Improve Your Business I.Q. Before You Undermine Your CRM Project Staff

Updated · Jul 18, 2001

By Christopher Lucas and Krishna Chettayar, Dun & Bradstreet Corp.

CRM requires an established company to integrate data spread throughout various departments and divisions in multiple operational systems. The data in these legacy systems are usually substandard and frequently wrought with inaccurate domain values and/or domain value inconsistency. Even when data cleansing takes place as a precursor to seeding a CRM application, there are still significant challenges regarding multiple views of the same customer. This issue alone can undermine a CRM effort.

Moreover, failure to devise solutions for problems with the quality of customer information will continue to undermine the basic goal of CRM. For example, the inability to select the correct version of a customer and associated event or transaction can result in the creation of an additional customer profile. Additionally, even when customer information is recorded appropriately, information quality challenges can still thwart the success of CRM. Customer information decays at a compound rate of approximately one to three percent each month. Strategies are needed to contend with these problems.

The Importance of a Standard
First and foremost, a standard definition of the customer schema must be constructed in order to build a CRM solution. In the B2B world, the customer could be an agent, a branch location, an agent at a branch location, the ultimate parent organization, or all of these possibilities depending on the situation. Remember that, no matter what, the definition has to tie together and relate back to one 360-degree view of the customer to help answer that eternal question, “Who are the best customers?”

Once a standard definition of the customer has been defined and agreed upon, the challenge becomes relating events/transactions to interactions at various contact points with the customer. This becomes the foundation of building a base level institutional memory of the customer. Without such institutional memory, it is difficult to create CRM plans for such things as marketing automation.

Customer Data Integration
Don’t underestimate the importance of developing a Customer Data Integration (CDI) plan. According to the analyst group, IDC, CDI is usually step two in the pursuit of a CRM project. However, it shouldn’t be. It should precede CRM. Customer data integration resolves the problems of multiple customer views, which, as mentioned previously, can undermine a CRM endeavor. CDI is an important part of ensuring customer information quality.

CDI starts by comparing information from multiple sources after complex information standardization, identifying the customer records within those sources that are the same, and then aggregating those views to be seeded into the target system – in this case a CRM database. The goal of CDI should be to define a threshold for what constitutes a match. That match can be used to bring records together located in legacy systems. Once this is done, a common-key structure should be employed to identify customers for ongoing integration efforts.

Each customer interaction could be a make-or-break situation. If the interaction is not capitalized on, then CRM is only a dream. CDI must happen if the customer is to be properly identified for CRM campaigns.

Data Synchronization
Getting the right information, on the right customer, at the right time, to the right point, and in the right form is a critical part of CRM. These requirements are stymied by the fact that the world is a dynamic place where customer information can and does change.

Regardless of the efforts to ensure customer information quality, a strategy will need to be in place to accommodate changes. Customer information needs to be accurate based on the current reality. The challenge is that it may be difficult to know when changes will occur and for what customer they will occur. It’s essential to have in place methods to fix any discrepancies. One such remedy could be actively soliciting customers to provide any changes in their account profile. If this seems elusive, consider a third-party information provider to help in keeping up with changes.

Transactional Customer Information Validation
Perhaps one of the most overlooked areas in a CRM implementation is data entry. This is the point where most data problems originate. Customer information may be entered incorrectly for any number of reasons leading to limited knowledge about the customer. These problems can be avoided by information validation at interaction points with new customers. If a customer is new, real-time validation against a third-party data source to retrieve a standardized record can help ensure customer information quality when it matters most.

Strive for a High Business I.Q.
Most CRM projects are not an overwhelming success because of customer information quality challenges. Customer Information Management is perhaps the most important component of a CRM initiative. Good planning can result in marked improvements in customer information quality and the effectiveness of CRM and the business in general. Most importantly, it can mean the difference between the success and failure of a CRM initiative. Don’t take the CRM challenge without a strategy for addressing customer information quality issues.

Christopher Lucas is Dun & Bradstreet’s Vice President, North American Marketing Products, and Krishna Chettayar is a Senior Consultant with Dun & Bradstreet.

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