Using CRM to transform Timeshare and the Customers Travel Experience: The SugarCRM experience 

Using innovation and Agile to transform the Sales process and Customer Experience for a leading Timeshare company

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Being recognised by an Industry body for game changing innovation is something I am very proud of. From concept through to delivery, a great team helped put together a solution which forms a new paradigm in Travel Sales.

Travel is something that I am passionate about. Therefore when the opportunity to “transform” a major player in the Travel Industry came knocking, I was genuinely excited. However, when I then learnt that it was in the Timeshare industry, for some reason, that excitement suddenly became muted. A bit of research revealed explained my reaction:

Timeshare is a concept that many are aware of but often the perception of what timeshare is can be very far from the reality. In its purest and original form, buyers purchase a share of a hotel room/apartment in a managed holiday resort. This share equates to a percentage of a year, usually a week. Historically, the purchase of this week bound the owners to holiday at the same resort at the same week year after year. It was a hard sell and became a haven for unscrupulous salespersons, developers and dubious incentive programs. This helped explain my initial cynicism.

Over the years, the concept has grown and evolved into a multi billion dollar industry which even includes household brands such as Disney, Ramada (as part of Wyndham ) and Accor. Some schemes offer points, some varied resorts and others have evolved into travel clubs. There are now timeshare companies offering yachts, RV’s or even private homes as alternate travel options.

Therefore, in early 2014, I became involved with Australia’s largest Timeshare Operator, Classic Holidays, who operate over 60 resorts in Australia and New Zealand. Its members have varied membership types representing the changes in the industry over the last 20 years and more.

Despite the modernity of the new Timeshare programs, I was surprised to see that much of the technology used within the industry was very verticalised with few specialist providers. Those that did exist appeared to focus upon the property reservation and management aspect of the process rather than enabling a member centric perspective. Classic Holidays were using a myriad of Microsoft Access/Google Docs and paper driven processes to attract, recruit and create new Members. Once I understood the core business processes involved, I suggested that a Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) CRM software tool could easily replace the tools being used and become the hub for Member Centric processes in the future.

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Early Requirement Gathering

This met with some resistance as the commonly held perception was that the industry was so specialised that there was nothing that would meet the “unique” idiosyncrasies of the Timeshare industry. Therefore, after some product evaluations, I managed to persuade the Classic Holidays Leadership that SugarCRM seemed a good fit based upon functionality, price, usability, “openness” and being a SaaS based product.

In August 2014, I was asked to create and then deliver a project for a new “end to end” Sales and Marketing solution as the first phase in transforming the (prospective) Member experience. We called it Project CHARM (Classic Holidays Advanced Relationship Management). I will explain how CRM was used to address and provide solutions in some of the unique Timeshare industry processes.

The process of selling in Timeshare usually starts with Lead Generation with Off Premise Canvassers (OPC) representatives.

The OPC role at Classic Holidays was primarily to generate leads by enticing prospects to attend a presentation through the use of scratch cards which offered guests the chance to win prizes. Those with winning tickets were invited to a presentation (tour) to collect the prize upon condition of attending a 90 minute sales presentation. OPC’s used their own phones to look up a shared Google Sheet to check availability at a given wave. The prospect would then be given a slip of paper confirming the date, time and location. To try to guarantee attendance, prospects were asked for a deposit (cash) and were given a paper receipt. Often, the prospect would change their mind and “no show”. Whilst the prospect might lose their deposit, the impact on the company was costly as the cost of holding Waves (a number of tours all starting simultaneously) was a fixed cost. I found it a very amateurish process for such a quality product and thought that if I was approached by an OPC, there was no way I would trust them enough to pay a deposit and give up 90 minutes of my time for something seemingly shrouded in mystery. Again, I was told that this was just “how it worked” but I felt that better tools, processes and empowered people could bring about significant transformational change.

  • The OPC Portal

An application was created that acted as a “portal” for the OPC’s in the field.

OPC Portal New Home Page

Each OPC was given an iPad with a direct link to the Portal. An OPC would log in to a personalised Dashboard. From here, they could review the status of previous bookings and add new bookings, thereby replacing the paper forms and Google sheets.

