726 — ‘Customer management, call centre systems and information access’. The opinion of Keith Symondson, Commercial Director, Noetica (UK)

Jul 7, 2003 | Conteúdos Em Ingles

Customer Relationship Management is all the rage. If we accept its precept, as most of the financial services industry seems to do, that it is desirable to personalise customer communications at each point of customer contact, then there is an obvious need to integrate correspondence, telephone calls and internet communications into a single viable system. The customer now expects to be dealt with consistently, whether they are receiving marketing materials, making a customer service query, or applying for a product. Consistency of customer actions requires full access to relevant customer information.

Structured vs.Unstructured Data

It has now become a mantra of information professionals that only 10 per cent of corporate knowledge on customers resides in structured databases. The other 90 per cent exists either in the form of unstructured transactional data or as good, old fashioned documents.

In fact, in the financial services industry, the percentage of customer information in structured databases is now probably closer to 20 per cent with the advent of CRM, incorporating internet and telephone based services. Nevertheless, the unstructured and documentary information on customers remains the vast proportion.

The underlying systems challenge, which this poses, is to make all the data resources, database, transactional data, and documents, available at the point of need. At the moment, that point of need is increasingly at the end of a telephone.

Pivotal Role of the Telephone

To state that telephone contact is the main area of growth seems somewhat counter-intuitive, given the general perception that the internet is where it is all happening. Certainly, the financial services industry is the most active sector in establishing e-commerce initiatives. Just as certainly, the cost of communicating over the internet is very low.

The idea of customer self-service, via the web, is very attractive. But, in the shorter-term it must be remembered that only 20 per cent of UK households are connected to the internet. A further question then remains as to how many connected adult individuals actually use the internet for anything other than work.

The telephone, on the other hand, is not regarded as hi-tech, and has become the preferred medium of contact for most consumer activities. Why else would one financial institution have switched its entire base of two million current account customers to a telephone only service, and be planning to do the same with its savings clients?

So what are the technology pieces that are now being pulled together to deliver this integrated information infrastructure for CRM?


First, documents have been made enormously more intelligent. Barcode technology, which links a document with a particular customer’s record, is hardly new. It was created and developed in response to the need to take the cost out of application processing, helping to integrate document images into the electronic systems managing that work cycle.

However, what is more recent is the use of barcode and OCR to facilitate and automate the electronic delivery and receipt of information in a one-to-one customer relationship. One of the main aims of CRM is not only to deliver appropriate messages to the customer, but also to communicate using the customer’s preferred channel of communication.

In a large proportion of cases, this channel will be by post. In any case, regulatory requirements in financial services will maintain an above average requirement for formal documentary communication.

It is also worth noting the sophistication of today’s forms management technology. For instance, rapid delivery of the required forms must follow a prospect’s quotation query over the telephone.

This will require the forms to be generated using line data output from the line-of-business systems. Producing forms on demand, with embedded customer detail, which can be then be automatically tracked and monitored, has become the sole business of some specialist software houses.


Next, we have to turn to the importance now afforded to the idea of report warehousing. Transactional information on the customer is critical information whether you are dealing with a customer service query, making a product offer over the telephone, or performing analysis for your next marketing campaign.

However, this transactional data tends to be locked in line-of-business systems that have been optimised for their primary processing task – not for CRM requirements.

Until lately, the technological focus was on software that took the output from these line-of-business systems and fed it into a master database, usually known as a data warehouse. Business intelligence and decision support tools would then examine the data warehouse to deliver target marketing analysis, management reporting, application scoring, and much more.

However, a data warehouse is expensive to set up, as are adding more functionality or establishing more data feeds. This puts an economic cap on the investment which can be sensibly devoted to adding further structured data into the warehouse.

Recently, software has come onto the market that allows the value of the data warehouse to be extended with a “report warehouse”. By reports, we mean transactional data processing output, which can then be ‘mined’ by the software in its raw form to identify anything from a single piece of information, to data relationships within and between reports.

Workflow and Callflow

Finally, there is the workflow, which puts all this available information on the customer into a controlled and measured process. This software tends to be sited in the call centre itself.

The data feeds – database, reports (transactional data) and documents – provide the call operator with up-to-the-minute, real-time intelligence on the customer, allowing each call to be dealt with on a personalised basis, also consistent with the institution’s decision making rules on such matters as application acceptance and terms.

Underpinning the workflow front-end, which nowadays tends to allow scripts and call flows to be built by non-programmers, sits the core database, with links to all relevant data sources.

The beauty of today’s call centre workflow systems is that database updating happens in real-time. They also tend to be web-enabled; this allows real-time updating to happen automatically between remote sites.

A real-life example of this concerns the situation where an institution used an in-house call centre and an external call centre. The external bureau handled overflow calls when call volumes peaked – usually when a marketing campaign was running.

When a new piece of information was added to the database as the result of a call to the external bureau, that information was automatically e-mailed to the database, which itself automatically updated the record.

The external bureau also had high capacity access to the core database to support its call handling. Both call centres were working off the same, extremely current, customer data, allowing completely new prospects to be separated from existing customers, and those existing customers treated on the basis of their up-to-date transactional history and potential profile.

Information could be retrieved in seconds, irrespective of whether it was being drawn from a structured database, a transactional report, or a document archive.

Response Centres

Soon, it will probably be an anachronism to use the term “call centres” at all. With economic, flexible, current access to all this customer data, call centres are now able to embrace the three-dimensional idea behind CRM, and become “response centres”. This means dealing with marketing respondents, quotations, applications, customer service calls, general queries, outbound up selling and event driven marketing, and so on.

Automated links have been forged with the call fulfilment function, allowing relevant brochures or letters to be sent on a daily basis, rather than being batched for days. Moreover, it no longer really matters how the enquiry has been received -by mail, by fax, by e-mail, or by phone.

This mixing of the various types of enquiry within a single rapid response unit, known as “work blending”, addresses and overcomes a traditional problem for call centres – namely that call volumes were subject to somewhat unpredictable peaks and troughs. By pushing more response handling into the one centre, work volumes become more even.

There is now no reason why financial call centres cannot become the main focus for virtually all customer interactions. Putting a wide range of data and documents at the call handler’s fingertips is now easier and more economic. The customer management cycle can be contained in a single measurable loop.

And the process logically capitalises on existing investment line-of-business systems, decision support tools, and data warehousing initiatives. As one financial marketer was recently quoted:

“Our goal was to take marketing and CRM away from being perceived as about creativity, and to make it an operational, process driven function. By putting customer data and documents in the hands of our response centre, we were able to introduce one-to-one enquiry handling. And the reporting functions in our callflow system allowed us to cost justify both the centre itself, as well as each marketing campaign we performed.”

Keith Symondson

Em Foco – Opinião