Customers and the ways in which they behave are changing rapidly. New communication channels, such as online communities and social networks, have enabled unprecedented product research and consumer power. Innovative offerings and positive customer experiences stand out and are rewarded, while poor quality is highlighted and can be punished.

Typically, most large organisations will be using multiple Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems to cater for a range of operations, from branches, call centres and e-commerce, to Sales Force Automation (SFA), analytics and lead management.

In the majority of cases, these systems are based on various platforms from a number of different software vendors. Few organisations have process-centric customer interaction, an underlying customer data management layer, or a dedicated Customer Experience Management discipline.

This is surprising, given that taking a more holistic approach to CRM yields a more optimal customer experience that is so vital to an organisation’s success. A company needs to be able to examine all of the key factors that are driving customer experience, and to see how these factors interact with its overall business goals, such as revenue growth.

Although by and large, customers do accept that companies will try to reach them via different channels, they soon get frustrated if these become disjointed. A lack of process management, and inconsistent data, can lead to information having to be provided repeatedly, which as a result can damage the customer experience.

The health and effectiveness of an organisation’s customer relationships depends on its ability to respond rapidly to changes in an increasingly complex sales, marketing, and service ecosystem. With so many new behaviours and factors shaping the customer experience, a broader approach to CRM and a holistic view of the customer experience across all channels is required.

In order to achieve this, companies need to use advanced CRM solutions that build on traditional CRM, Business Process Management (BPM) Master Data Management (MDM) and Customer Analytics. Taking an integrated approach to these historically separate technologies can reduce costs and lead to improved customer service, loyalty and retention.

CRM alone, however, is not enough. Its strategies and solutions are designed to focus on product, price and enterprise processes, with either minimal or no attention paid to a customer’s need. As a result, there is too often a sharp mismatch between an organisation’s approach to customer expectations and what customers actually want. When this happens, traditional CRM implementations begin to fail.

Where CRM is enterprise-focused and designed to manage customers for maximum efficiency, Customer Experience Management (CEM) is a strategy that focuses the operations and processes of a business around the needs of the individual customer. The goal of CEM is to move customers from ‘satisfied’ to ‘loyal’, and then from ‘loyal’ to ‘advocate’.

So, if the benefits are so clear, why haven’t more companies embarked on a multi-disciplinary program involving CRM, BPM and MDM?

Often, different stakeholders within a business are not joined up and, as a result, view CEM as an incredibly complex, challenging implementation. In organisations with this type of structure, a visionary, from either the business or IT side of the company, is needed to see the potential value and communicate this more widely within the company.

Within the three main categories of sales, marketing and customer service there are roughly 50 different CRM application submarkets. Larger organisations often use more than half of these technologies, in most cases, the core CRM function performs well, but only on a basic level.

For example, phones are answered, customers can view their account details over the web and salespeople have effective support systems. As new web-based services, mobile applications and social media proliferate and an increasingly demanding and fickle customer base persists, companies are faced with taking their CRM capabilities up to the next level. And that’s where cross-channel integrated CRM, BPM, MDM and analytics come into play.

In order to better serve their customers, organisations need to design their CRM operations in a much more customer-centric way. High quality master data is essential; without it, CRM, BPM and customer analytics will not achieve their objectives. The ideal outcome is a structural solution that connects all the elements of CRM to provide one experience for the customer.

One misconception of the above approach to customer strategy is that it is expensive, complex and takes a long time to complete. In reality, integrating the systems doesn’t need to be this way.

The key is to strike a balance between value and complexity. The best route to a successful implementation is a staged process which is taken step-by-step, based on a roadmap designed to deliver ROI at various milestones throughout the project. This allows the integration to take place in a controlled, measurable way, which is far less intimidating than an all-at-once enterprise-wide approach.

Systems integrators that have experience in linking CRM, BPM, MDM and analytics, and extracting synergies will have a large role to play in shaping the new customer experience. Organisations need to choose a partner with the necessary expertise and knowledge to restructure efficiently and effectively, laying the path for future growth while maintaining current performance.

The holistic approach to the customer experience is becoming an increasingly important contributor to customer satisfaction, loyalty and sales. Those organisations who take steps to restructure and reorganise their CRM architecture will be best-placed to take advantage of the social and technological trends that are moving ever closer to the heart of the customer’s interaction with their brands, products and services.

Conversely, those who don’t act risk being overtaken by competitors and losing market share. Once a customer’s loyalty is lost, winning it back is not an easy task.