 

We were also able to include a digitised version of the “pitch book”, a leaflet based piece of collateral that was often used by OPC’s to show imagery of the Classic Holidays resorts. Since OPC’s only had a very short space of time to make the booking and collect the deposit, the User Experience was a vital part of the design, ensuring it was quick to use, well laid out and met the User Stories that were developed in our Agile Project. A key function was a real time look up of availability of each wave at any location. This ensured that Prospects were booked to waves which had availability.

OPC3

  • Bookings

When an OPC made a booking, it was previously hoped that the Prospect would turn up. CHARM introduced additional communications with the Prospect which consisted of a SMS and/or eMail confirmation, a link to a new landing page on a new CMS (Kentico) where they could confirm their attendance whilst also learning more about Classic Holidays (rather than keep it a secret).

SMS

This allowed better planning because a trigger was built in that sent an optional reminder SMS should they not have confirmed within a predetermined timeframe. By using sophisticated web tracking tools (Woopra), we were also able to see whether the prospect had visited the site and analyse what information they had accessed. This gave insight into the reasons why people might “no show” and allow Classic to change their future messaging accordingly. We did not have the capacity to undertake AB testing but this would have been a benefit to learn and adapt the landing pages more quickly. However, the insight gained was a real game changer and has seen Classic become better placed to increase Sales.

 

  • Guest confirmation

OPC6OPC7

When a guest clicked on either the SMS or email call to action, they were taken to a personalised landing page which congratulated them on winning a prize and gave them further information on the presentation and more reasons to confirm their attendance. Once they confirmed, the status of their booking was updated in Sugar to reflect their intentions. This enabled the Sales team to have greater confidence in the likely attendance and ensured that Sales Managers could have the right number of Sales Representatives available for each Wave.Booking Dashboard Chickenburger

  • Wave Management

A Wave is a scheduled set of concurrent one to one Sales Presentations (known as Tours) by a Timeshare Sales Rep to the prospective Members. It typically consisted of a PowerPoint style presentation which resulted in various membership options being offered to the Guest. The Waves therefore have a number of tours to be filled in order to keep the Sales Reps productive. These waves occur at the local Sales Office and can occur three or four times a day. Calendar management met this requirement perfectly and through the use of web services, a web front end was built which could allow these Waves to be exposed to OPC’s via the OPC Portal who could create Leads and assign them to Waves where there was availability. We were even able to create wait lists to ensure that each wave was well attended. The new solution allowed Sales Reps to know who was attending and, by capturing the lead within CRM, allowed downstream processing without the need to re-enter data or, even worse, asking the guest to complete more forms!

  • Registration and Check-in

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    The new online Guest Survey

On the day of the Wave, often wary prospects would arrive not knowing quite what to expect. Despite friendly receptionists and a warm welcome, the prospect was given a pen, paper and clipboard and then asked to complete a paper registration form. Ironically, the details asked for were already known by the OPC but until CHARM, there was no sharing of data. Now, the experience was rather different: On arrival, they were asked their name which was already on the Manifest having been added by the OPC. The Status of the booking was determined by whether the Prospect had confirmed.Rec1

The Receptionist now was able to check them in “online” which generated a QR code on the screen. The Receptionist then scanned an iPad against the code which opened up an online survey on the iPad (replacing the paper form and clipboard). A digital signature was also captured to acknowledge refund of the deposit which was then emailed automatically to the Prospect as a PDF.

Rec2

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  • The Tour

Once the survey was complete, the status in CRM was updated to reflect the transition in Sales Stage. The Sales Representative then took the Prospects through a “standalone” presentation. We identified that we could rebuild the presentation into Kentico and incorporate data from SugarCRM and, in turn, export the data captured. This became a secondary project (known as S2S) in itself which I will blog about separately. For the purpose of this initiative, the only direct intervention was for the Sales Representative to update SugarCRM with the outcome of the Tour. This translated the Sales Opportunity into either a Won or Lost state. For those declining to become Members, they were still awarded their prize which, in turn, generated a new Lead to reconnect with the Prospect whilst they enjoyed their gift. For those who decided to buy, the next stage was to create the paperwork necessary for them to become Members. This process was known as “The Button Up”.

  • Button Up

The Button Up process is where once a Prospect agrees to purchase, the deal is finalised or “buttoned-up” with all the paperwork and, if required, finance organised. Prospects are entitled to a 7 day cooling off period. Many of the documents require signatures and the long standing process required much printing, manual entry, signing, scanning and photocopying of documents.

