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Customer Engagement – the New CRM

Mar 30,2021 | Suhail VP

ABSTRACT: Having evolved over a long and bumpy road for more than thirty years, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has become the economic marketing tool of choice for both large and small businesses. With cloud and web-based deployments, CRM is now undergoing yet another transition – one that directly manages revenue-producing Customer Engagement (CEM).

A Short History of CRM’s Long, Bumpy Road

In the 1970’s, mainframes with relational databases were used to digitize and store manual files creating the first customer databases for quick access and data management. In the mid-1980’s, customer information was integrated into the sales process to generate pre-qualified leads. Direct Marketing had evolved into Database Marketing making sales even more dependent on information technology.

In the late 80’s information technology began to integrate analytics, transactional databases, and customer information for not only sales, but marketing, accounting, and customer service. The primary driver of these early departmental platforms was the back office financial system that processed all customer transactions and managed the customer database. Early CRM adopters, such as insurance companies and banks, replaced “Sales Representatives” with “Relationship Managers”.

In 1986, Conductor Software announced ACT, the first contact management software. ACT was deployed on-premises with dedicated hardware and software and the IT personnel required to maintain and update the system. Nonetheless, larger companies that recognized the top line management potential of CRM made the investment and validated the benefits of what was soon to be formally referred to as a Customer Relationship Management system (a term not coined until 1995).

In the early 90’s, integration of contact management with “To Do” lists and Database Lead Marketing greatly expanded CRM functionality and the benefits for sales forces across all industries. CRM was becoming a critical element of Enterprise Resource Planning and was no longer just a sales tool. Customer information was starting to be used by other business operations such as product planning, manufacturing, and payment systems.

To put CRM in the hands of traveling sales representatives and to lower the high cost of CRM deployment, Siebel launched a mobile CRM deployment in 1999 that would have been referred to today as a Smartphone App. In the same year, Salesforce.com introduced a cloud-based SaaS CRM. Both were ill timed. The “dot com” crash of 2000, was so severe that confidence and development of low-cost CRM mobile and cloud deployments were brought to a virtual standstill.

In 2003, Microsoft announced Microsoft Dynamics, a merger of CRM, MS Office, and Outlook bringing documents and email components of today’s CRM together in a single system. The Microsoft announcement was a major endorsement of CRM and its future role in IT ERP. Within a year, SugarCRM launched an open-source solution, freeing users from the high cost of licensed CRM software.

In 2006, Amazon introduced Elastic Compute Cloud services running within its Amazon Web Services platform which enabled cloud CRM deployment to bypass expensive dedicated servers and software. Using the Amazon AWS/EC2 platform, small businesses now had an economic deployment advantage, on a safe and secure platform. CRM became not only a popular sales tool, but it also became an integral part of most corporate sales workflows. CRM had finally been established as a mandatory management tool.

In late 2010 CRM began yet another transformation driven by the advance of social media. Ever since its inception, CRM was a transaction-based business model. However, by 2015, CRM had become an interactive business model. “Social CRM” employed social media strategies to proactively interact with customers. Today, engaging directly with customers on a personal basis has proven to be one of the most effective and efficient ways to manage revenues. Revenue management was no longer totally dependent on the company’s sales force. For the first time, management was able to directly influence top line revenues.

nuCEM, the New CRM

Managing a company’s relationships with its customers is one of the foundational building blocks of a successful business and, most likely, will be a mainstay of businesses for decades to come. Establishing and maintaining a good relationship with customers is a prerequisite to a healthy revenue stream. But a good relationship is not in itself what generates revenue. A customer engagement must occur before any revenue is generated. Having a good customer relationship will drive engagement but managing the relationship is not managing engagements. Clearly, customer engagements are dependent on a good customer relationship but without engagement, there will be little if any revenue. Engaging or not is primarily the decision of the customer.

If there are benefits to managing customer relationships, then it is equally certain that managing engagements would enhance those same benefits. Only recently have the necessary technologies become available for management to manage revenues by managing customer engagements. CEM is the new CRM.

Nucore’s Agency and Airline Management Platforms include nuCEM, a customer relationship and engagement management system that is primarily focused on enhancing the value of agency and airline services to their customers.
nuCEM IT components include the following:

  1. An integrated Business System Platform
  2. Automated Workflows (from bookings to invoices)
  3. Real Time Financial Accounting and Reporting
  4. Customer Database
  5. Traditional CRM Components (contacts, communications, actions, etc.)
  6. Corporate Portal with Financial System Access
  7. Transaction, Human Resource, and Archival Databases
  8. Data Analytics and Business Intelligence
  9. Standard and custom real time management dashboards

Managing customer engagement includes interacting with customers based on information retained and analyzed from services delivered in the past, services currently being used, and services that may be engaged in the future. nuCEM provides agency and airline management with a wide range of customer programs that can be used as needed to enhance customer value and drive engagement. A Few examples employing the IT prerequisites listed above might include:

  1. Customer Loyalty Programs
    a. Engagement Archival System (purchases, itineraries, communications, etc.)
    b. Reward customers for past purchases
    c. Encourage current purchases with a future or cumulative award
    d. Incentivize new customers to use existing services
  2. Personalized Engagement
    a. Customer notifications (birthdays, service specials used previously, new information
    available on prior enquiries, etc.)
    b. Post-Service Follow up (Thank You, related information, Loyalty program updates, etc.)
    c. Personalized Opted-In Marketing Campaigns
    d. Personal, public, supplier surveys, inquiries, and responses
  3. Corporate Engagement
    a. Marketing programs and campaigns based on Engagement Archives
    b. Social Media Campaigns (driven by customer inquiries, purchases, requests, etc.)
    c. Contests, Drawings, and other customer participation programs
    d. Community Networking and Customer Recognitions
  4. Corporate Portal
    a. Customer Engagement Dashboard/Monitoring (purchases, inquiries, analytics, etc.)
    b. On-Demand Financial Access for management and customer service
    c. On-Demand Downloads (invoices, statements, itineraries, etc.)
    d. Employee purchases
    e. Custom On-Demand Reports
    f. Alerts (expirations, required action, scheduled events, etc.)
  5. Automated Workflows
    a. GDS Booking and Reservations (Amadeus, Galileo, and Sabre)
    b. Automated travel documents, invoices, payments, reconciliations,
    c. Debit Memo tracking and resolutions
    d. Analytics and Business Intelligence Reporting
  6. Agency/Airline Staff Performance and Recognition programs

If a customer benefits from the added service value of managing customer engagements, then clearly the agency and airline that delivers those benefits will also benefit. Becoming a highly visible and active participant through customer engagement will further improve customer relationships. Managing customer engagements transforms traditional CRM into a closed-loop system where each compounds the benefits of the other.

Suhail VP

Managing Director and CEO Mr. Suhail V.P played a key leadership in growing Nucore Software Solutions, from a college startup to a growth enabling technology solution provider for Travel Industry - Catering to Travel Agents (TA’s), Travel Management Companies (TMC’s) and small Airlines. Suhail was instrumental in leading Nucore’s expansion program, establishing a business presence in more than thirty countries strategically driven by travel technology partnerships.