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Relationship technologies: Combining customer knowledge with information technology

In his recently-released book ? "Accelerating Customer Relationships: Using CRM and Relationship Technologies" (Prentice Hall) ? Ron Swift, addresses the need for corporations to achieve high customer retention and high customer profitability.

"Relationship technologies will become the norm for the use of information and customer knowledge bases to forge more meaningful relationships," explains Swift. "This will be accomplished through advanced technology, processes centered on the customers and channels, as well as methodologies and software combined to affect the behaviors of organizations (internally) and their customers/channels (externally)."

In a recent interview with, Swift spoke of several issues currently impacting CRM efforts.

Carol Parenzan Smalley, Site Editor, : You state in your book that information technology is evolving to relationship technology. Can you please explain this?

Ron Swift: Businesses need to make sense of the abundance of data flowing in their organizations about customers, suppliers, partners, from numerous transaction customer "touch points" and many differing internal IT systems. "Relationship Technologies," specifically many new hand-held communication-enabled technologies, along with enterprise data warehouse, and advanced software techniques, will provide the "intelligence" required for understanding and leveraging business relationships for accelerated business performance.

Smalley: Can you give an example of a company using these technologies?

Swift: At Harrah's Entertainment, they use all encompassing relationship technologies starting with customer loyalty cards. Then, they use patented devices to capture transactions and customer interactions. Additionally, they use the enterprise-wide data warehouse as a "marketing workbench" to encourage their customers to come to their locations. As a result, Harrah's provides a wonderful combination of entertainment, good experiences, specific enticements, discounts, rewards, and relevant communications about their offerings. Harrah's produces more than 20 million customer offers annually and tracks each offer to determine when and how offers are redeemed. These rewards encourage customers to remain loyal to the Harrah's brand. You can find more detailed information about the Harrah's case study at

Smalley: Why are companies increasingly taking a greater interest in this today?

Swift: I think that it's a question of incredible market dynamics driven by the new economy. Companies need new ways to differentiate themselves when products and services become commodities, fierce new competitors are appearing out of nowhere, and customers are less loyal than ever. Kevin Kelly, author of "New Rules for the New Economy," said it well, "The network economy is founded on technology, but, can only be built on relationships." Over the past few years, many companies have successfully established the technology and processes for running their site. Now they are turning to building relationships.

Smalley: Where is the CRM evolution headed? Is this a similar movement to what many of us experienced in ERP?

Swift: When ERP is defined as a mission critical strategy that involves senior management vision and the support of all levels of the enterprise, then, CRM is moving in that direction. But CRM will do more than deliver slicker automation of already automated tasks, which is what many companies experienced with ERP implementations. It will deliver profitable relationships that your competitor can't penetrate. CRM has evolved into an integrated "enterprise" mission critical view of the customer that will challenge companies to make real-time profitability decisions at the customer level.

Smalley: With the privacy issue such a concern, how do we learn more about our customers? How will privacy affect CRM?


Swift: I am glad that you brought that topic up. I have dedicated two chapters in my book to this important topic. Privacy is a hot issue, because companies have ignored its importance and have recklessly shared personal data without customers' permissions. It's an issue of trust and respect. NCR's philosophy is to protect customers' data at a single source ? in the data warehouse. Our offerings allow the analysis of all data while respecting the desired level of anonymity. We believe that data warehousing can be used for the benefit of the customer and that includes privacy. The interesting thing to note is that if a company implements a 360-degree view of the customer data warehouse, the company has a single point to control the access to customer information.

Ron Swift is Vice President , Customer Relationship Management Solutions, NCR Corporation. He will be joining the registered users of for a Live Expert Q&A session on Friday, September 8, 2000, at 12 noon (Eastern).

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