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Kicking off a Customer Experience or CRM Project: Do you have a data roadmap?

Kelly James's picture
VP & GM, Energy & Utilities Salesforce Industries

Kelly James is Vice President and General Manager,  Energy & Utilities at Salesforce Industries. Salesforce Industries with Vlocity delivers the Energy and Utility Customer Cloud. Kelly has...

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Consumer expectations continue to transform at an astounding rate, and technology advancements are constantly redrawing the boundaries of what’s possible in meeting those expectations. In our role, we see utilities of all sizes work to craft the perfect customer technology roadmaps to fit their needs and address these transformational challenges. In fact, across the industry in the past five years, we’ve seen a resurgence of customer experience and CRM technology projects.

These projects come with their own set of challenges. Particularly when exploring areas abounding with new capabilities, new service offerings, or new market models, utilities will be tackling change across business processes, systems, and data. Herein lies an often overlooked, but crucial conversation that must be had with both business and IT leaders about a CRM and CX strategy: what is the right data and integration strategy to ensure long term performance optimization? 

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A clear approach to data mastery and residency can have a profound impact on the long-term success of a customer experience roadmap. On the other hand, a lack of clarity can quickly turn both costly and inefficient for the business and can put at risk the success of customer transformation projects.

To illustrate, let’s take a look at a utility exploring adding omni-channel capabilities for the contact center. This utility chooses a CRM platform and implements quickly with lightweight integration to its CIS, seeing early successes in customer experience by adding chat capabilities to its website and app.  However, when the utility moves to implement next best action capabilities and other features like product and service offerings, the utility feels the pain and burden of having customer and interaction data of different types mastered in multiple systems. Neither the CRM system nor the CIS has a true 360 view of the customers, their services, usage, and behavior patterns. Rather than simplifying and automating, a poorly planned data architecture can multiply work and complexity.

Planning for data mastering and data sharing across a utility’s entire systems portfolio – CIS, CRM, and CX applications (plus customer-impacting network systems in a post-DER world) – is essential for long term flexibility, durability, and efficiency of your customer platform. With a clear approach to which system will master, initiate, replicate each data point, utilities can more confidently explore and leverage powerful new CX capabilities as they become available, knowing that with each new exploration, they are not adding in another level of complexity in data integrations, but rather fitting these capabilities and data into an already planned and proven canonical model specifically designed for utilities.

A comprehensive customer platform should apply standard prescriptions for data and integrations across the platform while allowing for capabilities to be adopted as each business unit is ready to modernize. As a utility adopts functionality, adds new systems, or modernizes or adopts new business processes, the model should provide a best practices map indicating how to most efficiently integrate the newest systems and data.

The common data model will necessarily be driven by the overall technology integration strategy a utility chooses as it expands its customer platform. Generally, there are two best-practice functional integration strategies for utility customer platforms. Which is best suited for a particular utility is based on the utility’s current CIS, technology roadmap, and overall customer experience program strategy.

The first integration strategy is CIS centric with a thinner CRM layer, the other is non-CIS centric with heavier data and process requirements within the CRM and CX systems. The CIS-centric model leverages the CIS as the source of truth for most data, mastering customer data and sharing transaction data across systems as needed. This approach is best for a utility with a modern CIS that includes a strong library of APIs. When deployed well, it can be significantly less costly by using the best of CRM and CX (for example, AI enabled chatbots) along with the best of utility-specific capabilities from a modern CIS (for example, modern payment arrangement processes that are both personalized to the customer’s history and meet utility rules and industry regulations).

Alternatively, the non-CIS centric model leverages the CRM or a separate centralized data master as the source of truth for most customer data, or both in tandem. This non-CIS centric approach sits alongside or atop a utility’s existing CIS and other utility operations systems and centralizes master data about customers while enabling the sharing of transactional data across systems as needed.  Data can be enriched and expanded in these other systems without impacting a legacy system.

For utilities who have older premise-based CIS systems and feel pressure to deliver modern customer experiences ahead of any CIS replacement or upgrade project, this second approach may be better suited. A caveat here is that when moving data and process ownership out of the CIS and into master data or CRM systems, utilities may face higher costs of integration to extract data from their CIS and increased costs in configuring and maintaining utility specific processes in CRM systems. With some CRM systems, there is also a cost to additional data storage which should be considered. These considerations aside, this strategy can be game changing for utilities with legacy CIS systems or multiple CIS systems who are driving to deliver customer value and front office efficiencies in a much faster timeframe than CIS replacement.

In both the CIS centric and the non-CIS centric integration models, clarity of data mastery and the functional integration architecture across a utility’s existing and planned customer platform is essential. Having this model and map will ensure your CX and CRM transformation projects deliver against target customer metrics and provide consistent and rich experiences for utility staff and customers while reducing cost to serve. It also builds a solid foundation for long-term system agility with a healthy, durable integration and data framework, one upon which utilities are free to explore the latest advances in customer experience capabilities, growing and maturing as needed. 

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