In this era of ‘big data’ IT departments are coming out with many, sometimes novel, ideas to justify the business case for investment. It was probably easier in the heady days of data warehouses because records had to be stored for long periods due to regulation. Marketing departments were the biggest users of this structured data store as they tried to ascertain the success of campaigns and seek out who would be best suited to the next.
When we talk of big data we are including great volumes of unstructured data emanating from a multitude of servers, network elements and third party or off-net systems. While the most popular driver for investment is based on countless arguments around the customer experience, and how it can be improved, and equal amount if benefit can come by using big data for network and business planning and optimization of existing resources.
It may seem at first glance that these two objectives are quite disparate but both contribute significantly to giving the best service to customers, offering them the things they really want and determining what marketing efforts really do work.
There is another element to this that is often overlooked. Existing customer relationship management systems (CRMs) were historically the key repository for information on the customer, the products and services available and even the sales pitches designed to keep the customers buying. They are still there but need to able to work with the data and analytics being generated via big data.
There is no way a CRM will be able to, or even need to, store data of this magnitude, but it can be successfully integrated into the way it works. Data in CRMs is inherently near real-time at best, but mostly historical. Customers have taken to using online portals and smartphones to get answers. Calling a customer service rep (CSR) is falling out of favour for today’s connected customer. CRMs designed for CSR interaction have to be reconfigured for online use.
The other element that also needs to be taken into account is social media. More and more customers are venting their feelings to the whole world rather than approaching their service provider when they need help. There may be a number of reasons this has become so popular but, whatever the case, businesses now need to monitor social media channels constantly and respond instantly if they want to prevent them going viral and attracting a crowd-sourced mob baying for blood.
This may well spawn an era of ‘Social CRM’ where the whole process takes place in the public arena, thus putting more stress on the CSR and a much higher dependency on access to accurate and timely information for the customer. There is no doubt big data will play an ever-increasing role here, and quick resolution will be critical.
There is also a danger that social media will be used as a weapon against businesses, not just by disgruntled customers, but also by competitors. Having access to information on the validity of claims, the true identity of the perpetrator and even location information will be vital in defence.
Of course, the mobile device will become the primary tool for most customer interaction and IT systems that are not geared for this mobile onslaught will become bottlenecks. Enterprises of all sizes are trying to come to grips with the ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) phenomenon, and whilst they may be saving money on purchasing the devices for staff they will have to invest heavily in the support systems for them, including security, continuous connectivity, cloud services and storage, and not forgetting their support.