The Truth about CEM

Updated: April 30, 2009

CEM (customer experience management) sounds like something a hotshot marketing executive dreamed up in hopes of separating companies from their hard-earned dollars. And there certainly is an element of marketing mumbo jumbo in this relatively newfangled acronym.

Just ask Tim Hickernell, an associate senior analyst with Info-Tech Research Group. "CEM definitely was an intentional marketing term chosen a few years ago by some companies," he said. The dot-com crash left countless failed CRM projects in its wake, prompting the creation of a brand-new label. But for all its marketing pizzazz, CEM is still a legitimate approach to handling customers that is capable of yielding some impressive benefits.

The Sum of Parts

For the most part, CEM focuses on managing multiple customer touch points as a single experience. By viewing these touch points "as a unified experience rather than a bunch of disconnected touch points," Hickernell said that a company can create a "holistic" view of consumers' interactions with a business and the extent of their brand loyalty .

For example, a CRM solution may entail an order-processing module that helps customers gain a real-time view of shipping status, thereby increasing their overall satisfaction. A CEM strategy, however, takes matters further by tracking a customer's online browsing activities prior to placing an order, gauging the assistance needed to complete a purchasing decision and soliciting feedback from consumers on their overall satisfaction with a company's order-processing system.

Key Players

While CEM has long been touted by consultants as a strategy for in-depth customer exploration, there are vendors offering CEM solutions. Take, for example, ResponseTek Networks Corp . The company's on-demand software helps companies measure and improve the customer experience based on feedback from their customers. Capabilities include multichannel experience collection, analysis, reporting, workflow management and closed-loop feedback. And results range from reduced customer churn and increased profit margins to the identification of new revenue opportunities.

Another CEM provider is RightNow Technologies Inc . RightNow Feedback promises to help companies get to know their customers by capturing their feedback across all channels of communication. Companies can then act on that feedback to enhance their loyalty, as well as roll out the processes required to improve customer experience. But the primary component of RightNow Feedback is its survey functionality. A user interface guides companies through the processes of survey design, development, execution and performance monitoring across an entire organization. The result is the ability to execute surveys across multiple channels and integrate results within customer profiles for meaningful analysis.

"RightNow Feedback is something Right Now Technologies can stand behind as contributing to overall customer experience management," said Hickernell.

Nevertheless, Hickernell warned that, unlike CRM, CEM isn't intended for creating a one-size-fits-all approach to measuring customer experience. Rather, he said that it's best to use CEM to segment a company's clientele base and, based on varying segment needs, design targeted strategies for bolstering loyalty. "Don't look at customer experience management as something that you want to do for every single customer," said Hickernell. "You can fall into that trap of the customer's always right and every customer is the same, and that's just a road to failure."

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