As SugarCRM already had a lot of the data required from earlier stages of the process (Guest Survey, Booking etc), we created digital images of all the documents which were populated with data already captured upon an opportunity moving to a relevant status. This was a big time saver. We also integrated Docusign, an electronic signature solution, which allowed quicker completion of the forms although the real benefit would come later when guests wished to buy additional products (i.e To upgrade their Membership) from home. The Button Up process could take up to 90 minutes. The CHARM solution dramatically reduced this and also allowed the downstream processing to be quicker (I.e Loan Approval) as the forms were now digitised.

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  • Loan Application

Memberships were bought for periods from 7 years up to lifetime (>60 years). The longer the Membership purchased, the more expensive it became despite offering better value. Classic Holidays were able to offer financing through an associated Financial company. Loan Applications can be typically arduous and although we digitised the application form, little benefit was seen until we were able to integrate to ARMNet, the Loan Management software solution used by the Finance company. This allowed real time decisioning and drastically reduced processing time as the staff no longer needed to re-key the application into the ARMNet solution. The data required for a Loan and Membership Application was captured in SugarCRM (see below) and interfaced to ARMNet as well as prepopulating the forms ready for signing.

mortgage and liability dropdown

  • Cooling off

In the 7 days post Tour, many new prospective Members suffered from “buyers regret” and therefore the churn rate is often high. However, the CHARM solution now offered the potential to communicate digitally during the cooling off period with personalised offers and comms.

  • Memberships

A legacy system, Viewpoint, written by a small software company, At Work International (recently acquired by Classic Holidays) was used to manage inventory (rooms) at resorts and bookings for members. It was not envisaged to replace this system but I proposed that in the future, Classic should use Sugar as the main interface for Members. SugarCRM could call web services to check inventory, make bookings etc. At the time of leaving, this had not been started but will further transform Classic Holidays once complete. Once linked to a Member, personalisation of the digital channel throughout the Membership lifecycle can occur with relevant offers and options being presented across multiple channels. Therefore the conversion of a Lead to an Opportunity to a Sale needed to go to the final step: A Member.

In conclusion, CHARM has opened a world of opportunity for both Classic Holidays whilst also improving the overall Customer Experience. What was a once amateurish, shady Sales process is now professional and transparent. Of course, Timeshare is not for everyone but given the high degree of customer loyalty experienced by Classic Holidays, this new process can only bring benefit through efficiency and reducing churn in the Lead to Sale process.

Massive kudos to the Classic Management and delivery team and the Project team (including the SugarCRM System Integrator, CRM Online ) that I put together. There are too many to mention but the recognition goes to them.

Why I have changed my view on CRM technology

For years, I have been preaching to anyone that will listen that the strategy must come before the software. People + Processes + Technology. I have used examples such as buying a car to explain my argument.

Most people would not go out and buy the car that looks best. They would first of all decide what they need a car for. They might then decide on a few criteria to narrow the search depending upon their own needs. safety, Speed, Economy, Luggage capacity, Auto, Price etc. Once this “strategy” had been reached, the search for a car could begin.

I have always believed that CRM software should underpin the business strategy and facilitate providing benefits to the organisation and its clients. However, maybe I was wrong?

Technology is now at a stage where it is providing features and capabilities that can INFORM a Strategy. In other words, a business strategy could be built around a CRM tool. Having seen some of the latest tools and capabilities from the likes of Salesforce, Sugar, Oracle, Kana etc, I am increasingly convinced that for many organisations thinking about CRM, the software could give them market leading strategies and game changing capability. There are capabilities that many companies would not have thought of which might create huge value. In the past, industry processes led the design for software. Now it seems that software design is opening new doors for business processes. Just look at how Social Media has “forced” organisations to change its internal and external processes. Does your organisation have a Social Media strategy? If so, I bet it has only been developed in the last two years.

I can imagine young or smaller enterprises could benefit from this wave of new capability. App Exchanges and Open Source platforms are driving a wealth of rich, new CRM capability that is beyond the imagination of most companies.

With immature processes and potentially tight budgets, a software led strategy can help enforce new processes (that could be leading practice for that industry) and can help cement in customer centric processes.

However, I still believe that larger organisations will need to develop strategies first and then find software that can support and extend those strategies. It will be interesting to see how the SaaS model affects uniformity and adherence to standardised processes and whether we do start to see software led customer centric transformations.

