The idea of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is not new, but that doesn't mean that it's easily understood or even well-executed by most brands, especially in today's radically changing marketing environment.

Whether or not organizations have completely mastered traditional CRM, global, social, and mobile adoption has already changed the game and shifted the landscape. Consumers now have the opportunity to interact with a brand anywhere they want, whenever they want. Brands that are prepared to engage in this "always-on" environment have the potential for a significant competitive advantage, while those focusing on traditional campaign-centric tactics will be quickly left behind.

A 2012 Forrester Research Inc. report, The Evolution of the Customer Engagement Agency by Fatemeh Khatibloo, described such an approach evolving an organization's marketing from a campaign, channel, and tactical focus to one where the attention is on optimizing the consumer experience.  This is done by using data and marketing intelligence at every interaction and synchronizing engagement across all user channels conversationally, in real-time.

Such an engagement approach creates a responsive and relevant consumer dialogue – the kind of knowing give-and-take that characterizes any relationship. As a result of this dialog, customer intelligence deepens and broadens for a more complete view of the whole consumer. In this way marketers can better identify brand champions and maximize ROI.

While an organizational change in direction may be difficult to achieve, it's useful to keep in mind that a consumer doesn't see internal business silos or care how an organization is structured. Consumers see and want to engage seamlessly with a single brand that understands their needs and is relevant at each and every experience and touch point. When a brand does—and especially when it doesn't –deliver on this experience, consumers are empowered to broadcast their perceived experience through their networks and to other potential customers. This shift of control in the marketing dialogue to the consumer emphasizes the importance for a brand to be an active and informed participant in every customer relationship.

While this theoretically makes sense, how does a brand bring the vision of CEM to life? Here are three key pointers for starting the evolution process:

 1. A cross-functional approach makes a difference

To be successful, consumer-focused global companies should aim to put in place a collaborative framework across marketing teams, geographical regions, business units, organizational functions, and business processes. This can be done incrementally, in a phased approach, and can be layered onto existing processes.

As mentioned, a consumer sees a brand in its totality:  as a single entity.  Your organization must support a collaborative cross-functional team approach to create, develop, and optimize a customer experience that is equally single-minded. How a consumer interacts with your brand across media, the Web, customer service, in-store, mobile, and other channels must be completely understood. Having support across all these functional teams is the key to establishing, supporting, and optimizing an integrated CEM approach that can live globally and be applied locally.

 

2. A complete view of customer interactions is key

All customers are created differently and very few will have the same path to purchase. It's important to invest in understanding your customers' needs at all possible interaction points with a focus on their preferred channels of communication.

CEM is not just about communication strategies; it provides an extension of service and support that reinforces the brand. Relevance is key. At the core, every interaction should be driven by data and customer intelligence to deliver a positive customer experience. In order to fully understand the breadth of interactions with your customers, it's important to complete a thorough customer interaction mapping exercise and to apply analytics – even in near real-time—at every possible communication point.

This process should not only identify the interactions across your customers' journey, but document the when, where, level of influence, pain points, data to be captured, metrics and other details associated with those interactions. This exercise will create the foundation for a CEM strategy and help prioritize where to focus to start breaking down internal siloes and pain points. It's important to remember that every single interaction is an opportunity to create a consistent brand experience.

 

3. Connected data drives engagement

Once you know where your consumers engage with your brand, how do you participate?

Delivering relevant dialogue with your customers on-demand is made possible through connected, real-time accessible and actionable data. A brand must have a 360-degree view of consumer interactions and anticipate, then deliver on their needs.

This is not just about a database. Beyond that, a marketing platform designed to support multi-channel, consumer-driven communications in an always-on environment is the engine that helps drive engagement. Today's consumer engagement marketing platform should:

  • Integrate data in new and more powerful ways, including web behavior and social media data.
  • Provide real-time access to customer knowledge
  • Support a network experience across bought, owned and earned channels, so that CEM strategies can be modified to optimize all customer interactions
  • Empower and optimize consumer-controlled social channels such as social postings, ratings, and reviews
  • Be globally scalable to support the localization of global strategy
  • Support cross-functional and cross-channel measurement and analytics to provide actionable business insights

This connected data will empower brands to understand customers as individuals and uncover needs and insights that motivate behavior to provide relevant and engaging customer dialogue across any channel.

While declaring the end of traditional CRM may be a bit extreme, the truth at its core is: It is important for brands to evolve in order to deliver authentic dialogue and become a valued participant in consumer's always-on experiences—social, mobile, digital.  Ensuring that your organization can support integrated CEM strategies is the key to reaching customers any time, any where; providing relevant marketing encounters and experiences; and building long-term relationships to drive business growth.