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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Technical Considerations for Building a Preference Center

In a former life, I managed construction projects ranging from custom homes to major highways. I’ve noticed the parallels between construction and software; two seemingly different worlds, are amazingly similar. You need a solid plan before you build custom software or a custom home; a good architect is priceless in either industry.
Some think all you have to do is invest heavily into the planning and preparation stages and the job will run itself. To the contrary, diving into either type of project without identifying resources, risks, and fully vetting through “what if” scenarios is an invitation for delivering questionable work behind schedule and over budget.
Define goals and set expectations early, make the overall vision of the project well-known and crystal clear, before you break ground. Measure twice, cut once.
The same analogy could be used for building a preference center. The heavy lifting is done up front. You need to know the desired outcome, but also put the work in at the outset to be sure you achieve it.
Start with what you know:
First we need to look at your existing preference center, if one exists, and determine what’s working and what’s not. Even if you’re building from the ground up, there’s still a good amount of prep work to be done. We will look at your current systems and technology, for example existing database or CRM programs, to see how those can be integrated into the preference center.
One frequent challenge is when different business units, or even departments, don’t work in synch. Sometimes they are using different systems; other times there is duplication of efforts. This issue is pretty common with companies that have grown via mergers or acquisitions and various systems weren’t integrated.
Be willing to change:
Clients typically come to the table knowing what they want in a preference center. Realistically, they think they know what they want until we start asking questions to get to the root of what they really want. It is common that a company starts small with the preference center, say with one business unit, to test different options and work out any glitches before it is rolled out to the larger enterprise.
Making sure your preference center is flexible enough to adapt to changing consumer patterns, such as the current trend toward mobile devices as a primary communication tool, is imperative.
It’s important that a preference center and the overall preference management solution be scalable to adapt to an ebb and flow of activity. Our typical customer is a Fortune 500 company that may have thousands of ‘interactions’ per day. On a daily basis new customers are added, existing customers change their profiles, and some may opt out. The preference center and underlying technology needs to be scalable for a new marketing campaign launch or when a situation arises that results in a notable spike in customer interaction.
Best Practices:
Preference centers as they exist today are still a fairly new concept. Collecting customer data isn’t new, but the tools available for managing preferences has grown by leaps and bounds in just the last few years. Preference management has gone from a relatively simple process - collect customer data and provide an option to opt out of communications - to a highly technical system that can boost a company’s bottom line if done correctly. For example, beyond simply collecting an email address and communications preference, a good preference center can use data customers provide to target marketing messages or develop user types.  
What was once trial and error is rapidly resulting in best practices. As we continue to learn what works, and as technology becomes more advanced, we can use this learning to build even more efficient and effective preference centers.



About the Author: 
Matt Howard is a Project Manager for PossibleNOW's preference management consulting group.

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