Who owns real-time customer interactions in the C-suite?

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With analytics, brands can see the world as their customers do ‒ and shape real-time customer interactions accordingly. And according to latest Harvard Business Review Analytics Services Report, Real-Time Analytics: The Key to Unlocking Customer Insights & Driving the Customer Experience, real-time analytics is a critical enabler. The report is based on a recent survey sponsored by SAS, Intel and Accenture.

There are many valuable insights in this report. But one of the striking aspects pertain to ownership of real-time analytics capabilities for customer experience in the C-suite.

At most companies, real-time customer experience tends to rest with the CMO (36 percent), while the CIO (30 percent) or CTO (23 percent) is responsible for real-time customer technology. In many cases, one function owns real-time customer analytics and another owns the customer analytics technology stack. Less than a third of survey respondents say these C-suite executives are well aligned, with the majority rating their alignment “middle of the road.”

Top-down focus helps: 36 percent rated their real-time customer analytics practices as “very effective” when the CEO owns real-time customer experience.

But even with the CEO as the owner, customer experience must be an organization-wide commitment ‒ with alignment across the C-suite, especially in marketing and technology.

Three imperatives for aligned ownership

Despite perceived barriers, marketing and technology leaders have common goals and similar challenges. Marketing needs to exploit the full extent of big data and real-time analytics to guide its decision making. And IT must emphasize the external customer, employing agile technology options and platforms.

The following unifying imperatives will help CMOs and CIOs (or CTOs) use varied skill sets and inputs to make linkages and draw from each other's expertise.

Drive sustained business growth

Both the CIO and the CMO are accountable for the singular objective of increasing profitable revenue. So, although the CMO measures success through customer growth and loyalty, the CIO must show how real-time technology investments affect profits. By aiming at boosting customer value, CIOs will move IT toward contributing to the bottom line directly, rather than indirectly via cost reduction.

Real-time analytics connects marketing operations with multichannel customer interactions via customer insights. CMOs and CIOs can jointly calibrate the financial (revenue, growth margins, market and wallet share), operational (offer response rates, issue-resolution times and asset re-use) and customer (online/offline engagement, customer migration metrics and sentiment) impacts of every single marketing activity.

The result: businesses don't merely design better customer experiences, they do so more efficiently and cost-effectively.

Establish a single customer data view

Good data is certainly a prerequisite for crafting real-time customer interactions and experiences. That’s only the starting point. Marketing and IT must enable different parts of the organization to gather customer interaction data ‒ from all internal and external customer channels ‒ in a consistent way.

But data is typically scattered in warehouses throughout the organization. There are customer records from the contact center, web analytics data from the website, and social media analytics from Facebook and Twitter. When Marketing and IT unify that data and apply smart, robust analytics, they will inform marketing activities, uncover new opportunities and even influence the business beyond marketing.

Most companies have not readily incorporated real-time data into day-to-day business processes. Many also struggle to identify what data are needed to improve competitive advantage and what they need to create.

Different departments often use different ways to measure the same thing. Take, for example, customer churn. Marketing may measure negative sentiment, sales may measure the volume of goods sold by transaction, while operations may measure inventory movement. Another common challenge involves implementing a unique identifier to link different data sets (such as transaction data and customer profiles) and filling in gaps to increase data quality and usability.

To avoid murkiness, executives must connect the data strategy to the analytics strategy. When exploring new data sources, have specific use cases in mind. Know what data each business function owns. To continuously improve data quality, set up governance and processes, and ensure that the rightful owners and users have direct access. Hold the business accountable for data, even if the IT department houses and supports them.

Distribute and automate real-time customer insight to support marketing actions

Marketing and IT must create output from customer data for other employees who may interact with customers. Beyond providing information, they need to agree on the most relevant answers and actions at specific touchpoints, and design interactions that adapt to different skill levels.

To support specific customer-centered outcomes such as increased loyalty, higher lifetime value, reduced abandonment and higher margins, marketing and IT need to ensure timely, accurate customer analytics. Those analytics will need to run in real time for an ever-increasing number of customer segments, including more precise microsegments by audience attitude, location, channel, contexts and more.

For instance, a fast-growing bank needed a way to execute marketing and CX initiatives as it rolled out new products and services. With advanced analytics, the bank was able to use all their customer data, evaluate multiple campaigns simultaneously and develop different scenarios using different parameters (campaign budget constraints, customer preferences and marketing goals). The result: marketing processes were optimized from 2.5 days to 2.5 hours, and communications costs dropped by 50 percent.

Deliver outstanding real-time customer interactions based on insight, not just data

The end customer must be the primary driver of technology and analytics strategies. And as IT puts the customer at the center of IT planning, deployment and support, real-time analytics will redirect its traditional focus from delivering value to internal clients to align with marketing's external customer emphasis.

At the same time, frontline agents and customer-facing systems will deliver individualized answers to customer needs at specific touchpoints to create a compelling and customized brand experience. For example, a leading telecommunications company was able to slash customer complaints by 53 percent thanks to real-time predictive customer analytics.

Today's empowered "new buyer" is capitalizing on numerous social and digital channels and exerting tremendous pressure on the technology needs of marketing organizations. As one executive remarked, “It’s not the big fish that eats the small, but it’s the fast that eats the slow.” The true opportunity lies in CMOs and CIOs jointly responding in real-time to this new boss.

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About Author

Wilson Raj

Global Director, Customer Intelligence

Wilson Raj is the Global Director of Customer Intelligence at SAS. His responsibilities include collaborating with industry leaders, customers, alliances, sales, marketing and product teams to establish, evolve and evangelize SAS’s growth strategy for analytics-driven marketing capabilities. With twenty years of experience in multiple industries, Raj has built data-driven brand value, engagement, and loyalty through expertise in integrating advertising, digital marketing, social media, multi-channel relationship marketing and public relations. He has held global leadership positions in marketing at Fortune Global 500® companies such as Microsoft, Novell. Medtronic, Philips, Ameritech (now AT&T Midwest). He also advised C-level executives on digital strategy while at Publicis and also at VML and Wunderman—as part of Young & Rubicam Group at WPP. Raj is frequently quoted in global media outlets and major industry publications such as Adweek, CMSWire , CNBC.com, CRM Buyer, DM News , eMarketer, InformationWeek, MarketingProfs,, ZDNet, and more. Raj holds a B.A. in English and an M.B.A. from Brigham Young University, and a Certificate-in-Education from the Institute of Education in Singapore.

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