I would be very keen to hear any thoughts or experiences on this topic.

Becoming Customer Centric…5 Top Tips

The difference between experience and wisdom is a subtle one. To learn from an experience, one will make a mistake and learn not to do that again. That is learning by experience.

To learn from wisdom is to learn from the experience of others so not to have to make that mistake in the first place. That is learning by wisdom.

Therefore I find it puzzling that many organisations still prefer to learn by experience when attempting to fulfil their promise to become a truly customer centric organisation. Therefore, here are five quick tips that uses the wisdom gained from other organisations (who shall remain nameless but all of whom I have worked with) that can help on that journey towards customer centricity.

Tip #1: To change behaviour, change the comp and hire appropriately.

If you want your Managers accountable for delighting the customer and improving retention, then change the comp plan to focus them on that objective. If it is important, make it something that becomes an economic necessity! In a similar vein, ensure that your hiring policy is aligned to ensure that only applicants who can demonstrate a passion for customer centricity are hired. Gradually, the culture of the company will change.

Tip #2: Give the Customer a voice in the Boardroom

Invite the voice of the customer into the boardroom by appointing a Chief Customer Officer. If you cannot afford one, get a cardboard lifesize cut-out and sit it on a chair in the boardroom. At all relevant moments during a board meeting, turn to the cardboard cutout and ask “What does the customer think about this?”. Believe me…it works!!!!

Welcoming the CCO to the Boardroom

I had been preparing a blog post on this subject but I would rather defer to someone who has the experience of being a Chief Customer Officer. You can learn more from her excellent blog here.

Tip#3: Interview your churning, loyal and indifferent customers

Do you provide Employee Satisfaction surveys, exit interviews and other such HR charm offensives? Well, why not extend similar concepts to former customers, current customers (noth advocates and the silent majority). Hold focus groups, use Social Media, surveys, bribes whatever it takes to gain the insight you need to gain a true customer perspective on what you do well, what you do not do well and what they would like to see you do. It is very powerful. I heard a stat recently that said in a survey of clients, 95% said their customers “loved them”, a perception that was only supported by 6% of their customers.

Tip#4: Educate, Empower and Enable everyone

Everybody within your organisation must feel empowered and able to provide an outstanding customer experience. To do this, everyone needs educating. Who are THEIR customers? What benefits will this approach bring? What behaviours and values need to be developed? This education should not be a Webex or DVD to watch. It must be participative, ongoing and cross functional, involving every staff member from Chairman to Janitor. One organisation invited all of its directors to spend a day answering phones to “real” customers. Only half took their turn. Those who did found the experience “career changing”. Those who didn’t turn up, in my opinion, should have been given an ultimatum to do their stint or leave. Customer Centricity needs to be fully inclusive.

Tip#5: Consistency across customer touchpoints

Finally, the great experience being delivered by Sam in Sales could be completely undermined by a poor after sales experience by Paul in Service. Not only is it important for everyone interacting with the customer to behave in a customer centric fashion, but it is also vital to offer a consistent LEVEL of Customer Service. I believe it is better for everyone to be very good than have one excellent and another mediocre. That alignment can be measured by surveying each different department at each customer touchpoint. The internal initiative should then focus upon improving the “lagging” departments to provide greater overall consistency.

Oh, there is a sixth tip: “Do not let I.T drive the initiative”, but that deserves a blog post of its own!

Of course, this list is not inclusive or exhaustive. Success could be achieved without these tips but I believe that they will increase your chances of success.

The Bermuda Triangle of CRM

Many Projects and Programs disappear into the Bermuda Triangle, never to be seen or heard of again. By understanding the relationship between Time, Cost and Quality, you can set a course through the triangle and avoid making fatal compromises.

Are you brave enough to enter The Bermuda Triangle?

The journey towards Customer Centricity can be like a Roller Coaster ride. Sure there are ups and downs but consider the dilemma most of us go through before getting on the ride:

It is scary, I’m afraid.

Look at that queue. I just haven’t got the time to wait.

It is expensive and surely not worth it.

It is unsafe. I have heard of accidents.

However, all of the while there is this niggling urge to do it despite these concerns and fears. You just know that your esteem will rise for having overcome your fears….and excuses!

