Overcoming Cultural Barriers to Data Integration

Employee Engagement
Employee Engagement
Best practices: Wolters Kluwer and Belgacom share how they overcame cultural challenges when integrating data across the enterprise, and the benefits that emerged as a result.

As companies increasingly look to integrate customer data and create centralized systems, they realize technology alone is not the answer. A combined effort to align, people, processes, and technology is required. In fact, one of the biggest barriers to breaking down silos of internal information is company culture.

In his report Trends 2010: Customer Relationship Management, Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst Bill Band outlines 11 trends in CRM adoption. One major trend, he writes, is that "the struggle to integrate customer data continues." Part of that struggle is technical, but another part is cultural. Many companies must integrate departmental responsibilities when implementing a CRM system, which can lead to change management issues.

The report cited more than 200 individual problems with respondents' customer management projects. Of those, 22 percent of the problems were related to people. Band writes that successful companies will need to focus on five CRM fundamentals: promoting user adoption, focusing on business processes, establishing executive sponsorship, practicing sound customer data management, and defining the right metrics. Neglecting the cultural issues will hinder any customer data effort.

Two companies, Wolters Kluwer and Belgacom, each overcame cultural challenges when integrating data by emphasizing employee education and transparency about the benefits and realities of the initiative.

Wolters Kluwer builds employee enthusiasm with evidence

Wolters Kluwer, a global publishing, information services, and consulting company, employs more than 19,000 people and has annual revenues of about 3.7 billion. In recent years the company has grown through acquisition, and found itself with 75 databases to integrate. "Over time we acquired lots of isolated pools of information about customers," says Mike Turner, head of MIS. "If we could join the pool of information together we could understand what the Wolters Kluwer customer looks like."

The problem, Turner says, is that there were many different personalities working with the data and there was no standard of collection and warehousing. "There were very different views of the world in these micro-environments," which included large ERP systems, tiny systems in old programming languages, sales contact management systems, and third-party systems. The company worked with SAS to integrate the data, which has been a six-year process.

In order to consolidate the data, "we had to develop strong internal sales about the value of sharing data," he says, adding that the effort started with an internal education and marketing program. "We had to share the vision before we did any work."

The CIO and sales and marketing director came on as sponsors of the education program. Having synergy between IT and the business sides created a cohesion that was followed throughout the company. Also, executive-level sponsorship set the tone that integrating data was to be an enterprisewide priority, Turner says.

The company shared compelling stories about why integration was important. It showed the dangers of continuing to operate at the status quo in terms of productivity, customer satisfaction, and the company's bottom line. For example, company leaders explained that in many cases the firm overcommunicated to customers, with employees in different departments calling on customers or sending multiple messages.

Wolters Kluwer also created a dialogue with employees about the direction of the integration project. "If I give you information, I'll get back information with interest," Turner says. "Many critics became champions because they were listened to and had a say [in the decision-making process]. People feel empowered and able to make decisions."

In addition, the company created quick-win pilot programs to show what can be done when information is integrated. IT, sales, and marketing worked together to consolidate their customer view and run targeted campaigns based on the integrated customer insight. The company's Tax and Finance group, for example, exceeded its revenue target by three times from a single campaign. Another campaign to set appointments for field sales saw improved results, as well. And the company saw an 8 percent improvement in customer retention because it stopped overcommunicating. These results were shared with the entire organization, and Wolters Kluwer continues to roll out more integration initiatives.

Turner says that while the company has had success, not everyone was on board with the changes. "Often it's a cultural thing," he says. Some employees feel threatened when companies open up the data and processes they mange to others. This is common, and companies must face that reality. "Don't be afraid to lose people," he says.

He also advises that companies must stay focused on employee education and involvement throughout the process. "You must involve the business. The business must be engaged or else it's not worth it."

Belgacom wins over internal skeptics

Belgacom, the largest telecommunications company in Belgium, is considered by analysts to be one of the crown jewels in the European telecom sector. Internally, however, the company is plagued with data silos that negatively affect the customer experience.

These silos prevent a cross-channel view of how customers experience Belgacom. "We would score you 'satisfied' due to a survey about the Web experience, but not notice that you also reported -- one month later -- bill shock and churned out of the service you bought," says Scott Alcott, Belgacom's COO.

In some cases the company would measure customers' Net Promoter Scores in terms of promoters and detractors, but failed to track the drivers of those results. "Some things were just missing," Alcott says.

In January he and the executive team decided to start making changes. "We woke up one morning and said, 'We are making it hard on the customers,'" Alcott says. "We had to hit the reset button and clean out the closet."

Alcott assembled a cross-departmental transformation team to help educate employees about the changes and "make some noise." However, aligning the culture to these new changes would prove to be challenging. Belgacom is a unionized, state-owned telecom, so every decision and change needs full approval from the union leaders. Alcott says he and his team prepared presentations showing the rationale behind the changes, including the benefit to workers. "They don't want complaints, angry customers, nor 'stress work' that comes from repeat calls and problems," he says.

Alcott then showed the leaders, through projected metrics, that the company could ultimately lower work volume and improve the business climate. "With their permission we ran regional trials and proved the benefits would come before asking them to agree to national rollout. That inspired trust and brought facts to the table," he says.

After the unions approved the plans, Belgacom's CEO Didier Bellens made the "Customer is King" project the company's number one priority. Alcott assigned people to be accountable for certain processes. Additionally, he physically moved employees within the organization. "We took employees with fragmented roles and centralized them," he says. He also conducted a road show throughout the country where he explained the customer-focused objectives to all 16,000 employees, and even placed "Customer is King" screensavers on every desktop.

Belgacom now has a better view of the processes causing customer deflection and annoyance and have a better idea of what to measure. It now has a handle on who the customer detractors are and have tighter processes in place to reach out to them before they deflect. Detractors are down 40 percent year to date. The company also have a better view of who is making purchases and can now see which customers may be at high risk. These customers no longer fall into a black hole.

Next, Alcott wants to design a customer bill of rights. "That will be an integral part of helping to change the way we do business."