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Three execs discuss using -- not abusing -- customer contact channels

Customer contact channels offer many potential touchpoints, but customers don't want to hear from you that often. Three executives share strategies for balanced customer contacts.

LAS VEGAS -- So your organization just switched on a cutting-edge CRM app that can support sales and service with all conceivable customer contact channels, from mobile apps to email to Facebook Messenger, Twitter and everywhere else.

Now comes the tough part: Choosing your spots to generate new revenue, improve customer retention through better service, or both. How do you determine what your customers want -- or need, in the case of improved service -- without pestering them to the point where they're turned off and flee to your competitor?

Another issue to address is how to implement new, sophisticated customer contact tools with data mining intelligence without overinvesting and allowing "scope creep" to eat up any potential return on investment.

In a customer roundtable session with reporters at the PegaWorld 2017 user conference here this week, asked the advice of three executives whose companies recently armed their staff members with automation, analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to connect with customers in different ways across all customer contact channels. While their stories are all very different, they have one thing in common: They needed to add value and make customers happier -- without breaking the bank in the process.

GM: Customers control the contact

David Mingle, general director of global customer experience execution at General Motors: In streamlining back-end support for OnStar driver contacts, standardizing company's global presence across all social media, and figuring out messaging through mobile and dashboard apps, Mingle's team first had to acknowledge that data from each car -- and owner -- belonged to the customers, and it was their choice to activate or turn off the messaging.

David Mingle, General MotorsDavid Mingle

Letting the customer drive the process helps govern how much is the right amount of contact and still leaves opportunities for contact when before, it may have been years between vehicle purchases that GM touched base with a customer.

The implementation is still in early days, Mingle said, with back-end customer integrations still in process and "marketing messages that step on top of each other" as they sort out what the right message is to convey to customers at the right time. But, remembering that the customer is in charge of his experience guides the implementation process as Mingle's team works on upgrading GM's customer journey one stage at a time.

"In automotive, onboarding is a big challenge for us. We have lots of dealers, lots of salespeople delivering lots of cars," Mingle said. "Making sure that customers are properly educated and enrolled in all the services they are eligible for is tough. That's one place where there's a clear customer need, and there's a benefit for every one of our business units to get it right. We're really focused [right now] on fixing the first 90 days of ownership."

Transavia: Different strokes for different folks

Mattijs ten Brink, managing director and chairman at Transavia Airlines: This small European airline wanted to connect disparate groups -- in-flight crew, passengers, gate agents, customer service agents and others -- to flight data to more rapidly respond to schedule changes and customer needs by making data flow through previously siloed systems into multiple customer contact channels.

Mattijs ten Brink, Transavia AirlinesMattijs ten Brink

His advice is to look at the motivations of different customer groups and determine messaging strategies differently. In Transavia's case, the company sees customers as "must" or "lust," and AI helps classify them according to behavioral patterns.

The "must" group has to travel for whatever reasons, and those passengers' needs are far different from those who aspire to travel or go on trips for pleasure. Accordingly, Transavia uses different offers and data points to pass on to the different groups.

"The first [group], we try to be as efficient as possible and try not to overwhelm them with too many interactions -- normally, these are passengers who know what they're doing and just want the bare minimum necessary information," ten Brink said. "The [other group] wants to be inspired, they want to be surprised."

Coca-Cola: More data makes messaging smarter

Kushala Silva, Coca-ColaKushala Silva

Kushala Silva, group director of innovation and emerging technologies at Coca-Cola: With universal branding all over the planet in most languages, Silva's group was charged with creating AI-driven apps that connect internet of things (IoT)-enabled Coca-Cola machines to customers via their smartphones to drive more sales. At the same time, Coca-Cola wanted to gather data from the machines to better track inventory, sales patterns and data points about the machines themselves.

Silva said AI can help companies pick the right message to send at the right time to customers, as opposed to blanketing them with a constant pulse of digital messages across every customer contact channel. For his team, that means messaging consumers when they are in proximity of an IoT-enabled Coke machine in order to drive sales is part of the pilot project. And not just messaging them, but personalizing the message with data points such as that particular customer's preferences and what time it is.

"There are different drinking moments throughout the day," Silva said. "Your beverage choice in the morning is not the same as your beverage choice after lunch."

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