These days, every aspect of business - as in life - that can be done digitally, is done digitally. So, it's no surprise that the face of CRM has experienced a seismic shift as brands recognise the need to align their customer relationships with ever-evolving technologies to engender greater and deeper loyalty. However, given the magnitude of the opportunities opened up by such advances, and the significant cost and time needed to understand and implement them, it's also no surprise that many are struggling to fathom exactly what the end result of all this digital 'convergence' should be.
Cost-effective CRM for everyone
Where it may once have been costly to extend CRM to the whole customer base, with the advent of all the digital tools and channels we now enjoy, the incremental cost of trying to engage the vast majority of customers is now a lot more affordable. Brands will always want to engage and inform their customers - even those demonstrating little or no current value - and through digital channels, they can do so very easily and cost-effectively.
At the same time, consumers increasingly expect communication through digital means. Indeed for many emerging consumer groups, in particular Generation Y, digital channels are the only means through which they will allow any interaction. So, however brands may feel about it, in order to have any hope of acquiring and retaining younger customers, they are being forced to take CRM into the digital space.
A unified customer experience
Some companies may read that and be tempted to become complacent, assured of their success in email marketing or the usability of their website. But, whereas either of those feats might have constituted a successful digital strategy five years ago, brands can't have a channel-specific programme anymore. Consumers are becoming experienced in using multiple channels concurrently, and therefore there is an expectation that brands know which channels consumers wish to interact through, and engage with them accordingly.
Essentially, the more channels that are in play, the greater the opportunity to engage or disappoint customers. But, regardless of the particular merits of, or technological developments occurring within, each channel, what brands should be striving for is a single customer experience across all digital touch points. The relationship customers enjoy with a brand needs to be as recognisable to them whether they're reading an email on their Smartphone or logging onto the company website.
And for a truly joined-up relationship, a brand should be monitoring and measuring each interaction made with a customer to make their experience a linear one, such that when they make contact again via the same channel or a different one, the previous contact is acknowledged and reflected in the updated messaging they receive.
Joining up the digital space
To unify the experience a customer has with your brand, and create this joined-up relationship, there has to be unrestricted communication between different digital departments and channels. While up to now it might have been possible to ignore the simmering rivalry between the in-house web team and the email marketers, they now need to be working together on delivering an integrated experience so that everyone with a responsibility for customer interaction and communication knows exactly how and when each customer is contacted.
Unfortunately, where there isn't a unified approach to CRM within a company, the gaps in the interface will be only too obvious to the customer. The panacea for a brand is to be able to communicate with customers across their preferred digital touch points in a real-time, relevant and personalised way in order to add value to that individual relationship - and campaign management tools that join up the digital space will be a key part of engineering that phenomenon.
The age-old problem of focus and the need for a wholesale shift within organisations from a channel-centric focus to a consumer-centric one will always heavily feature. This will only happen if companies start looking at their CRM programmes from the consumer's point of view, rather than as isolated constituents all vying for attention. At the moment, there are companies leveraging social media to good effect and others with impressive mobile messaging or 'social' commerce, but as of yet no-one is getting the more holistic consumer-centric focus quite right.
Brands like Ritz-Carlton certainly are ahead of the pack in achieving customer-centricity. The hotel company turned a traditional message into a more customer focused concept - "Let us stay with you". With a solid focus on more unique and personalised guest experiences at its hotels, Ritz-Carlton hopes that this customer-centric focus will deepen the level of engagement with guests and build more loyal customers.
Furthermore they engaged guests through social media and location-based channels, launching initiatives through platforms like FourSquare. These allow guests to check-in from a particular landmark or see recommendations from its concierge in various destinations.
With technology that can co-ordinate dynamic, personalised messaging across multiple channels at our disposal, and the most forward-thinking companies recognise its value and want to be in a position to offer it but are reluctant to make the necessary leap in that direction. Why? In looking at the issue from a company point of view, this sophisticated technology requires specific resources and a certain understanding and dexterity that may take time and effort to acquire.
And this may be the sticking point for a lot of brands. While they might want to have a website that can communicate tailored versions of itself to reflect the personal relationship the brand has with any given individual logging on, doing so can require significant sums of money. However, while this may appear prohibitive, it needn't be if brands are willing to re-evaluate how their budgets are distributed. Simply diverting a percentage of the vast amounts they all routinely spend on above the line marketing into a achieving a more joined-up CRM approach would allow them to give consumers the personalised value-added experience they will increasingly expect.
Aside from cost, there are separate implications for the brand itself - because with this coordinated digital space in play, the nature of the way the brand connects individually with a consumer changes. Brands can now connect and interact with a consumer frequently and in real time, which is a far cry from the tactical messaging of periodic direct mail campaigns. And, from a marketing perspective, brands need to work out how to manage and measure this interactivity so they can leverage it to the benefit of both parties.
While boosting profits is, of course, an important component, CRM is not just about sending people smart promotions that will entice them to spend more money. There will always be a place for cross-selling and up-selling, but now there is an opportunity for brands to connect with their consumers individually, and in real time, to give them a more valuable experience.
Companies have always wanted to get closer to their customers in order to find out what they want and deliver it in return for their unwavering loyalty - and now they have the mechanisms to do just that for a fraction of the usual cost required and provide much more personal means of communication.
As brands learn to restructure their CRM propositions around the customer, the digital space will prove a rich ground for marketing teams. However, this will only be possible for companies willing to innovate and restructure their approach to marketing in general, such that understanding digital convergence and what it means to their customers assumes the priority it deserves. With this understanding, brands will certainly be able to give customers the personalised, interactive experiences that will consistently arouse their interest enough to earn their loyalty.