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Customer Releationship Management  

A Customer-Centric IT Architexture

Fierce competition in all sectors is forcing organizations to rethink how they do business. Products are no longer the key differentiator—competitive advantage comes from utilizing all knowledge within the organization to treat customers as individuals and so maximize their lifetime value.

Until now, IT has not enabled this process. Most systems reflect a product and functional focus, and customer data resides on multiple systems with no ability to link it together. It is unrealistic and expensive to replace these systems with an entirely new infrastructure. A fresh approach is required—namely the ability to utilize the existing infrastructure to support a customer-focused business strategy.

C-Byte Contact Advantage—together with Decision Advantage RM™ (Relationship Marketing)—provides the solution.

Decision Advantage RM consolidates data from multiple systems into a single, customer-centric data store, where it is accessed and analyzed by sophisticated tools to provide deep insight into customer behavior. Contact Advantage enables you to utilize this knowledge in all customer interactions. It provides a platform for the latest generation of customer interaction applications, enabling these applications to access customer data to support customer-specific treatment, and seamlessly integrates the applications in real time with underlying product and functional systems.

Contact Advantage: key features
Perhaps the greatest technical hurdle Contact Advantage overcomes is meeting the demanding requirements of a customer interaction environment, despite limitations in underlying systems.

Contact Advantage is a robust hardware and software platform that fronts core systems within an organization. Any customer interaction application - in particular call center and Internet applications - only have to access this single system. The platform provides centralized information for use in customer transactions, and propagates any changes through to the underlying systems. The platform supports any customer interaction application, ranging from a simple call center scripting tool to sophisticated salesforce automation.

In addition, Contact Advantage enables organizations to capture customer data at every interaction, enhancing the quality of customer data throughout the business. When used in conjunction with Decision Advantage RM, the knowledge gained from the data warehouse can be exploited in every future customer interaction to enable, for example, highly targeted cross selling after a customer care call or Internet request.

Contact Advantage enables transactions to occur faster than in the underlying systems, fetching customer information in parallel with the customer contact. This is necessary because, even if individual systems perform adequately, a transaction can span multiple systems and the response time to the customer is the sum of individual response times.

Contact Advantage provides 7x24 availability, even if the underlying systems are unavailable due to scheduled or unscheduled downtime, or if they are only available for read access during a batch update.

Transaction integrity
While transactions may span multiple systems, they must be applied in a coherent manner. Typically, existing systems do not support the transaction semantics necessary. By contrast, Contact Advantage provides a transaction management layer with a unique model that is specifically designed to meet this requirement.

Process automation
Contact Advantage extends the process automation facilities of customer interaction applications to support automation of call scripting, business rules or paper-based procedures across all core systems.

Contact Advantage: a multi-tier architecture
First tier: First tier: client application. This could be a customer interaction client running on a call center agent's PC, a customer accessing the same application via the Web, or an application running in a multi-media kiosk.
Second tier: Second tier: customer interaction platform. This contains the customer interaction database and middleware to integrate with the existing systems.
Third tier: Third tier: the organization's existing systems. These are used largely unchanged in the Contact Advantage environment.

Customer interaction database
The customer interaction database supports the data requirements of the customer interaction applications, and provides access to all the data and functionality of the existing systems. It provides permanent storage for customer and interaction data and acts as a staging area for product data so that the key performance and availability requirements can be met. When Contact Advantage is implemented with Decision Advantage RM, the database will also include information for cross-selling and other sales and marketing activities. Customer records are 'tagged', either with details of specific products customers have a higher propensity to buy, or with other treatment and offer information. This information is generated by propensity modeling capabilities within Decision Advantage RM.

The middleware component aligns the customer interaction database with the organization's existing systems in real time, while isolating the customer interaction environment from the performance and availability of the underlying systems. The precise sequence of events for a typical call is:

  1. Event received from telephony equipment
  2. Event used to identify customer; key data about the customer is requested from existing systems
  3. The call is routed based on a customer value tag, previous activity, and so on
  4. The customer service agent (CSA) answers the call and validates the customer's identity based on data held in the database
  5. Data from the existing systems is now available
  6. The call is handled based on the treatment strategy tag associated with that customer; process flow is determined by the tag
  7. The CSA processes the call and transactions are performed against the database
  8. A cross-sell offer may take place based on a 'tag'
  9. The call terminates and the CSA is available to take the next call
  10. Updates are applied from the database to underlying systems; Contact Advantage manages the integrity of the entire transaction, even if it spans multiple systems

Updates are applied sequentially for a given customer. If a particular system is unavailable, processing of that transaction is blocked until it becomes available. If any part of the transaction fails, the transaction is aborted.

Existing IT systems
Underlying IT systems are used unaltered in the Contact Advantage architecture. The ability to update data on existing systems, without making any changes to the application itself, is a major technical challenge. Simply updating the database or data file on the system is not sufficient—it is necessary to update the data via the application logic. Inquiry access is far simpler as it is usually possible to access the database or data file directly (although this does require an understanding of the underlying application data model). In practice, a number of interface mechanisms are required. These can include: screen scraping; application programmatic interfaces (API); and database gateways.

Make every contact count
Unlike any other architecture designed to support customer relationship management (CRM), Contact Advantage addresses the real-world issues associated with providing enterprise-wide customer interaction. No other solution enables organizations to provide a truly customer-focused environment without replacing their existing IT infrastructure.

To find out how C-Byte Contact Advantage can bring you closer to your customers than ever before, contact us today.

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