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Being able to give our customer exactly what they want, when they want it, is the dream of any organization – and real-time customer relationship management can offer that and more, but there are possible pitfalls and ethical and legal implications to avoid.


Viv Craske, head of planning and digital at Live & Breathe

Real-time CRM can mean a variety of different things, from a retail store using previous purchase information and a phone app to guide a customer’s in-store experience, to an airline offering real-time incentives for customer comments on social media.

Viv Craske, head of planning and digital at Live & Breathe, said that using shopper data in-store in the right ways can provide a solution that does not have to be annoying – or creepy as portrayed in Minority Report – but adds real value.

He offered the following examples:

  • Personalized loyalty offers – using Beacon technology to send personalized, highly targeted offers to shoppers in-store or at-shelf. For example, all shoppers who abandoned an online cart can be sent a promotion to their mobile for the same item when they are near it in store
  • Storytelling in-store – mobile push messages are triggered by proximity and require no action from the shopper. You can trigger a ‘Can we help you?’ message 10 minutes after someone enters a fashion store, inviting them to discover more about products on their phone or visit customer services
  • Multi-channel eCRM – digital display beacons can send targeted messages by push notification, digital display or email that offer related products or triggered campaigns. For example, beacons can identify people sitting in a cinema audience who have downloaded the cinema app, then follow up by email with communications related to the ads they watched before the movie.

Dominique Levin, VP of Marketing at AgilOne

Dominique Levin, VP of Marketing at AgilOne

Dominique Levin, VP of Marketing at AgilOne, said the company is working with a number of clients on initiatives that include a “magic mirror” that will give consumers recommendations for other clothes to try on; iBeacon technology that will alert store associates to high-value customers when they walk in the store; and grocery stores that can alert customers to alternative products that might be on sale close to the aisle they are entering, or offer the customer a cheaper product based on what they scan.

Benefits are numerous. “For just-in-time inventory, the company isn’t wasting product shelf-space, spoilage or unnecessary distribution costs because it has exactly the right inventory at the right time,” Keith Pearce, VP of Corporate Marketing at Genesys, explained. “For a customer, imagine walking into a grocery store where the groceries you need to replenish are fulfilled, and you simply pick them up and add anything else you might be in a spontaneous mood for. That’s the promise of real-time CRM.”

 Keith Pearce, VP of Corporate Marketing at Genesys

Keith Pearce, VP of Corporate Marketing at Genesys

For Donna Pahel, Director of Digital Marketing and e-Commerce Strategy at EPiServer, real-time CRM provides a multitude of benefits to both customers and companies. “Brands can more effectively tailor experiences to customers on a 1:1 basis, develop a deeper understanding of customer needs over time and reduce or eliminate friction along the continuous path to purchase,” she said, adding that companies benefit from operational efficiencies gained by understanding customer needs to facilitate the ability to procure what customers want – when they want it and delivered via customer preference.

Donna Pahel, Director of Digital Marketing and e-Commerce Strategy at EPiServer

Donna Pahel, Director of Digital Marketing and e-Commerce Strategy at EPiServer

“Today’s connected customers virtually have an infinite number of choices of not only what to buy, but when, where and from whom they buy,” Pahel added. “Companies who effectively help cut the noise and provide compelling context around their products and services that speak to customers on a 1:1 basis will thrive in our new highly connected and always-on world.”

Mobile shows interesting promise in this space. “There has been a decisive shift among consumers using mobile as a main channel of engagement,” said Dave Murashige, General Manager, Enterprise and Intelligence Solutions at Syniverse. “With the increased use of mobile comes an influx of new, real-time information that brands can leverage in conjunction with traditional CRM data to create highly targeted, relevant and hyper-personalized communications.”

This heightened level of engagement, he explained, can help a brand create a seamless journey through the selling process, and a consistent brand identity across multiple platforms that strengthens customer relationships and increases brand loyalty.

Dave Murashige, General Manager, Enterprise and Intelligence Solutions at Syniverse

Dave Murashige, General Manager, Enterprise and Intelligence Solutions at Syniverse

“That mobile context information—such as geolocation, opt-in preferences, network and device type, and user behavior— can be used by companies in a number of ways. Offers, coupons and discounts are tried and tested methods to increase revenues, but consumer redemption remains an ongoing challenge,” Murashige said “Real-time CRM enhanced by mobile context can help retailers to create hyper-personalized, relevant offers that can be delivered via multiple channels and delivery platforms, including app, SMS, MMS, email and push notifications.”

Kelly Koelliker, director of product marketing, KANA, a Verint Company, said that location-based services have been used by companies to place relevant offers with customers at the right time and place. She cited the example of the airline industry.

Unexpected circumstances outside the airline’s control can sometimes leave customers stranded at the airport. “Although most travelers tend to be understanding in these situations, it presents a great opportunity for airlines to serve and support their customers in a great time of need,” she said.

Kelly Koelliker, director of product marketing, KANA

Kelly Koelliker, director of product marketing, KANA

One possibility is that an airline might send customers an eVoucher for food and beverage during a layover, or a discount for a neck and back massage in the airport. “When a traveler is making a tight connection due to a late flight, the airline could send them a notification of the gate and boarding status to put the customer at ease,” she said.

