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Seybold touts cross-channel consistency for CRM

Delivering the opening keynote at the CRM Technology Decisions conference, consultant Patricia Seybold highlighted a major CRM shortcoming and underscored its consequences.

ATLANTA -- According to industry consultant Patricia Seybold, one of the most important things any company can do to achieve a successful CRM strategy is build consistency across multiple business channels.

Delivering the opening keynote at TechTarget's CRM Technology Decisions conference, Seybold warned users to approach each customer channel as a critical business relationship. Seybold, a well-known CRM author and chief executive of Boston-based consultancy Patricia Seybold Group Inc., said many companies still don't have all their customer channels properly aligned.

"There are still pain points for many companies trying to execute CRM across call centers and the Web," Seybold said. "This disconnect only exacerbates as you move out toward customers."

Seybold cited her experience following the September 11 terrorist attacks as an example of how companies often fail to offer consistent customer support. Forced to drive from Minnesota to Boston, Seybold was unable to utilize a reservation feature offered by Marriott International Inc. because the hotel chain's call center representatives weren't aware of the program. The program was only available through the hotel's Web site.

Seybold said that while many companies have succeeded with individual business channels, few have built initiatives that show up in every element of their operations.

"Most companies face a technological challenge working with different infrastructures for contact centers, e-commerce operations and the point of sale," Seybold said. "[Businesses] also struggle integrating applications for sales, service and marketing, or linking multiple repositories of customer information."

As a result, companies can defeat the purpose of their CRM efforts by confusing customers, as well as wasting their time.

A prime example: banking customers who sometimes needlessly fill out online pre-approval forms. "Unless the customer has printed something out, many times the branch has no way to access this information," Seybold said.

She said multi-channel cohesion comes in two steps: deploying tools that span all customer interactions and eliminating customer ownership fiefdoms that exist within many firms. The key, Seybold said, is to devise a strategy that addresses how customers want to do business with the firm, not vice versa.

Attendees agreed that multi-channel CRM consistency is crucial but often easier said than done.

"It's still not easy to combine multiple customer data repositories," said Tim Nichols, data architect at Atlanta-based SunTrust Banks Inc. "Of course, everyone wants to deliver CRM across every channel, but it's an expensive effort that takes a lot of time, especially if you're trying to bite off CRM in small chunks."

Nichols said his company is trying to integrate data repositories built around technology from several vendors, including Siebel Systems Inc. and PeopleSoft Inc.

Perhaps Richard Flagg, manager of applications at Aurora Casket Co. in Aurora, Ind., best expressed the fear that spotty customer interaction from one channel to another instills in companies.

"It's like a game of call center Russian roulette, depending who answers the call," he said.

Several hundred people are in Atlanta this week for the inaugural CRM Technology Decisions conference. All attendees qualified for free admittance based on their companies' CRM budgets and their CRM decision-making responsibilities.


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