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Claims of customer focus mostly talk, report finds

A recent report finds that while many companies claim to be customer focused, they lack the technology, processes and focus on data to deliver.

Companies are always saying they’re in tune with their customers, but in reality, it appears they’re not quite synchronized.

That’s the finding of a new study by Ventana Research. The California firm learned that many companies report to be customer-focused, but more often than not, they’re a long way from fully knowing their customers.

One large hurdle for companies is they lack a single customer data hub, said Richard Snow, who leads Ventana’s customer and contact center performance management research wing. Even if companies make an effort to connect with customers, they’re drowning in data without an integrated CRM hub, he said.

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“Companies just struggle with customer data,” Snow said. They have segregated their departments “in silos forever. They don’t link up with each other. It’s really the advanced companies that are creating a customer information hub or at least figuring out how to synchronize data,” he said.

From December to January, Ventana compiled survey answers on CRM from the executives and managers of 129 organizations, most of them based in North America. Two-thirds of the participants work for companies with 10,000 or more employees.

More than 90% of the respondents said their companies were customer-focused, but only 19% have a team of cross-functioning employees developing CRM strategies, the report said.

“I find it’s talk. They kind of have to say it,” Snow said.

For instance, more than 60% of the surveyed companies don’t produce integrated reports or analyses on customers. Slightly more than half of the companies have succeeded in creating a single source for this sort of information, but only 13% have deployed a centralized customer information hub to improve the quality, consistency and availability of data, the report said.

Customers expect to interact with companies through a variety of channels -- including email, phone, social media and smartphone applications -- but the surveyed companies have been slow to fully handle those mediums, Snow said.

Respondents have as many as five channels of communication with customers, but less than one-third of companies provide the personal touch that customers crave in these contacts, with the exception of conventional phone calls, letters and email, the report said.

Plus, companies “blur the edges” between marketing and customer service, Snow said. A company will place an ad on YouTube, but when a viewer takes to Twitter to ask about the product, the company is unsure where the responsibility to answer that tweet lies, he said.

Most of the survey’s respondents use only existing technology and systems to address customers across channels, the report said. Companies primarily use enterprise business intelligence systems or systems developed in-house, neither of which can handle the number or variety of systems that contain customer data, the report said.

“Many [companies] recognize the need to support multiple channels of communication,” Snow said. “What many companies did four or five years ago was with call volume high, they directed [customers] to the Web or put in” an interactive voice response system, he said.

But at a recent vendor event in England, Snow heard company executives say that despite social media being “a pain in the neck,” they recognized its importance. While adding social media isn’t cheaper, Snow said companies know they need to support the many channels of customer choice.

Organizations are making some progress. Most of the surveyed companies use journey maps to chart how customers have interacted with them over time, and more than half used these maps to personalize customer experience.

And almost half of the companies use detailed profiles of different customer segments, although these profiles are used less to personalize customer experience and more to develop processes and social media strategy, the report said.

Snow sees this in his life. His bank and cell phone carrier have yet to recognize what he wants when he interacts with them, but he was impressed when booking a room for the event he attended. The hotel sent him several texts and emails that, among other things, offered a road map and a reservation for dinner.

To avoid that customer frustration, Ventana recommends ensuring that data is comprehensive, consistent and current. And the research firm suggests employees use the same source for this data, advisably through one customer data hub.

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