It is easy to have grand ideas about how incredible the customer experience could be.

These ideas can be quickly brought to ground by legacy IT issues that plague so many enterprises.

When Econsultancy released the Integrated Customer Experience report, I took the opportunity to analyse the data further to discover what behaviours had created the greatest benefits to the customer experience.

From this research I identified seven behaviours and attributes that were published as a whitepaper.

Of these habits, the one that has resonated with readers is the need to have a unified technology platform.

The reason for this connection with readers is that for many organisations the customer experience is being held back by legacy IT systems. The complaints I commonly hear centre around integration, data access, adaptability, performance and resource availability.

In some organisations these legacy platforms were implemented 10 to 20 years ago and can only be accessed via a text prompt in a secure bunker.

Another common issue is that these legacy systems sit right at the heart of the organisation where they are responsible for core operational processes. Like a heart transplant, removing these systems requires expertise, expense and comes with a degree of risk.

Let me elaborate with an example based on a real story.

The requirement was relatively simple; when a prospective customer requests a quote and then doesn't accept it, the marketing team want to send an email with a personalised offer to encourage conversion.

Marketing make a strong start by procuring an industry leading Email Service Provider (ESP) capable of sending a personalised, triggered message.

Now all they need to do is feed the ESP with customer and quote data. It's at this that things get complicated.

Regardless of the source, all quotes are generated and stored in the Quote Management System (QMS). QMS was cobbled together by an IT contractor some 10 years ago using several off the shelf industry components.

Documentation is scant and the contractor is no longer on the scene. After all this solution was only meant to be a temporary solution until investment for a new system became available. Unsurprisingly the investment never arrived.

While the QMS holds details of every quote generated by the company, it doesn't hold customer data. That's in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution.

The CRM was built recently using an industry standard platform. As an operational system, data held in the CRM is copied across to data warehouses for reporting and analysis. We'll call this the Marketing Database (MDB).

As you'll have worked out; the ESP is going to require quote information from the QMS and customer data from the MDB. Getting these two sources into the ESP requires the union and analysis of data from both systems. This can't be run during business hours as it may have a negative affect on the QMS.

Example of data transfer

Diagram showing the data transfer process that takes two days.

The net result is a process that takes two whole days for data to be passed between systems, processed out of hours and then handed to the ESP. Two days is far too long and in many cases customers have already gone on to use a competitor.

Sound familiar? It certainly is for the CMOs and Marketing Directors I speak with. Whether it's retail, financial services, B2B or utilities the problems remain.

Overcoming the legacy system headache

When faced with these issues there is a temptation to accept the problem and carry on. After all customers return to the business despite the lack of a joined up customer experience right?

That's the wrong answer. Let me assume that because you follow and read Econsultancy you know that a multichannel customer experience is critical to business success.

In which case the right answer is to not give in. To find a way to change the status quo and create an incredible, integrated, multichannel customer experience.

From the seven habits research and my anecdotal experience as a consultant I'd recommend three approaches to take.

1. Focus on the multichannel customer journey

Focus on building the idea and concept of the ideal customer experience.

With the customer experience sketched out, begin to share and improve it. Include others in the design process and gain their buy in. Map organisational silos against the journey to understand who does what.

Identify where the customer experiences pain and pleasure in their journey and how the business creates value for the customer. Seek to understand which IT systems are involved in each phase.

Specifically work out when and where customer data is captured and stored.

Whilst this may not address the specific issue of legacy system issues, it will give you a shared vision of where you're trying to get to. Having a simple to understand vision will be vital in the next stage...

2. Break down the marketing vs IT silo

Our analysis of data found that companies that were successfully delivering an integrated customer experience had built multi-disciplinary teams.

Depending on the make up of the company this could include people with backgrounds in IT, marketing, operations or finance.

Despite the importance of these relationships, the marketing vs IT relationship is often under serious strain. Having worked in both camps, I can understand the clash of personality types and working practices that leads to poor collaboration.

The priorities and objectives of each team are often different. IT has to ensure the lights remain on for critical business systems and ensuring a level of operational efficiency. Marketing carries a responsibility for lead generation and top line sales.

I appreciate that many CIOs are realigning their departments with overall business objectives but this may create further blurring of responsibilities. Similarly CMOs are making greater technology investments to reach and connect with customers.

Again this selection of technology by non-technicians can build a level of conflict between the parties.

Whatever the cause of the contention, both parties need to unite around the shared vision of the customer experience. The benefit of this is ability to find solutions to legacy system challenges.

Whether the system needs fully replacing or extending, the case that marketing and IT can make together is so much stronger than a single business case.

