There's no customer experience without customer engagement

How to measure the experience of a can of corn in a chili con carne? Your daughter's smile when she plays with a toy for the first time? The quality of an in-store interaction? Thomas Wieiberneit examines the interrelationship among CRM, CEX, CEM.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

Okay, time to start the New Year the right way - with a guest post from a long-time friend whom I've only met a couple of times in person but known for years - ah social - Thomas Wieberneit.

First, let me give you some of this accomplished guy's bio. He has been in the CRM world as long as I have been - since 1995. He was with SAP as a VP of CRM development under the CRM legend Bob Stutz (now the Chief Analytics Officer at Salesforce). Since 2008, though, he has been in New Zealand doing CRM strategic consulting along with his wife - mostly in retail, some in public sector. He's even developed a messaging platform called Epikonic. All in all, you can see, he's been there, done that.

But the thing that gets Thomas this guest post is NOT his bio. It's that he is highly attuned to the changes going on in what was the CRM world and now is expanding to the broader customer engagement universe. He is nearly pitch perfect in his perception of that transformation and this guest post is his take on it - and well worth reading. Because aside from his insight, he knows how to write. I have a smart friend here.

So, Thomas, you now have a lot to live up to. Take it away...

In August 2015 Paul gave an interesting set of working definitions for Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Customer Experience Management (CEX), and Customer Engagement Management (CEM). He ended with a remarkable conclusion:

"CRM's role is to manage not the customer relationship - the constant wrong-headed misstatement about it from its naysayers, but to manage the business operations related to the customer. It also is required to capture, keep, and analyze the data about the customer so that insights can lead to a better engagement leading to a great experience, which enhances those ongoing interactions."

Why is it remarkable?

Because it is the statement that there is no CEX without CEM and CRM! This is a pretty important statement. It is also something that not many vendors seem to follow through on, although it should be pretty obvious.

But I would go even further than this chain. Actually CRM, CEM, and CEX form a triangle. One can argue that there is no experience without engagement. Engagement often can be managed but essentially creates data (think Internet of Things), data also about the quality of a customer's experience. This data then can be used for improved engagements and thus experiences. Does this work always? No, not yet - for several reasons. But will this happen? Yes, it will.

The technological ingredients are there: On the business side we have increasingly powerful systems and algorithms to collect and analyze structured and unstructured data that come from a variety of different sensors. Businesses are sitting on treasure troves of data with the amount of available data growing very fast, using tried-and-true as well as cutting edge technologies.

The list is long:

  1. Our click-behavior is measured for years
  2. Loyalty programs help companies to analyze our buying behavior and our needs even longer, online as well as offline
  3. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and many other companies enable the aggregation of personalized external data into the mix - think "login using <take your choice of identity provider>"
  4. Internet enabled appliances, from smart TV all the way to the smart wiring of the home
  5. GPS, car technology like OnStar
  6. Cards
  7. Beacons, in-store wifi, mobile apps (the role of the mobile itself comes a little later ...)
  8. Interesting experiments like shopping displays that track eye movements, web apps that let you virtually try and share glasses, "mirrors" that let you virtually try on clothes, Amazons Dash experiment, and many others
  9. CRM solutions first becoming suites and now evolving into platforms, acknowledging the situation that the cloud reinvigorated "best-of-breed" as a viable alternative to suites. In that sense we have gone full circle back to the situation in the early 90s
  10. The proliferation of communities and social media, including their integration into CRM solutions
  11. Mobile payment
  12. Uber, AirBnB and lots of other companies of the sharing economy
  13. Predictive and intent-driven analytics algorithms that enable the mining of all this data and to provide customers with first grade experiences

The list goes on and on. Priorities and hypes change over time but the theme is all the same. Companies collect more and more data in order to be able to get more of our business. But when do they get our business? If they demonstrate that they are best, or at least good enough, at delivering to customers' needs. Yes, delivering to customers' needs. This implies that this "delivery" adds value to the customer. Marketing alone is no longer enough to achieve this as negative feedback travels fast and far via social media and hashtags.

