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How can decision management help with customer engagement?

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Shantanu Narayen of Adobe recently said “Engagement is the new business mandate” and when Denise Shiffman (author of The Age of Engage) spoke at a recent CMO summit she added:

As I talk to customers, partners, and employees, it becomes increasingly clear to me that the health of a company relies on the extent to which it creates meaningful and sustainable interactions.

As social media has exploded and customers have access to more and more information, I too believe that companies must focus on improving customer engagement. But when most companies think of customer engagement they think of Facebook, blogging, review sites like Yelp and so on. How can decision management help in this? How, more specifically, can decision management help you turn your existing enterprise applications into something you can use to improve customer engagement?

Well let’s start by answering how typical enterprise applications, both CRM systems and others, handicap attempts to engage customers. The key problems with these kinds of applications when it comes to customer engagement are:

  • They treat all customers the same
    Enterprise applications tend to do very little – they mostly wait for their human operators to do things – but when they do they tend to treat everyone the same. They give every customer the same set of options, send them the same letters, display the same offers and so on. Customers do not engage with this kind of mindless, soulless system.
  • They support one channel, creating cross-channel confusion
    Customers want to have a dialog, a conversation, with the companies they do business with and increasingly this means a cross-channel dialog. With each channel having its own backend system, customers get a disconnected and confusing response from companies. Again, no engagement there.
  • They don’t learn from customer behavior
    Customers expect companies to remember them, to remember what they do. And they expect everything to be remembered. Some enterprise applications will remember orders places, others offers made, others still web pages visited or service calls made. None of these systems typically learn from the others and most don’t learn even from their own history – they go on acting as though they know nothing about a customer. It’s hard to like someone who never remembers anything about you and it’s hard to engage with a company that does not remember you either.

The basic problem is that customers expect your interactions with them to be personal and deliberate and they will only engage with you if they are. If you treat them impersonally, casually mistreat them then they will go elsewhere. If you can’t make their interactions engaging, you won’t keep them as customers.

The power of decision management in this is that it allows you to inject personalized, deliberate, “thoughtful” decisions into these existing systems so that they take more appropriate actions and so become more engaging. It makes it possible to turn these dumb applications into smarter ones, that learn from past behavior and reflect customer preferences. As always there are three steps:

  1. Decision discovery
    Find the decisions you make about your customers and about how to interact with them. Decisions like what options to list in the IVR system, what offers to make on the website, what discount to offer, what content to display or what product to suggest. Knowing what these decisions are, and finding the micro decision opportunities where you can make a different decision for every customer, is critical. These decisions, especially the micro decisions, drive the engagement in your systems’ interactions.
  2. Decision services
    Having identified these decision making opportunities, you need to ensure that every system delivers them consistently and the best way to do that is to develop decision services. Decision services simply make these decisions – they answer questions – they don’t take action. This means they can be injected into multiple systems, multiple processes to deliver the same answer consistently and effectively.

    • Decision services should be built using business rules so that the company’s policies on treating and engaging with customers can be managed directly by business users so the services are up to date and business-centric.
    • Using business rules also makes it easy to bring customer preferences into these services for maximum flexibility. The rules for making the decision include company rules and customer rules, executed as a set.
    • Decision services, especially those built on business rules, are easily enhanced with analytics. A model that predicts which products might interest a customer based on their prior purchases, segmentation of customers based on what they say and what they do to help target content, loyalty or future value scores to help decide where to commit resources and so on. All these models “learn” from the information you have about customers to help you create more meaningful interactions – after all an interaction where I get offered a discount on something I want is much more meaningful than a discount on something I can’t every imagine buying.
  3. Decision Analysis
    Because customers, markets, competitors and everything else involved in an interaction keep changing and because you keep learning about your customers you need to constantly analyze and improve your decision making. Integrating test-and-learn or adaptive control into decision services let’s you experiment to see what engages customers better. Analysis of models and of rules lets you see what engages customers and what drives them away. Because your decisions are explicit and managed you can focus energy on improving them.

There’s more to customer engagement than decision management, for sure. And while decision management does not rely on perfectly clean, perfectly integrated data it certainly benefits from access to integrated, up-to-date data. But you need a separate, deliberate focus on decisions to get the results you need.

I’ll leave the final word to the CEO of Adobe with this quote from a Q&A with Adobe’s CEO on Customer Engagement

How does technology impact customer engagement?

Technology—and innovation—are keys to customer engagement. Today, customers expect dynamic, more engaging experiences than ever before, and companies must constantly innovate to meet and exceed these expectations. Technology has heightened customer expectations, and it’s also through technology that businesses will meet their customers’ increasingly higher demands.

Without decision management your core enterprise applications, the electronic backbone of your company, simply won’t help you engage your customers. And that’s a heavy dead-weight for your customer engagement strategy to carry around.

A few more posts for those of you interested in this topic:

Plus there was a great article in CRM magazine – Decisions, Decisions.

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