3. Find value fast

Swapping out a legacy system is likely to be expensive and difficult. As I stated previously, this type of work is fraught with risk and disruption to the core business. Because of this it's preferable in the first instance to prove that their is value in changing the system.

In the example above a new piece of integration software could have improved processing time. Alternatively some on page Javascript that scrapes form fields and completion status could offer near real time marketing.

It is likely that creating such workarounds will require some trade-off with the original requirements. However having achieved the workaround you can prove that the approach can create value.

Use this evidence to build the case for further investment in replacing or at least improving legacy systems.

Your experience with legacy systems

What's been your experience of integrating legacy systems into the customer experience? I'd love to hear your anecdotes, successes and war stories. Please share in the comments below.

David Sealey

Published 30 April, 2014 by David Sealey

David Sealey is Head of Digital Consulting at CACI and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can find David on Twitter or LinkedIn

6 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (6)

Save or Cancel
Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

Re: "The requirement was relatively simple; when a prospective customer requests a quote and then doesn't accept it, the marketing team want to send an email with a personalised offer to encourage conversion."

This is a just an example of form abandonment. The job should be cheap and simple if done today, because technology has caught up.

My company, Triggered Messaging solves the same issue for several customers, cheaply and without the custom integration issues mentioned here. If the subject of this story is still having problems we'd be delighted to help:

Other real-time marketing systems which do form abandonment are also available.

over 4 years ago

David Sealey

David Sealey, Head of Digital Consulting at CACI

Thanks Pete. I've worked with your competitors in the past and will take a butchers at your product too.

In terms of your product, do you see it as being a long-term solution? The reason I ask is that (crudely) you are bolting on a product to the side of the IT architecture to overcome an integration issue.

This came up at an event I spoke at recently and it'd be interesting to hear your view.


over 4 years ago

Chris Michael

Chris Michael, Digital Transformation Consultant and CTO at CJEM

David - a great example and one which rings true with many brands I have worked with. I actually think this client is lucky it only takes 2 days to get the info through the process - often it is a week or more.

Pete - you are of course right that often there is another more creative way to intercept the journey and get at the data more directly. Of course this becomes harder when any one customer can use multiple channels including call centre and mobile.

Great post. Thanks

over 4 years ago

David Sealey

David Sealey, Head of Digital Consulting at CACI

Great point Chris. In one of the worst cases I saw in a major public institution, marketing had to manually request an extract of customer data from IT.

The SLA for turning these types of requests around was 8 working days.

Far too slow.

over 4 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

@David: That's pretty much true.

Real-time marketing systems, like ours and our competitors, connect the various parts of a client's marketing, such as their marketing Website and their ESP. This is done almost entirely "out-of-the-box" to avoid the integration nightmares that you described.

Real-time marketing systems collect colossal amounts of data on customer behavior and make it available for scheduling and personalizing multi-channel marketing, such as real-time emails (e.g. form abandonment), and product recommendations for bulk email, web pages and social. Also for loading into your CRM system.

The integration is done in the most appropriate way for each channel. For eCommerce sites (shopping carts or forms) it's typically done by screen scraping; for ESPs by using their APIs; for CRM by FTP and so on.

So, is this a bolt-on product?

If you *only* use it for form or cart abandonment, then the answer is probably yes. The justification for this business case is that you can get form abandonment up-and-running in a couple of weeks, with almost no effort by your IT team and no technical risk, so the ROI is much higher and no need to re-engineer back-end systems.

But we find that, although companies may start in this way to address a single pain-point, they then find other uses for their RTM system. For example adding personalized product suggestions, event announcements and count-down timers into their other marketing. So the real-time marketing system becomes a marketing hub.

The border between what you do with a CRM system and what you do with a real-time marketing system is an interesting issue. I see it like the "no-SQL" revolution. Until recently, everything was done with SQL databases which were fine for some tasks but poor for high-volume, real-time (I founded an ESP which used SQL). Then along came no-SQL so companies can use the right technology for each task (we use MongoDB for most jobs and our TCO is about 1% of what it would have been).

I think the same will happen with CRM vs RTM systems - CRM systems will do the basic account management stuff, while RTM systems will do agile, responsive marketing at very low cost. But we'll see in a couple of years.

over 4 years ago

Gareth Dunlop

Gareth Dunlop, Founder & CEO at Fathom

Great post David and you touch on a point which isn't mentioned often enough. Folks responsible for UX and CX can't confine their attentions to the interface. I've a few thoughts on it here if you've time to have a read.



over 4 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.