On the customers' side we have the game-changing success of smartphones. Game changing, because the smartphone in almost no time evolved from something that nobody needed to something that one virtually cannot do without. And smartphones are nothing more than a collection of sensors - with the added capability of handling phone calls.

For time being, this linkage is not yet there because of mainly five reasons:

  1. There are not yet enough sensors that do support the generation and structured collection of personalized data; this holds especially true, as companies will need to avoid the impression of being creepy.
  2. Where there are the sensors we do not yet have the platforms that support the aggregation of data to build and maintain a valuable picture of a person.
  3. Companies do not yet have a clear picture of how to tap into the wealth of data that can get generated. They are simply overwhelmed or struggle to formulate a business case.
  4. Privacy! At the end of it the data that gets collected is not owned by the companies that collect it but by the persons that allow the collection, be it willingly or just accepting the inevitable - surrendering personal data in exchange for a product, service, experience that they want or need.
  5. In combination with privacy there will be regulatory changes starting with how to legally "allow" the usage of data and going on to, but not ending with regulations about which data can be combined and used in what ways.

Where does this combination lead us?

Impressions shape experiences. Companies already now start doing this by managing the customer experience through the whole customer life cycle. They are starting to map customer journeys and to measure the resulting experiences in order to improve these experiences. In order to be successful at this venture, implementations of the concepts CRM, CEM, CEX need to be integrated. Silo'ed systems do not work anymore. This is where the triple play of CRM, CEM, and CEX comes into the picture. This is also why I still argue that CRM actually is a strategy.


A well-orchestrated CRM system -- set up to collect and manage all data related to customers and to analyze it -- is the very foundation. It is a platform. From here all analytics and segmentation needs to be driven, with the segment size stretching from one all the way to something far bigger.

This sets the foundation for every meaningful and relevant engagement, proactive (company initiated) as well as reactive (customer initiated), which covers all communication/engagement channels, and an increasing number of possible touch points. The CRM system, at its core, is channel- and touch-point agnostic. But it supports and serves all of them, every single one -- including those that we do not yet know of.

The customer engagement, as an ongoing process, itself happens via any number of interactions, the touch points chosen by the customer, but offered by the company. Those touch points may be laid out like a path as a serious of steps but then the way they are used is the customers' choice. I'd rather think of them as a menu of options. These touch points are offered through a variety of systems and they, including the choice of individual touch points, deliver data that is invaluable for the further engagement. If we want to think of these systems as systems of engagement it is important that they deliver the collected data back to the CRM system so that it is available for the subsequent interactions and for further jobs like the identification of trends or predictive and intent analysis.

Until here things are pretty straightforward: It "simply" needs strategy, a few connected systems and some algorithms in order to meaningfully engage with customers.

However, every engagement at every touch point also provides the customers that use it with an experience. But how to measure the experience of a can of corn in a chili con carne, the experience of your daughter's smile when she plays with a toy for the first time, or the quality of an in-store interaction?

Many of the ways to measure these experiences still rely on indirect means: surveys, scores provided by the customers, benchmarks. Entry IoT: An increasing number of different sensors allows to derive this date in an ever simpler manner via devices that are in-store (like surveillance cameras that are also a good way to identify where people are moving), or that we carry with us, starting with the smart phone, continuing with devices like Google Glass up to scenarios straight out of Minority Report. How about a doll that recognizes facial impressions, identifies tone of voice and how it is handled?

The important aspect is that all these sensors, current and future, create data that can be used to improve future interactions as well as current ones. It does not yet matter whether information about the experience is derived automatically or via asking the customer although getting a good result without contacting the customer is increasing the experience.

So, let me rephrase Paul's statement to:

CRM's role is to manage not the customer relationship, but to manage the business operations related to the customer. Its analysis capabilities turn data into insights. As such CRM is the foundation for good engagement and customer experiences across communication channels and touch points. Engagements and customer experiences feed back data to it to enable a virtuous circle.
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