The Customer Engagement Platform – part 1: Beginnings

From CRM to CEP, the birth

To deliver a fluid and relevant experience to each customer requires a lot of joined-up thinking, coordination and in-context responsiveness. CRM systems of old are not up to it. They are systems of record capturing transactional and demographic data and often operated in departmental and channel silos.

Fortunately, in recent years, the more advanced CRM systems have been steadily morphing into hybrid systems of record and engagement. If the original on-premise CRM systems could be termed CRM 1.0, the arrival of CRM 2.0 came when Salesforce offered a SaaS subscription service way back in 1999. We could refer to the modern versions as CRM 3.0, massively expanding the remit with the addition of eCommerce, social network integration, mobile, IoT, content, and digital asset management systems etc. And now, aided by the arrival of the CDP (customer data platform), and networked AI, CRM 3.0 has rapidly evolved into CRM 4.0 to enable the all-singing/all-dancing in-context customer experience. But the term CRM 4.0 is opaque and probably only of interest to IT history buffs.

First use of the term – CEP

In August 2018, while at what was then Ovum, I produced an evaluation report: Ovum Decision Matrix: Selecting a Customer Engagement Platform, 2018–19. This consisted of a mixed bag of technology apples and oranges. Consisting mostly of advanced CRM systems but also customer journey analytics vendors using AI to trigger contextual responses from adjacent CRM, e-commerce, or content management systems. This imperfect attempt to shed light on the customer engagement platform (CEP) was my first stab at unraveling the mystery surrounding channel-agnostic customer engagement, and what technologies could support it. To add to the confusion, the IT industry analyst community came up with a different term, the DXP or digital experience platform. Scratch beneath the surface and what’s really being described is an advanced content and customer communications management system. Useful, but as I see it, a component of a CEP, as it lacks the functional support capabilities associated with CRM and e-commerce systems.

Dynamic orchestration of the customer experience

In 2020, while at Omdia (formerly Ovum), I produced my second attempt, and this time only included apples – advanced CRM systems that had substantially evolved since 2018, into fully-fledged CEPs. To evaluate these CEPs I took the perspective of an enterprise’s individual customer. To what extent can any of the CEPs deliver a relevant experience based on a mix of digital clues throughout any customer journey? No matter how chaotic or random, and simultaneously taking into account what is already known about the customer. And how can the experience be orchestrated dynamically in real-time consistently well, regardless of channel or department touched, as the customer traverses their idiosyncratic journey? The implications from a technology perspective are profound.

What is a customer engagement platform?

I defined it in 2018, and this definition still holds today: a CEP is a platform that enables an enterprise to coordinate and intelligently orchestrate all customer engagement activities across its value chain to deliver a symbiotic set of outcomes:

  • a relevant and rewarding experience for customers that delivers the outcomes they seek
  • profitable growth at lower costs and an enhanced reputation for the business as a result.

To manage that, a CEP must act as the coordinator-in-chief, and be connected with the operational backbone of the enterprise. All relevant data must be accessible and synthesized to trigger the most relevant response – next best action, conversation, guidance, product information, etc., etc. Pulling off that feat at scale demands joined-up and responsible AI, to feed off that data and make sense of it, and to execute empathetically. Security and compliance mechanisms must also be in place to protect customer data and to ensure any general or industry-specific regulations are met. I shall explore the anatomy of a CEP next in Part 2. And in part 3, I’ll discuss some of the different approaches to developing an effective CEP.