Customer Relationship Management involves a company’s interaction with current and future customers. It is a combination of all customer contact moments and it is used to provide a better customer service. CRM has always involved data, but most of it used to be structured data such as contact information, latest contacts, products bought etc. With the big data techniques it is also possible to process, store and analyse massive amounts of unstructured data not supplied by the customer and use this to gain additional insights. Using big data technologies, Customer Relationship Management can finally become a true revenue driver.

In the past, most of the times a CRM system failed to meet expectations, because in fact CRM was only about managing the customer relationship. Big Data CRM goes further and is all about servicing the customer. However, there were more reasons why a CRM implementation failed:

  • Having a CRM system in place is only part of the deal; it also needs to be used by the employees. So, a cultural change is needed and perhaps incentives to start using the system;
  • No clear (technical) objectives that leads to a poor system and incorrect collection and storing of data;
  • A lack of executive sponsorship to support the CRM project. Too often a CRM project is lead by an IT department.

So, can the addition of big data prevent these failures? That depends of course of a few necessary steps that need to be taken when implementing a Big Data CRM. Let’s first look at what servicing the customer from a big data viewpoint actually means. Servicing the customer will give better results, but it requires a lot more than just managing the relationship:

Big data CRM model

Big Data CRM aspects

  • Managing the customer with structured data such as address, contact information and latest contact moments is only one part. Managing the customer is primarily an inside-out approach where the company ‘manages’ the customer by sending messages and storing basic information about the customer. In order to do that it used predefined channels at set business hours. It is a company-defined process that is done by designated departments with not a lot of flexibility., but nonetheless important to have as this is the basis.
  • Interacting with the customer with unstructured data such as emails, tweets, Facebook posts, comments etc. Interacting is customer driven or outside-in. There is a two-way communication process and the customer decides when to have contact with the organisation and he/she expects to be responded to fast, also outside business hours. Everyone in the company should be involved and it involves customer-driven channels such as social networks or communities.
  • Analyzing the customers’ actions with structured data such as online visits, click-throughs, bounce rates etc. is a company driven process, primarily done by analysts. These analysts generally perform an action when asked for an insight or deliver standardized reports to marketeers on a regular basis. With big data techniques involved, the role of the analyst will significantly change as he/she will be required to more proactively deliver results on a more regular, preferably real-time, basis.
  • Knowing the customer is where it really gets interesting. Big data engineers use unstructured and structured data to perform analyses that allow the organisation to understand each customer individually on a real-time basis. They can provide predictive recommendations in order to develop / deliver those products that are truly needed by the customers resulting in an increased conversion rate.

Combined together, these four aspects truly bring value to an organisation and take traditional Customer Relationship Management to a higher level. Companies can use Big Data technologies such as Hadoop and MapReduce to process all the massive data streams that will flow into your organisation due to these aspects. With the right algorithms it is possible to perform several analyses to deliver a better service to the customers. These include among others:

  • Pattern analysis to discover new patterns within a dataset or a combination of datasets. These can be structured data (rows of sequential demographic data) or unstructured data (tweets about products);
  • Sentiment analysis to discover what customers are saying about your products / service. This can help you to address issues before they spread too big and can help to improve your service;
  • Marketing analysis in order to analyse customer interactions with your organisation but also among each other to optimize marketing decisions and messages;
  • Recommendation analysis to give the best recommendation to your customers that will increase the conversion rate. The better the recommendation fits with the needs of the customer, the higher the conversion rate;
  • Influence analysis to find out whom of your customers has the most influence on all your other customers. Knowing your influences will give organisations a big advantage and will help you better service your customers.

Collecting, processing and storing the right data are one part of the deal to have a truly valuable Customer Relationship Management. Analysing with the right tools to achieve valuable insights is another part. But to really have a CRM that raises customer satisfaction it is also very important that the organisation lives by Big Data CRM. In order to achieve that, an organisation needs to become an information-centric organisation and that requires a culture shift.

In order to turn around an organisation and make an entire organisation aware that collecting data and analysing it can bring extra revenue, executive sponsorship is of vital importance. It should be prevented that big data is lead by the IT department as IT is merely a means to achieve results. Therefore, the Chief Marketing Officer or the CEO should fully support the implementation of a Big Data CRM. When that is in place, a pilot project should be used to show the organisation the impact of an information-centric approach. If all positive results and learning are continuously shared among the entire organisation, a cultural shift will slowly happen.

Nowadays, not knowing your customer is not accepted anymore. Customers that contact organisations through whatever channel want to be recognized and serviced appropriately. Using big data technologies to collect, store and analyse the necessary data will truly make your Customer Relationship Management valuable and give your organisation a competitive advantage.

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