I remember about 5 years ago when I worked at Experian. The hot topic when we'd get together for sales meetings and to discuss what our clients (large financial services and telecom firms) needed was real-time customer interaction. We felt that if we could develop technologies and data integration techniques to enable access to up-to-the-minute customer data, our clients would be able to now fulfill their CRM dreams.
They'd be able to offer the customer the exact right product that they'd be interested in, at that specific point in time. Think of how happy the customers would be; think of the extra profits to be made.
Now, 5 years later, I see that the real-time dream hasn't really made it to reality.
Most firms still struggle to pull data from IT. If the data is only a week old, that's a good thing. Analysis is one-off and project-based. Rarely (except for web analytics) do senior managers have the ability to access up-to-the minute transaction and customer data.
I found an article that supported my opinion (that we're still pretty far away from realizing real-time) in ComputerWeekly.com. From the article:
"A few years ago, everyone was talking about the real-time enterprise and how it was destined to be the future. The idea was that companies would be instantaneously aware of any important business events taking place so that they could respond appropriately and immediately.
But that has not happened because of both the cost and complexity of such a proposition."
The article goes on to state that the cost of implementing true real-time technology rarely justifies the new-found benefits. It outlines three areas where companies are starting to consider real-time applications:
- Real-time Reporting Systems--where executives will have access to timely reports so that they can make best-informed business decisions.
- Business Activity Monitoring--where transaction and customer behavior is monitored in real-time. A certain activity may 'trigger' an action from the firm. A classic example is in the area of risk management--when a firm sees that a customer has started paying other bills more slowly, they change the way their own collections department treats this customer. Typically, they move to a more aggressive collections strategy.
- Real-time Data Mining--where an agent (typically at a call center) has access to up-to-the-minute customer data so that they can offer the consumer the most appropriate product/service at the point in time that the customer calls them, or comes to them with service issues.
- As much as we direct marketers talk the CRM story, we're still pretty far away from real-time, in most cases.
- Where real-time technology has been proven a success, it's only because the firms that tackled the issue faced it logically and found small areas where they could reap immediate and measurable benefits, hence justifying the expense.