Facing up to any transformation, whether it is a Customer Experience Transformation or a change to your working life, it can be just as daunting and the same fears can rise to the surface. However, these fears are very real and to increase your chances of success, I believe it is necessary to plot a course through these concerns, which I refer to as the Bermuda Triangle, where many Projects and Programs disappear never to be seen again.

The Bermuda Triangle is located between three waypoints that each have a major bearing on any type of project. The interesting thing is that you can only be in one place at any one time and you will therefore compromise on the other two. Therefore determining which waypoint is of primary consideration on your initiative will help plot a course and set expectations appropriately.

Lets consider each in turn.

Time

You are in a hurry and need the transformation to be completed within this Financial Year. To achieve that outcome, Cost and Quality are likely to suffer. You will probably need more people in order to complete tasks earlier and to take shortcuts that probably compromise quality. Conversely, if time is in plentiful supply then you could compromise on cost (spend more) to give you high quality or compromise on quality to help lower costs and obtain quicker results.

A great example is the building of the Segrada Familia.

Clearly Cost and Quality were impacted hugely because it was determined to take as long as it takes. It is a very costly and high quality building. Hopefully your project will not take as long!

Cost

How much is your budget and are you willing to compromise either time or quality to get the outcome you are seeking within your budget? If cost is the biggest consideration, you may have to consider lower quality (ever heard the “pay peanuts, get monkeys” expression?) and/or take longer. The GFC has left us with many examples of unfinished projects that simply ran out of cash. Perhaps it is better to compromise on cost by setting an affordable budget which will deliver something, albeit at a lesser quality than one might have hoped.

Quality

If you want High Quality, it will typically come at a price (cost) and take longer (time) but as at the Segrada Familia, that may not be an issue. I am amazed at how often I have met business leaders who say Quality is THE most important aspect yet they are unprepared to find extra money or time to enable quality outcomes. By compromising on Quality, you might be able to get a quicker or less expensive outcome.

That is why this conundrum is the Bermuda Triangle of Projects. Without a clear understanding and agreed direction amongst Business Owners and Project Sponsors within the Cost, Time and Quality dilemma, the project will struggle from the first point at which a decision needs to be made regarding a variation of any nature.

Talk about each of these considerations and agree where your project sits within the triangle. This then determines the SCOPE of your initiative which delivers against these three considerations. Be wary of “scope creep” where additional requirements get added in to the scope. Once more, this variation will cause on impact on Time and Cost if the additional scope is agreed to, Quality if the additional scope is rejected.

This dilemma is not specific to CRM but I thought I’d share it as it is pure “common sense” and as my Dad always told me “common sense ain’t too common”. I hope this helps in some small way.

What is CRM? My point of view…..

My view on the Million Dollar question. I argue that it is not one thing in particular. It is the whole of all of those things.

I am often asked and have often read about this question. I felt it about time to come up with my perspective.

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is a term coined by the Software Industry in the mid-late 1990’s. Since then, there have been attempts to modify the term, usually to introduce a new variety of software. There has been eCRM, CIM, Citizen Relationship Management and CRM 2.0 (of course!) to name but a few. However, CRM has stuck and many of those now becoming aware of this previously unexplored part of the universe are guilty of equating CRM to a tool. I find that view very limiting and narrow. Usually it comes from one’s own perspective. For example, if you are a Salesperson and use CRM software to manage your sales opportunities, customers, leads and forecasts then CRM is a Sales tool in that context.

Let me first of all explain how I view organisational decision making. This applies to any organisation from the largest multinational to the “one man band”. Everyone has a slightly different take on this and there are other steps I have omitted e.g Values that are also important but have less impact upon CRM than some of the other steps.

GOAL – VISION – OBJECTIVE – STRATEGY – ACTIVITY – TASK

Everything starts with a motive. What is your reason for existing and doing what you do? For many private organisations, the goal could be to maximise shareholder wealth. For the one man band, it could be to not have to work for another person. Irrespective, it all starts with an overarching goal.

Therefore the next step is the vision. Where do you want to be to realise that goal? A corporate vision is a hugely important statement and is often confused with Mission Statements. To me, a Vision is inspirational, stretching, future. A Mission Statement should define what the organisation will be (note: not ‘do’) to deliver that vision.

From the Vision, we need corporate objectives. These objectives should be S.M.A.R.T.

Next, we need a Strategy. A strategy tells us what we need to do to reach these objectives.

