- the sale.

• Sales reps can't get beyond name, rank and serial number. Syndicated content, news feeds, e-mail and Web-based leads can add rich detail to the data in sales force automation systems. Don't leave it up to the enterprising few; software and services can synchronize this information with CRM automatically while deduping and clarifying redundant and cryptic data.

• Service reps can't see what customers are talking about. Are your people looking at systems interfaces that look nothing like the bills and statements customers routinely question? Integration with report management and imaging systems help customers and service reps quickly get on the same page.

• Content integrations are expensive and inflexible. The old customized approaches are giving way to service-oriented architecture and standards-based calls, so you won't have to reinvent the wheel when systems and processes change. And content can be made available within the CRM interface, so you won't need to train users on new tools.

• The answers are there, but you can't find them. Policies, procedures, FAQs and troubleshooting guidelines multiply and bog down knowledge bases. Taxonomy and classification software can help organize the mess, while advanced search brings the right documents to the head of the hit list.

• The CRM system is an untapped gold mine. Look beyond individual users and draw a bigger picture from CRM. Text mining can tap into notes fields, e-mail messages and online chat sessions to better understand the wants, needs and pet peeves of your top customer segments.

• There's a disconnect between Web service and everything else. In their haste to automate, too many companies have built siloed self-service sites. CRM vendors are responding by integrating online service, transaction management and content delivery capabilities. Organizations and vendors alike are turning to consistent, reusable processes and services with real-time connections to back-end billing, order management and financial systems.

• Customers say we never answer our e-mail. More than a third of companies take three days or longer or may never respond to customer e-mails, according to Jupiter Research (see "Listening Post"). Don't offer this option if you don't intend to respond, and if you do, tie it to the customer's record to so he or she won't have to explain the problem again on future calls.

If you could hear what your customers were thinking, would they be saying "Don't they know we were just acquired?" and "They act like this is the first time I've called about this problem?" You don't have to be clairvoyant — or invest in costly focus groups — to find out what people think of your products and services. Customers routinely share their complaints (and their praise) through your sales and service reps — you just don't know it. And is anyone paying attention to the online chat and e-mail inquiries streaming in from your spanking new self-service Web site?

Perhaps your sales and service representatives are relying too heavily on name, title and account data that offers only a partial view of the customer. There's a world of information that exists in e-mail messages, statements, invoices, chat sessions and syndicated feeds that could bring clarity and dimension to customer profiles, yet many customer relationship management (CRM) and customer service systems don't access this content.

For years, content and document management vendors have helped bridge such gaps with prebuilt and customized integrations with CRM systems and customer service solutions. The effort to tie these systems together sometimes took months and tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop, but sales and service reps gained access to crucial customer content without leaving their accustomed interfaces. Workflow technologies were integrated in much the same way, speeding lending, claims and other content-intensive processes. The key drawback of this system-to-system integration approach was that customized code often had to be rewritten whenever systems and processes changed.

Leading content management vendors are now moving to more flexible, standards-based content integration approaches such as services, but what options exist for the many small and midsized businesses that don't have content management systems? Even among banks, insurance companies and larger businesses that have long relied on document management and workflow, isolated silos of customer information still exist or, in some cases, are being created by disconnected self-service initiatives.

To fill the content void, enlightened organizations (and CRM vendors) are adding management, search, integration and even analytic tools to tap into everything from online leads, chat sessions and syndicated content to customer statements, invoices and e-mail messages. By combining content with the structured data available in CRM and customer support systems, they're giving sales and service representatives a more complete view of prospects and customers.

Put the Customer in Context

The dirty and not-so-secret truth is that many people on the front lines hate using CRM systems because they're forced to enter mountains of data about customers. The less trained and motivated the workforce, the more likely the system is to be full of typos, missing fields, redundant entries and cryptic notes.

"CRM is like a library with incredible amounts of information, but it should be organized like a university library, not a flea market," says Paul D'Arcy, vice president of marketing at Message One, an e-mail continuity and disaster recovery services provider. "Many CRM systems are a mess, with redundant information for the same companies and contacts. You're never quite sure which information is up to date."

To clean up its own implementation, Message One added InsideScoop, a Web-based integration and data cleansing service designed to work with the hosted sales force automation system. InsideScoop can enhance customer and prospect data with information from internal content and leads as well as syndicated data available from Dun & Bradstreet, Thomson Financial and others. The service helps fill CRM fields that would otherwise be empty, adding detail on locations, financial reports and legal filings. InsideScoop's cleansing tools can dedupe and update information in the wake of acquisitions and restructuring, and it also can ingest news feeds, Web-generated leads, e-mail messages, blogs, discussion forums and credit reports to enhance customer intelligence.

"We get about 1,000 leads per month from trade shows and the Web, and we use InsideScoop to append all sorts of information such as location information and detail on parent-child reporting relationships across the company," D'Arcy says.

Well-maintained CRM systems are replete with information, and some companies have learned to mine the available intelligence. At HP, for example, business-to-business sales teams make extensive use of the notes fields in the company's Siebel CRM system. These chunks of text, typed in by sales reps or copied directly from customer e-mail messages, provide insight for future sales calls, but HP's Customer Data and Knowledge Service unit also extracts information from these notes to learn more about broad groups of customers.

For many years, HP has used SAS data mining software to identify high-profit and high-growth customer segments based on demographic and revenue data, but in 2002, the company added SAS text-mining tools to gain deeper insight on customer wants and needs.

"We learned that different customer segments were communicating with us about dramatically different topics and themes," says Randy Collica, HP's senior business/data mining analyst. Spotting customer hot buttons related to product configuration and pricing enables HP marketing teams to understand the customer better and come up with different solutions and packages for different segments. The company also creates predictive models that can be applied to prospect databases to target potential new customers.

HP now routinely performs text mining on Siebel notes fields. Collica says it only takes "a couple of hours" to mine and merge the text-driven insight with other data because the information resides in the same Oracle database underneath Siebel. Collica says future projects will likely focus on Web-based content such as profiles of registered online customers, online chat sessions and responses to e-mail campaigns.

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