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March 14, 2013

Changing Perspective of Larger Companies towards their IT Partners - Part 1

By Pavan Nagaraj Dixit, Consultant and

Sachin Bhat, Technology Architect, Energy, Utilities, Communications and Services Unit

Information Technology (IT) forms a major part of the core strategic investments for all the growth oriented institutions in this ultra-modern era of accelerated growth and dynamic decision making, more so for companies banking on innovation and agility for their fast-tracked development and success. Smaller organizations with double digit growth can rely upon their unique offerings, higher productivity or niche area(s) of expertise to take liberty and keep pure innovation on the back seat until competition catches up with them and forces them to dedicate good percentage of their revenue towards innovation. These smaller organizations utilize this time period to mop up sizeable amount of cash surplus or achieve desired level of size to grab maximum attention of their prospective and current customers.

Larger organizations which have crossed all these hurdles and established themselves in fierce completion have a tougher path en route sustained growth. They have to invest heavily on innovation in product/service offerings, business processes, system processes, customer management and all other major and minor processes that are well established having led to the organization's success till that time. Any delay or failure in innovation will lead to premature demise of the organization courtesy, the cut throat competition with ever increasing alternatives to the end customer. 

In the wake of such intense competition, larger organizations look for avenues to innovate in every possible opportunity and drive their employees, management, vendors, business partners, channel partners and other stake holders towards innovation in their respective areas. Since IT is a growth accelerator, larger organizations have highest priority assigned to innovation in IT. Routine delivery excellence, cost reduction, productivity benefits and 'Take orders and deliver' approach are now expected out of any IT vendor by default. Any company proposing value addition only through these so called default benefits will be referred to as 'IT Vendor' where as larger organizations are looking for IT vendors who can showcase benefits which are larger in scope, wider in thinking and bolder in approach with clear articulation of value in measurable terms. These organizations are referred to as 'IT Partners' and these are the ones who will fetch higher remunerations, larger projects and greater respect from the market. IT companies have to continuously revisit their approach towards partnering with clients and bringing in superior thought process to cater to the knowledge and innovation needs of the market. These companies have to transform themselves into "Thought Partners".

Read Part 2 to find more details about the points that are sure to find a place in any modern proposal request for 'Thought Partners'.

1. http://noggin.intel.com/content/measuring-the-business-value-of-information-technology-introduction
2. http://sagebrushgroup.com/archive/19940823_MeasuringStgValue_Paper.htm

March 12, 2013

CRM Analytics in Telecom

CRM Analytics in telecom is an emerging yet partially explored area. In today's competitive landscape and cut throat competition, Service providers must give something 'extra' - Extra in form of personalized recommendations, possessing a predictive tool for identification of customer's needs, making offers which the customers can't refuse and so on. Telco's should not only be able to increase revenue but also retain the existing customers. Irony today is that Telco's are seated on a data pile but they are unable how to use it. Loads of customer information in form of Network data, Customer data, Location data etc. lies stagnant with Telco's. In the years to come, Telecommunications industry is sure to be an important data source for myriad other industries - be it Retail, Banking or even insurance!

I feel that segmentation is the key to Personalization. Customers, if effectively segmented can help the Telco's improve campaign acceptance rates. A service provider will be interested to launch a new VAS only to customers who are early adopters. All service providers have location data for customers like daily routes taken, time spent on a particular route, location whereabouts to name a few. It is here that analytics acts as a game changer. Telco's may be interested in a customer, say who travels on Abbey Road daily around 9PM - from office back to his home. His profile data, already with Telco affirms this fact and also details out that this individual is a bachelor. This customer will have a very high acceptance rate for redeeming coupon codes for Restaurants/ Cinema's received on his mobile via push messages over weekends. A Telco in US has successfully implemented location analytics for advertising and reporting purposes. Ads displayed on websites and applications on customer's wireless device are tailor made depending on customer's current location. At the backend, Telco shares high level location information of the customer with advertiser. Telco also ensures that they don't share customer details which may reveal customer identity.

Customers are growing impatient day by day. They demand instantaneous solutions to problems faced. Providing agents with tools to combat this quick resolution always helps. An issue which the customer is reporting might have been a previous pain point for another customer or could be linked to the last resolved issue. Having all these details readily available at hand, improves the response time, decreases waiting time and improves customer satisfaction levels. Billing and Charging are other prime areas which help the Telco's improve customer life time value. A customer recommended an offer in lines with needs/ usage patterns is less likely to be dissatisfied. The bills generated will be in line with what the customer expects - preferably less.

Implementing an analytics solution has its own challenges. Industry nature is such that a single individual could possess multiple connections. This means that the usage would be split across those service providers and it would be difficult to get a complete picture of customer usage. Within the organization, support from multiple stakeholders including CXO's, staff etc. is a must. Moreover, when implementing analytics solution with external parties like advertisers, Telco's should account for the privacy of the customer. In my view, a service provider must weigh out the odds for an analytics based solution. It has multiple intangible advantages associated both in form of increased customer delight and employee satisfaction.

March 11, 2013

Salesforce.com Looping in E-commerce

Our team recently implemented a Product catalog tool built on force.com for one of our manufacturing customers. This tool assisted our client's website visitors in searching for appropriate products which match their requirements. However, what surprised me was the missing linkage between the catalog and the purchase process. How nice it would have been, if customers were given an option to make their purchasing decisions right there on the catalog page rather than contacting the call center or filling up a "Contact Us" form to show their interest. That would make perfect business sense more so because this Client is using Salesforce.com extensively for both their sales and service processes automation.

Organizations should put concerted effort in shifting to a single consolidated e-commerce application rather than administering and maintaining these two parallel applications and being forced to keep two duplicate sales data sources.  At the same time, they will have better visibility into sales metrics and customer buying decision patterns by reporting from a single repository.

