Is CRM the same as Customer Engagement?

Since its beginnings almost ten years ago, the innovative field of 'customer engagement' is now making its presence felt in the business world. What exactly is this approach and how is it related to the established concepts and tools of CRM (Customer Relationship Management)?

As with any relatively 'young' field, pinning down customer engagement to a strict definition is still tricky. Currently, it is best understood as a set of ideas and tools that monitor, manage and utilise data around customer interactions to improve customers' experiences and so increase their loyalties to a particular company or brand. Indeed, the links between 'customer experience' (CX), which emerged with the dawn of social media, and customer engagement are strong - better engagement can lead to more favourable experience and vice versa. In comparison, CRM is more involved with managing the intensive data work needed to efficiently organise customer interactions, often through automating services or using data to target customers for sales and marketing.  

The dependable and ever-popular CRM software comes in various forms. These systems are all about managing data from customer interactions and often involve automating and/or streamlining different customer interaction processes, such as customer service interactions (at least in part). CRM technology is frequently used with automation as its focus which can leave little scope for considering a customer's 'experience journey'. However, when used intelligently to focus upon improving customer interactions and sales conversion rates, CRM tools can become quite similar in principle and practice to customer experience software. In such situations, both are based upon efficient data management and a strategic approach to increasing profits by keeping more customers happier for longer - brand loyalty at its most basic.

This brings us back to the question: are customer engagement and CRM simply competing pieces of jargon for the same approach bundled up in varying software packages, or are they truly conceptually different?      

Customer engagement technology is an innovative set of tools available from companies like Intilery, bases its appeal on the importance of better data integration and visualisation for clients. An example of this are 'Single Customer Views' (SCVs) which present comprehensive details of all data collected about a given customer in an easily understandable format. One criticism of some Customer Relationship Management systems is that they are too fragmented, with data for different services and channels being analysed separately and then ineffectively combined. The integrative approach of SCVs is one tangible piece of evidence for the differences between the underlying concept of customer engagement and the efficient reality of CRM.

'Omni-channel' customer engagement covers the realms of social media and mobile apps, as well as interactions online, by email and in-store, and is well-suited to integration with SCVs. 'Omni-channel' engagement products sprang out of the existence of all the different opportunities created by these emerging media, whereas CRM has had to adapt its automations and operations to them. There is the argument that customer engagement and experience are refined, 'social' branches of CRM. However, their focus on SCV and omni-channel solutions to define a customer's 'engagement journey' shows an inherent willingness to adopt a wider, more creative approach to managing customer interactions than basic CRM could achieve.           

Perhaps it is this broad, creative and vibrant approach that subtly sets the two apart as different shades on the greyscale. Customer engagement solutions use the same raw data-crunching power that CRM has always employed, but their focus on experience and engagement adds some analytical artistry to the automation. Monitoring and managing omni-channel customer experiences with an intelligent, easily usable system allows for better identification of opportunities for improvement. In turn, creating better customer experiences means more successful customer engagement, enhanced customer loyalty and, ultimately, increased profit.

In all, there is still debate around the interplay between the two systems, but customer engagement industry leaders agree that whether they are viewed as separate entities or not, they work best, and most profitably, when their power is intelligently and creatively combined. 

amanda james