20/20 Vision: Viewing The Customer Relationship Without Blind Spots

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Unstructured CRM, the management of unstructured data in the context of Customer Relationship Management, is the only way for organisations to achieve a single customer view and gain a full and accurate picture of customer accounts, argues David Anderson, UK Managing Director, InStranet.

According to Aberdeen Group, worldwide CRM software will eclipse the $27 billion mark by 2005. In spite of these enormous expenditures, both major corporations and their customers continue to be frustrated by technology that provides only a partial glimpse at the overall relationship, a situation that has been likened to looking through a keyhole.

Under these circumstances, corporate relationship managers are unable to easily access a complete view of the client. Similarly, the client receives only limited access to the resources of the corporation, including product, service, and account information. As a result of these limitations, the intent of the CRM process - improving customer service and expanding the dialogue between the corporation and its clients - is often frustrated. Billions of dollars are therefore invested to create only a marginal improvement in the customer relationship.

Unstructured information is in effect the dialogue of the daily conversation between a corporation and its clients. Unlike the structured data captured by business applications and neatly stored and shared in databases, unstructured data represents the glut of critical business information contained in document text, spreadsheet data, e-mail conversations, PowerPoint slides and so on. It's defined as unstructured because of the broad spectrum of formats in which it appears, and because the information cannot be summarised in distinct, well-defined database fields.

Although a recent report by Merrill Lynch's eGlobal Securities Research & Economics Group estimates that 80 per cent of all business data is unstructured, companies generally don't share this information with their customers because it is difficult to categorise. This creates an enormous blind spot when companies and their customers view their business relationship using traditional CRM tools.

The CRM Holy Grail of a single view of the customer simply isn't possible using traditional CRM packages. Because CRM only addresses structured data, it can only manage 20 per cent of corporate information. This means rather than providing a single or 360 degree view of customer information, it can only provide a 72 degree view or 20 per cent. In order to properly leverage CRM investments and gain a full and accurate single customer view, companies need to apply unstructured information management to their CRM systems.

Fortunately, new customer-facing technologies are emerging that create a more dynamic, yet secure dialogue between companies and their corporate customers. One such technology is the Information Exchange, software that enables all parties to see and share both structured and unstructured data in a secure environment over the Web.

This sharing of information leads to the development of a highly productive dialogue with customers. It eliminates the customer blind spot because both businesses and customers can see exactly who all the players are, who's saying what to whom, and what the nature of their respective relationships are. The collaborative nature of this information exchange encourages lasting customer relationships, and ultimately a healthy return on investment.

By working in conjunction with partners such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, we believe the Unstructured CRM market is beginning to emerge as companies try to further leverage their investments in basic CRM systems and achieve business objectives.

David Anderson is UK Managing Director of InStranet. Tel: 01784 410086 www.instranet.com

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