The Strategy will then break down into a series of actions and sub-tasks that should enable realisation of the strategy.

So where does CRM fit in? To many people, CRM is a class of software that can help organisations better manage their customer relationships. This is correct. However, to me it is like saying that Space Exploration is all about Rockets. Sure, you need a rocket but what about Astronauts, Scientists, Engineers? What about the leveraging of knowledge? What about the planning? Is that not equally important?

My definition of CRM uses the space analogy to suggest that CRM is the entire universe containing many galaxies. I will start my explanation with a look at the decision making hierarchy many organisations use:

“CRM” should start at the vision stage. What importance does an organisation put upon the type, nature and interaction with its customers? To some organisations, it isn’t important. They focus on price competitiveness or other competitive differentiators that allow them to be successful even with mediocre customer satisfaction. Just look at your mobile phone provider for evidence of that. How many of those providers are truly customer focussed or offer outstanding customer service?

Assuming the Customer is central to an organisational vision e.g “Our Customers loyalty to our products and services will be the envy of all of our competitors”, then we now need to come up with a way of realising that. The objective will help define timeframes, measurements etc but will not tell us HOW. For that, a CRM Strategy is required. What do we need to do to achieve the objective to help realise our vision? It usually starts with a blunt appraisal of where you are today: (“How do you know where you are heading if you don’t know where you are?”)

The Strategy should define a series of initiatives that impact upon the entire organisation. It might affect the Corporate Culture, Organisational Design, R&D, Sales Strategies etc. Nevertheless, the CRM Strategy will be the focal point for all subsequent tasks and activities that are required to help realise the vision. It is likely the CRM Strategy will cut across functions which leads to another key question: Who is accountable for CRM. I will address that in a subsequent post.

The activities required to reach the objective can take many forms.

  • One of these activities might be to analyse and redesign the Customer experience.
  • Another may be to develop systems and tools to better capture, understand and monitor inbound and outbound customer facing initiatives. In other words, CRM Technology.
  • Another might be to train the workforce on customer communications and customer service.
  • Another might be to change the hiring strategy to evaluate potential recruits against a templated “customer focus” criteria.

There are many, many more things that could be done but nearly all activities will impact upon and/or involve People, Process and Technology.

Therefore CRM to me is the entire universe of customer orientation. This universe contains many galaxies of activities which contains many solar systems of tasks.

Customer Centricity is a journey through the universe without a real destination. Why? Because the goal (destination) keeps changing. Customers have different expectations and needs today than even a year ago. Even as recently as five years ago, how many organisations had a Digital Marketing or Social Media Strategy?

As the world evolves, so must our vision and enabling strategies to ensure that if customers are important to our overall vision, then we never lose sight of the need to evolve in alignment to the changing world.

Single View Of The Customer. Holy Grail or Holy Hell?

At my current client, I dared to introduce the dreaded “Single View Of The Customer” concept and promptly got shot down in flames. Two years later and we are about to start implementing it. Why did my client change its mind and will it be worth it? This blog shares some insights into these dilemmas.

I started my current assignment over 2 years ago.

I was brought into my clients Enterprise Architecture team to specialise in CRM (as a Strategist and Architect) and ensure that a new CRM project was being developed correctly and in line with corporate, rather than divisional needs.

My first question was: “What is the strategy driving the project?” There wasn’t one. “OK”, I said “Then what are they trying to achieve?”. The response I got is typical of many projects: The Division wants a CRM tool. Many months later and we had started to define and refine an overarching strategy, vision and objectives. These led to benefits to which we could link requirements. One of those benefits was to be better able to serve customers by providing pertinent, accurate up to date information ased upon all of their interactions with the organisations. I dared to introduce the dreaded “Single View Of The Customer” concept and promptly got shot down in flames.

Apparently, other consultancies had previously advised them against this approach as they cited numerous examples of failed implementations, huge overruns and massive spends. I would have been more popular had I suggested starting a Data Cleansing project!!!

Several months later, as we finally begin the implementation, a Single View Of The Customer is now accepted as a “must-have” and essential to help the organisation achieve several of its goals and realise benefits, not just for the organisation but for the customer (yes- a CRM Program that is actually delivering benefits to the customer too- hurray!!!).