The technologies available offers a host of opportunities to savvy companies that are able to leverage that information to better serve their customers. “In an omni channel world, you don’t always know who and where your customers are at any given moment. Are they buying? Are they browsing? It’s simply impossible to know 100 per cent of a customer’s interactions with a brand,” said Susan Ganeshan, Chief Marketing Officer of Clarabridge. “But if you can understand the customer in the moment and relate them to their customer type, you can deliver a personalized experience. Your CRM gives you, essentially, a chalk outline of what your customer looks like.”

Susan Ganeshan, Chief Marketing Officer of Clarabridge

Susan Ganeshan, Chief Marketing Officer of Clarabridge

Ganeshan added that when you bring this together with CEM, you add a clear picture of this customer’s actual experience and sentiment about you, your product, your service and so on. “You understand in the moment if they are at risk for churn, you understand the lifetime value of the customer, and you have the opportunity to empower real-time decisions on the best way to handle the particular customer,” she said.

Before implementation of such a strategy, however, it is important that companies analyze how to do it and whether they are positioned to do it well.

Craske recommended that companies ask these key questions:

  • Do we have a 360-degree data acquisition strategy that understands what data points we collect and why?

  • Do we have an eCRM strategy that has always used segmentation (e.g. with email marketing)? If so, what learnings can we translate?

  • Do we have a robust data protection policy and systems?

  • Do we know enough about what our shoppers really want and in what context they use their personal digital devices? – e.g. tablets for online shopping on the bus; phones in-store to check price and product details

  • Do we have the technology in store, e.g. free and easily-accessible shopper Wi-Fi?


As with all forms of customer data collection, companies need to be careful of how they collect the information, what details are given to the consumer, how the data is used, and other legal and ethical issues.

Mark Schreiber, partner at Edwards Wildman Palmer LLC in Boston and Chair of the firm’s Privacy and Data Protection Steering Committee, said: “CRM systems, including the data collection process, can be vetted for privacy and compliance concerns to minimize risks. Such scrutiny can focus on relevant states,” he said. For example, there are a number of state laws restricting the request for or recording of personal information, like ZIP codes, in the context of credit card transactions at point of sale, Schreiber cautioned.

“California has the Song-Beverly Act, Massachusetts has a major court opinion on this issue, and there is increasing class action litigation on the subject of ZIP code data collection in these two states, as well as cases in NJ and DC. Analyzing these issues and understanding the boundaries and permissible exceptions in these laws will help reduce risks for companies. ‘Privacy by design’ is another approach which can be employed to try to avoid these dilemmas,” he said.

Ganeshan, noted: “In recent years, customer mindset has evolved from ‘It’s creepy that companies know so much about me,’ to ‘Wow, how cool they knew that I prefer red wine over white!’.” This means, Ganeshan said, that companies now have the power to combine loyalty information with purchase information and with what a customer actually said in surveys, social forums or during other calls.

“The result is a vivid picture of the actual customer they are working with at that moment. The customer comes out of the shadows and is no longer just a type of person, but is an individual,” she said.

Mike Ellis, CEO of ForgeRock

Mike Ellis, CEO of ForgeRock

It does not mean ignoring the ethical and legal implications, though. Mike Ellis, ForgeRock’s CEO, agreed, adding: “We’ve already got two feet firmly in this new world, and consumers are actively and continually assessing where businesses fall on the cool-to-creepy continuum.”

He said that to forge a strong and healthy relationship with customers, not to mention staying on the right side of privacy regulations, you need to apply contextual sensitivity to the data you actually collect, the purposes you put it to, and the times, places, and circumstances of your usage.

“It’s cool for a mobile airline app to ‘wake up’ when a flyer approaches an airport or it’s within three hours of flight time to help her manage her boarding process. It’s creepy for that same app to follow the customer all around the city she just landed in and make suggestions about travel partners — unless the airline asked her for permission first,” he said.

The core question, Pearce said, is “at what point are consumers willing to forgo privacy and data protection in order to achieve customization and personalization of products and services that are designed specifically for them. That’s the balance both company, customer and regulatory authorities are weighing to realize real-time CRM.”

Steve Grout, CEO of  Tangent Snowball

Steve Grout, CEO of Tangent Snowball

These are not the only pitfalls that companies wanting to leverage the possibility of real-time CRM need to avoid. Steve Grout, CEO of digital agency Tangent Snowball, said that to implement a real-time system effectively requires a real commitment to invest in the system, structure and people. “There will potentially be issues with Legacy systems and the fact that it’s new and different. A time of familiarization will undoubtedly be required to iron out any problems,” he said.

Ganeshan said that the biggest challenge is that information about the customer is scattered throughout an organization. “It sits in structured databases, it is siloed to single departments, it is in the recorded voice, it’s in pictures, it’s in text verbatims, it’s out in the open world of social. You have to use systems that work to gather the data no matter where it is, no matter what the format,” she said.

She added: “The systems need to break the data down so you can build it back up to the complete and clear picture of the customer … then you need to push it to the people. You need reporting, including an accessible dashboard and alerts all delivered through email — to laptops or even mobile devices. Finally, you need case management solutions that monitor the response and approach and ensure a closed loop process.”