CRM: Time to Invest

The IT mountain has labored and brought forth a mouse.

The IT mountain has labored and brought forth a mouse. its pal Mickey, a stuffed toy mouse that literally embodies real-time data and communications technologies to transform customer contacts into more profitable relationships. Businesses beyond the walls of Walt Disneys theme parks should pay attention.

Delivering moment-by-moment information on special events, uncrowded rides and other tips on park enjoyment, the Pal Mickey doll is the infrared-linked delivery device for a network of sensors and data feeds throughout Disney parks. Deployed last summer, its a one-way link to the customer. Although it is unable to accumulate any history of what any single user is doing, its no great leap to imagine a device that knows where a customer has already been—even on previous visits to that or other Disney sites—and that can make useful inferences or avoid repetitive suggestions.

In enterprise settings, the same ideas—without the fur and squeaky voice—should be hard at work converting ephemeral opportunities into sales. Hotels, airlines, shippers and many other industries share the theme park problem that their capacity is an instantly perishable commodity. A room that goes empty for the night, a seat that leaves the ground unfilled or a ride that begins a cycle with space to spare represent revenue opportunities lost.

Draconian reservation requirements or long lines at ticket booths solve these problems at customers expense. But it no longer has to be that way, thanks to falling communications costs and the ability of technology to enable highly agile pricing. As night falls, so should hotel room rates, with data delivery systems putting potential customers in the drivers seat of a bidding war among competing innkeepers. The cost of shipping goods, often a fraction of the price that a buyer pays, should likewise offer dynamic trade-offs between price and immediacy that provide much more flexibility than todays two- or three-tier pricing schemes. The cost of constantly recomputing price lists falls daily, as does the cost of making that data available to interested buyers.

In this technical, competitive environment, businesses should be improving the way they communicate offerings. With or without dynamic pricing, they should tailor delivery and packaging options for customers that place varying emphasis on cost, variety, availability and response to changing needs.

Recent talks with eWEEKs Corporate Partners revealed that in many cases, IT spending has been deferred in all areas except security and customer relationship management. The reason: Few IT investments offer as immediate or as demonstrable a return on investment as do those in CRM. Technology and service providers that want to enjoy a slice of this years predicted growth in IT spending will do well to emphasize CRM solutions.

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