Salesforce.com today stands out in the market for its product suite which enables customers to automate their Sales and marketing processes and their customer service. A typical Sales cycle includes Leads coming into Salesforce from multiple sources, opportunities created against these leads and sales users tracking these opportunities to closure resulting in revenue for the organization. This lead to cash cycle presents a high level overview of a typical sales process in any organization.
Majority of buying that we do today is online, because of the avenues available in the form of eBay, flipkart, amazon.com and other trusted e-commerce portals. Salesforce AppExchange is another hugely popular example of an e-commerce app for buying and selling of Salesforce partner applications.

A typical e-commerce application integrated with Salesforce.com should exhibit following capabilities and features:
- Managing products and prices directly within Salesforce with no need for duplicate data stores
- Comprehensive shopping cart, merchandising, pricing, Cross sell and up sell promotions, and content management
- Should be able to use the social and mobile capabilities of the Salesforce platform to offer a holistic product catalog   navigation and buying experience to the customers on multiple systems such as smartphones, PCs, tablets etc.
- Use standard Salesforce objects such as Accounts, Contacts, Opportunity, and Product to track e-Commerce sales
- A robust inbuilt Content management or a 3rd party CMS tool for managing product images, brochures and other such content
- Capability to use Salesforce authentication using customer portal to allow access to online store using login and password,   if a business requirement for that exists
- Use Salesforce sites to host the ecommerce website
- A seamless multi-page shopping experience to the user where they can review the cart before making the final payment
- Checkout page to capture contact, credit card and billing info such as Shipping and Billing addresses
- Payment options using commonly available payment gateways such as PayPal, and in some cases options for COD (Cash on   Delivery)
- Add on features such as social media marketing tools such as integration with twitter and Facebook. Customers can be your   product evangelists when they showcase their purchase online
- Standardized connectors for integration with shipping, inventory and tax calculation applications

To meet this requirement, companies may be tempted to build custom applications with API connections to the backend CRM application from their existing websites. This would require development effort and knowledge of database calls and apex and visual force coding. 

What is Salesforce.com doing to automate or integrate this significant touch point with the customer, i.e. online sales or e-commerce? Organizations can explore following e-commerce tools which have readymade connectors with Salesforce and are listed on AppExchange with their customer testimonials and success stories - Nexternal's e-commerce shopping cart software, CloudCraze product developed by EDL Consulting, venue Salesforce e-commerce app, among others.

[1] http://www.cmswire.com/cms/customer-experience/cloudcraze-brings-ecommerce-to-salesforce-dreamforce-017390.php
[2] http://www.kineticgrowth.com/products/venue-salesforce-ecommerce/
[3] https://appexchange.salesforce.com/listingDetail?listingId=a0N30000003HW0dEAG
[4] http://www.edlconsulting.com/EDL_News_Articles/Internal/CloudCraze_OEM
[5] https://appexchange.salesforce.com/listingDetail?listingId=a0N30000001gUViEAM

March 7, 2013

Fusion Customer hub - trend setter for innovation

The term "Fusion" means combining together diverse aspects and blending them into something simpler and easier to manage, maintain and comprehend etc. It is lot like Fusion music, where the classical Indian music is fused with the western style and you have perfect harmony, something that is easier to listen and out of the world for listening experience. 

Fusion customer hub is the step in the right direction. Fusion customer hub takes the best of breed Trading community architecture model - build for managing party entities including supplier, customers, prospects, employees - and combines it with the flexibility of the Oracle customer hub, including the data management concepts of survivorship, retention etc. The user interface is so pleasing to the eye and it makes day to day operation of a data stewards similar to browsing the website. The ubiquitous portal kind of look and feel is pleasing to the eye. The integrated report pane, the task based pane, search pane and the work area pane is lot easier for business user to work on. Lot of innovation features have been added i.e. it bring in the best of concept around pillars i.e. Supply chain management pillar for Product hub and Customer relationship management pillar for Customer hub. ​All components have been rewritten on Java technologies, so that extensibility is easier. The usage of extensibility framework that brings all the tools for configuration of process workflow, components and UI into one tier allows simplicity to the development community. There is only one Integrated Development Environment to learn and comprehend. There is only one learning path and it is nonproprietary and open source based e.g. Groovy, Web 2.0 structure, Java, J2EE etc.
The deployment strategy is on Premise or on-cloud based deployment and is lot simpler to comprehend if you are basically from the Application background i.e. based on the Oracle E-Business suite world. Most of the modular thinking remains and aligns to segregation of business concerns, so that it is possible to logically extend the thinking process.

Some of the features of Fusion Customer hub that will tend to awe the CRM users are

1)      Linking features - Client organization tends to have multi line of business and it may be required that their complex customer to have duplicate representations. The linking features allows each duplicate record to remain in the Customer hub, but these records could be linked together to give a common 360 degree view
2)      Customer data management features - The capabilities of loading data through list import makes it similar for the business to use the application
3)      Intuitive User interface - The fusion apps UI is very simple with search pane,  workflow pane, work area pane, reporting pane all providing the right information to the business users.
4)      Cross reference key management - Simplified cross reference key management.
5)      Best of breed data quality management using Oracle Enterprise data quality and Loqate as the address cleansing and standardization toolset.
6)      Best of breed data model using the Trading community architecture, with Interface tables and Oracle data integrator based studio and run time components to move data from staging tables to the base repositories.
7)      Integrated Functional setup manager for configuration and extension of the application

I happened to be involved in a major proposal where the Fusion customer hub was being evaluated to host the customer data centrally from varying legacy application and then pushed into a new business process harmonization application. The journey of undertaking the discovery of Fusion Customer hub is exciting and looking out to perform an in-depth review of the Fusion Customer hub application.