It has gone from being the Holy Hell to the Holy Grail. I intend to unravel the reasons for this and what we are hoping to achieve. A seperate blog will look at some of the implementation considerations facing clients about to embark on the journey to a Single View Of The Customer.

My client has lots of customers. They also have lots of different sources of customer data. Each source has many duplicate entries and inaccurate information. The data is not shared between different divisions and there is a prevailing culture of departmental over protectiveness of their own “customer database”. Does this sound familiar? I have come across this on so many programs that I will be surprised when I discover an organisation with a single customer database of clean and high quality data!

As always, it was necessary to take a customer perspective to start the client understanding why change was needed. In most meetings I attend, I ask people to imagine a cardboard cutout sat in one of the chairs. Her name is Cathy. She represents a Customer. Whenever we get to a point where I feel we are becoming inward looking, I say “Let’s ask Cathy”. When we discussed improving the customer experience, I explained that Cathy is frustrated because she interacts with different parts of the organisation at different times but keeps having to repeat who she is and why she is calling, which surprises her as she thought these divisions were all part of the same organisation. In other words, her expectations are not being met leading to a poor customer experience.

I am not advocating that every organisation should develop a Single View of the Customer. Traditionally, the Financial Services industry has led in such initiatives, as the cross and up selling opportunities from this internal sharing of client data was perceived to be of high value. The reality in creating such a view proved harder than most thought. This is often due to poor data stewardship and data management processes. The projects often blow out in terms of time and cost. Quality suffers when organisations either cut corners (to save time or money) or have poor processes. Survivors from these initiatives told horror stories that gave the impression that achieving the Single View of a Customer is some form of Holy Hell. There is no doubt that if these obstacles can be overcome, there are benefits to both the customer (better customer service) and provider (increased retention and customer spend).

My client is not going to develop a full “enterprise” Single View of Customer. It is going to develop the “Contact Centre” view of customer. This is an integrated view based upon the records stored in legacy systems most frequently accessed in responding to customer enquiries. As these systems represent those most accessed on behalf of customers, it was agreed to limit the scope to this. It involves four “legacy” business systems and will utilise Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) to create a single view.

This “view” will be visible within the new CRM software accessed by the Contact Centre. Rules determining Push/Pull, Read/Write and Deduplication are yet to be established but the Data Analysts are currently finalising a Customer Data Model which will use Master Data Management concepts.

One of the key benefits will be what is termed the 360 degree view. This is the ability to view information relating to the customer from a single screen. For example, one might be able to see the Interaction History, Order History, Service Request History and Campaign Responses. This enables our Contact Centre agents to become the one stop shop for all customer enquiries. This would not be possible at present because we have no single view (multiple systems, duplicate records) and therefore cannot be sure that Customer X in the Order Management system is Customer X in the Service system. Enquiry time should be reduced and accuracy increased. These benefits formed part f our business case and the non tangible benefits (such as Improved Customer Perception and Image) only serve to strengthen the rationale. However, had we attempted to attempt the whole single view, the incremental benefit would be small whilst the incremental development large. It was therefore difficult to justify. Time will tell whether this decision will prove to be the right one.

In conclusion, the Single View is not easy but it will generate benefits for many organisations, especially those looking to support a single entry customer interface, upsell, cross sell or provide a strong customer self service capability. The expression “Knowledge is Power” is true but knowledge can only come from wisdom based on accurate information. A Single View Of Customer enables an organisation to have accurate customer information, if implemented correctly. Implementation Considerations will be the topic of the next blog.

Customer Democracy

I heard this term recently and rather like it.

As a self appointed “customer champion”, I like the idea of customers exercising their democratic right. In doing so, customers can exercise freedom of choice by churning from one underperforming provider to another. They could exercise freedom of speech by complaining or praising via Social Media. They can express freedom of thought by researching and investigating suppliers, products and services like never before.

So how can organisations respond to the growing democratic spirit of consumers? As with any democracy, its adapt or die. Those slow to truly listen to the voice of the customer and reinvent themselves from the outside-in may find themselves consigned to the history books. I am growing ever more confident that CRM, a term associated with software and, inevitably, IT implementation disaster stories, is finally becoming understood for what it is: It is a business STRATEGY that is supported by people, processes and product to generate MUTUAL value for both the provider and customer. I believe this message is beginning to emerge from the mire of the GFC and is being driven by the need to adapt to the new world of Customer Democracy.