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In today’s ever-more-competitive business climate, IT and business executives alike are recognizing that customer relationship management (CRM) is beginning to hit some limits in terms of optimizing the customer experience. What that means is that it’s not a matter of whether companies will enhance CRM with BPM—but a question of when.

While taking that step is, at this writing, still the exception rather than the rule, there’s strong momentum for companies to do so. Industry experts see a rising demand for customer management solutions with workflow and BPM capabilities.

Why? According to Forrester Research, extending BPM to customer service introduces consistency that customer service decision makers need to control the service experience both from the cost and customer-satisfaction perspectives.

For customer-centric organizations, integrating BPM and CRM—and sometimes dynamic case management (DCM) as well—offers an opportunity for companies to differentiate themselves, experts say. The approach also offers “a way to support the invisible and untamed customer management processes that are critical to delivering an exceptional customer experience,” says William Band, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester.

The challenging part of the quest isn’t just reaching that customer experience, but also understanding where the roads – BPM, CRM and DCM – converge, ensuring that they play well together and developing the best use cases for success.

THE CRM-BPM MARKET TAKES SHAPE
Embedding more and better information in a standard CRM workflow is how some forward-thinking companies are differentiating their approach to CRM and, ultimately, to how they do business. Enhancing CRM with BPM workflow, analytics and improved decision-making is what will make the new transformational CRM a reality, experts say.

But how do companies address that tricky question of ensuring that their BPM and CRM efforts and technologies will work well together?

For starters, check out what vendors are doing.

Many vendors in this space recognize that improving customer experiences, driving customer loyalty and retention and, of course, increasing sales are critical activities for businesses across all industries. As a result, vendors are addressing the convergence of BPM and CRM from all sides.

That means that if your company already has either a CRM or BPM vendor of choice, it’s well worth investigating the vendor’s product development strategy for converging the two.

To date, many BPM, CRM and case-management vendors are honing in on this next-generation CRM, with different players at different stages in the development cycle. Forrester’s Band reminds potential customers that the obtaining just the right blend of these technologies involves considering the company’s use case for combining them.

For example, some BPM vendors opt to focus on customer-facing process- management use cases. These use cases generally target customer-management processes with multiple touch points across the organization. Or they involve a situation in which multiple steps need to be coordinated and lend themselves to being highly automated with the decision-making embedded in the process.

Other BPM vendors focus on multichannel customer-management processes or complex customer service scenarios. To manage dynamic processes, some case management vendors are targeting untamed business processes, which Craig Le Clair, a Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst, has described as dysfunctional or out-of-control processes that “literally choke the productivity and creativity out of the workforce."

On the CRM side, some vendors are marrying CRM with BPM capability, such as workflow enablement and analytics, and are doing it fairly well, says Patrick Sullivan, a Gartner Inc. vice president of research. Others vendors are in the earlier stages of beefing up their CRM solutions, integrating rules and alerts to manage business processes.

BEST PRACTICES FOR MARRYING BPM AND CRM
Still, for the most part, the union of CRM and BPM isn’t an out-of-the-box experience. As Band puts it: “While the worlds are converging, they remain somewhat separate.” Some challenges of note:

* Proprietary issues. CRM integration with critical systems such as proprietary packages, legacy systems and untamed processes, often goes unrealized. It’s not that vendors aren’t making integration headway by offering integration tools, Web services and SOA, but challenges remain for many IT shops.

* Limited distribution. CRM collects information well but isn’t good at making it broadly available.

* CRM-centricity. The integration of CRM with acquired or developed BPM solutions remains CRM-centric, often defeating customer goals of end-to-end process improvement.

* Isolation. Multiple CRM packages and vendors create impenetrable silos.

* Immaturity. Generally, experts say, organizations have a long way to go when it comes to defining and managing business processes. In other words, it’s not yet a well-understood discipline.

* Complexity. Many BPM tools remain quite complicated and sometimes difficult to use. As a result, organizations need to train their people on properly using the tools.

* Change. If companies want to take CRM’s integration with BPM seriously, they may need to overhaul existing business processes to better map to the customer’s journey.

Band suggests a few best practices for a successful approach to process-centric customer management initiatives:

* Understand when process solutions can best complement CRM. Then consider the degree of cross-process and cross-system coordination and select tools accordingly.

* Determine goals and operating frameworks. Understand that mapping to the customer journey will be a highly iterative undertaking, akin to moving towards a goal as opposed to focusing on a fixed work schedule.

* Consider agility. Use methods or technologies that support an Agile implementation approach.

* Manage the transformation. Pay close attention to managing the change—and, in many cases, the disruption—that often accompanies such initiatives.

BPM AND CRM: ALONE AND TOGETHER
There’s more than one way to move ahead with a CRM/BPM integration project. You can keep the project in-house, or you can bring in IT systems integrators.

“If companies go it alone, they must have the technical knowledge,” says Gartner’s Sullivan, adding: “Not many do.” And while it’s still early in the integration trend, Sullivan points out that IT consultancies are making investments in skills and knowledge that can only help improve their ability to deliver strong customer-focused results.

READER FEEDBACK: Have you used BPM and CRM together in your organization? If so, ebizQ editors would like to hear about your experience. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.



About the Author

Lynn Haber is a Boston-area freelance writer who specializes in writing about business and technology. Contact her at lthaber@comcast.net.

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