Storing up CRM Success

Obtaining return on investment from storage systems has never been more important, in a world of escalating demand. There are three factors that will continue to drive the uptake of storage solutions. The first two regulatory compliance and terrorism have both been much commented upon. The third factor Customer Relationship Management or CRM is also much discussed, but not in the context of storage and back-up. CRM is the process of treating customers appropriately however they interact with you face-to-face, direct mail, call centre, online, and so on. The data and document support to make this process work is considerable.

CRM has moved from being a nice-to-have, to a must-do. Over the last two years, European corporations have reached a critical mass of CRM adoption, and have raised customer expectations regarding the intelligence and relevance of how they are dealt with. All of which means, that those who do not practise joined-up CRM are seeing growing rates of customer attrition.

Over the last fifteen years, the cult of customer retention has gone from strength to strength. For many industries, winning new customers consumes far less intellectual effort than keeping the ones you already have, and developing their value to your organisation. Much modelling effort goes into predicting which customers are likely to defect, as well as building strategies to stop them doing so. Research from Pitney Bowes tells us that by the end of 2005 more effort will be going into marketing to existing

Yet the world is becoming generally more mobile and less loyal. Back in 2003 the all industries average customer defection rate was 16.9% per annum. Now our annual average has risen to 19.1%. No wonder marketers are becoming obsessed with retention strategies.

Yet things are looking positive nowadays. According to research from Group 1, an overall majority of corporations are obtaining return on investment from their CRM. Other research from Total DM says that almost half of corporations have appointed a Head of CRM with board-level influence.

In the public sector, eGovernment requirements, along with the demands of the Freedom of Information Act, are making joined-up citizen service mandatory. Much investment has gone into content management systems therefore, the question is whether the underlying storage and access requirements have been sufficiently well thought out to provide suitable update, retrieval performance, upgrade flexibility and capacity to help the each organisation meet their citizen service targets - not forgetting the long term retention needs for these records.

Providing return on investment naturally requires best-of-breed technology. However, it requires experienced minds (from purchaser, vendor and reseller) not only to construct ways of leveraging existing legacy systems, but also to identify options that leave room for modular, cost-effective storage systems development. This involves identifying what needs to be part of the joined-up CRM, and therefore probably requires to be supported by the enterprise-wide performance that SANs load-balancing capabilities enable. This will particularly affect, for instance, the work of a call centre that needs to retrieve up-to-date customer data and documents, from multiple repositories, in real-time. On the other hand, there will be purely localised data or documents for instance, response analyses, promotional returns, or customer attributes for exploratory analysis whose function is confined to the marketing department. Here, it may be perfectly acceptable to retain legacy direct access storage, so long as there is little likelihood of this information and content being applied later on an enterprise level or indeed, an economic migration path having been planned if this will be the case in future.

System service levels are also doubly critical in the CRM context. If a company is offering, say, an 8am-8pm, six-days-a-week customer service line, then continuity of document and data retrieval is paramount. If document or data retrieval breaks down, then this actively undermines the customers perception of CRM quality. For this reason, the system service provision is often outsourced to a third party that has the scale of operations to deliver such failsafe back-up at an economic cost. Many resellers and systems integrators would be unwilling to invest the kind of sums necessary to set up and maintain such a service infrastructure.

So, regulatory compliance and terrorism may be uppermost in many minds as drivers of secure storage and back-up purchasing. However, just as important are the growing requirements of effective CRM, an issue that faces almost every company in Europe.

Anacomp are exhibiting at Storage Expo the UK's largest and most important event dedicated to data storage, now in its 5th year, the show features a comprehensive FREE education programme, and over 90 exhibitors at the National Hall, Olympia, London from 12 - 13 October 2005

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