Why Taking Process-centric Approach to CRM Makes Sense

Herman Mehling

Updated · Mar 05, 2012

Business process management (BPM) used to be strictly a back-office affair. That's no longer true. As with many technologies and IT practices, BPM has become part of the integration or attempted integration of various IT functions.

One of the most interesting trends in BPM is its cross-pollination with customer-facing processes, notably CRM. At the core of this trend is a strong desire by organizations, especially in service industries, to domesticate their “invisible” processes that touch customers, said William Band, an analyst at Forrester Research.

Instead of deploying slow-to-change, packaged applications or building difficult-to-change custom solutions, leading organizations are embracing methodologies supported by process-centric IT platforms, Band explained.

“They are striving to drive rapid process change, increase business engagement in IT projects and achieve dramatic improvements in worker productivity,” he said.

BPM + CRM = Improved Customer Experience

On the customer service side, there’s a need to move back-end transactions to the front office, said Stuart Chandler, vice president of the BPM practice for Virtusa Corporation, an IT services company that provides consulting, technology and outsourcing services.

BPM can help standardize and automate the more routine areas of customer service, freeing up employees to deal with more complex elements that truly benefit from human interaction, Chandler said, offering the example of a flight reservation.

“Do I have to have 50 people understand how to do a transaction that changes my plane ticket?  maybe you just need to institutionalize the more common piece, make it more customer-facing and then wrap some people around the more unstructured parts,” he said.

Another customer-facing process that would benefit from BPM is hospitality comments and complaints, added Chandler. For example, suppose you have a broken pipe in your cabin on a cruise ship. Typically, a purser will write down your problem on a note card. Emphasizing that the ship’s owner knows the pipe repair is going to affect other people around that cabin, Chandler recommends a proactive response, facilitated by BPM.

He said. “When you incorporate predictive analytics and adaptive case management into BPM, it gives you the opportunity to be proactive instead of just reactive.”

An important point to remember is that a customer solution may encompass multiple systems.

Look at your solution holistically rather than as individual tools,” Band said. “CRM excels at managing customer data, whereas BPMS solutions combine the disciplines for managing business processes with the enabling technology to facilitate their design and delivery. DCM (dynamic case management) business applications allow organizations to handle both routine and unpredictable cases. A complete solution may require combining the elements of each type.”

More and more companies are striving to be customer-centric, said Alan Trefler, founder and CEO of Pegasystems, a provider of customer-centric BPM solutions.

Trefler said his company’s clients are taking an “outside-in” approach, making an improved customer experience a central part of their strategies.  Pega customers want to become customer-centric across all functional areas, eliminating silos and inefficiency and seizing opportunities more rapidly, he said.

“Customer centricity enables our clients to stay centered on their customers by using our predictive analytics to help them know what their customers will want, when they will want it, and how,” he said. “With Pega’s ability to provide real-time, guided interactions across any and all channels, including social media and mobile devices, they can achieve customer delight and optimize business outcomes.”

Some Vendors to Consider

Pegasystems is one of the leaders in BPM, according to a new Forrester report, “The Smart Way to Implement Process-Centric CRM.” The report’s key finding is the growing convergence of data-centric CRM, BPM and DCM solutions. 

The report notes that Pegasystems has long focused on CRM-type use cases by including templates as part of its Customer Process Manager offering. In 2010, it acquired Chordiant Software to beef up its decision management tools to help companies analyze data from multiple customer touch points to better understand outcomes and apply rules to improve each interaction.

Other BPM vendors worth checking out, according to Band, are: 

Sword Ciboodle, which focuses on multichannel customer management processes, primarily in the customer service and inbound/outbound telesales areas.

Appian, which supports complex customer service scenarios.

Cordys Software, which provides an open BPM platform for customers to build highly customized solutions for service requests, managing incidents and investigations.

numero, which claims to deliver a best-of-breed, enterprise-class, multichannel customer interaction management solution called “numero interactive.” The solution delivers a single agent desktop built on a strong BPM and content management platform.

Case management vendors highlighted by Forrester include:

Singularity (acquired by Kofax in December 2011) which offers DCM (dynamic case management) solutions for taming complex processes, particularly for customer service call centers. 

Metastorm (acquired by OpenText in early 2011) which makes it possible for customers to purchase solutions in enterprise content management (ECM) and BPM from a single vendor.

The Forrester report also identifies CRM vendors that have incorporated BPM into their products. They include:

NexJ Systems, which specializes in financial services sectors. Band said customers value its ability to integrate with legacy systems and provide process management capabilities to support end-to-end process use cases such as customer onboarding. 

CDC Pivotal CRM, which provides a flexible core platform and architecture that lets organizations tailor the CRM software to fit their unique business needs. 

SAP, which offers standalone BPM software capabilities that complement its SAP CRM

Oracle, which has focused on integrating BPM assets acquired from BEA Systems and Collaxa. Forrester asserts that “Oracle BPM Suite 11g represents the culmination of bringing these different products together.”

Salesforce.com, which offers Visual Process Manager.

Herman Mehling has been writing about technology for more than 25 years. He was an editor and reporter at Computer Reseller News and an executive at several PR agencies in the San Francisco area. Mehling has edited three books, including “How To Select A Vendor For Web Development” (written by Salim Lakhani). In addition to Enterprise Apps Today, he contributes regularly to DevX.com and Enterprise Networking Planet.

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