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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Flexibility and Complexity Combine in Building a Preference Center

Building an Enterprise-level preference center from the ground up can be a daunting task for any company. From my perspective, however, there is great excitement and enthusiasm around this type of project. Our industry is new enough that there are still challenges to tackle and best practices to create.

As consumers become more accustomed to using multiple touch points to interact with companies, it becomes more complex for companies to build a preference center that meets all of those needs. Pain points for the company include customer demands, regulatory requirements, technical and infrastructure hurdles or maybe all of these at the same time.  Consumer data may be in many silos and in areas even a blood hound could not find. Combine data overload with ever-changing regulations and the complexity only multiplies.

Start with the basics.
The key is to start with the basic elements of managing preferences as a foundation and avoid painting yourself into a corner and not knowing it until it is too late. Where I see architects (and companies) fail is when they build the most fundamental elements and structure based on their business rules and overly complicate their designs.  Invariably, the weight of the added business elements and rules will bring the project to a screeching halt, after months or work and a lot of money.

At the core, however, you’re dealing with a pretty simple concept: I want this, I don’t want that. Think of it as a physical storage of data, not the logical application of it.

In the “DO NOT” world, it is pretty simple: “Do not call”, “do not mail” or “do not email”.  Preference management turns the tables on the “do not” idea by turning it into a “DO” world of “What I want you to do.” Just because a customer has some ‘do not’ preferences doesn’t mean he is not your customer, he simply prefers you ‘do’ contact him in certain ways.

Consider this “Do Not Call” example.  A customer has asked to be removed from your calling list during your latest marketing campaign and calling blitz.  So, you take the number: (888) 555-1212 and mark it “Opt-out” in your CRM system.  However, your customer still wants your monthly eNewsletter emailed, wants special discounts and promotions texted to them, and their monthly statement mailed.  What does that look like? Let’s see:


Your Customer told you:
Contact Element
Unique Identifier
“I don’t want you to call me”
(800) 555-1212
“I want your eMail Newsletter”
“Send me text messages with special offers”
SMS / Text
(888) 222-1515
“I want my statements mailed to me”
123 Peachtree Street
Atlanta, GA 30305
Also note that records must be audited for compliance, which should be built into the architecture. You can’t make assumptions based on preferences or expand communication with the customer beyond what he has allowed.

This example includes the primary contact points customers are using today: phone, email, SMS/text and mail. While it may seem unnecessary to include all of those options in a basic preference center, smart companies will build a center that can handle multiple preferences, or at least be flexible enough to add those entries over the long-term. Flexibility is key as technology continues to change. We can’t predict if these contact points will still be the norm even five years from now.

Of course, what you capture depends on the nature of your business. For example, telemarketers may only track phone numbers, because that’s the only way they contact customers. Others need a more complex structure that allows multiple communication channels for customers.

The chart also adds an element that can assist from a data storage and compliance standpoint: a unique customer identifier that links back to your CRM. While this is not essential, it can help when managing what may seem to be overwhelming silos of data.

So, my position is that this is the basic element and preference building block that you then build upon. The structure is the single source of truth of preference information in one place that your other systems feed, query, update and report upon. If you do your design correctly, this can scale to handle hundreds of millions and even billions of records under management and be accessible across the enterprise.

About the Author: 
As Solutions Architect at PossibleNOW, Tom Fricano is the senior managing consultant providing strategic oversight and is responsible for defining comprehensive preference management solutions for our customers to enhance their marketing effectiveness.

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