Whether your firm is a market giant or a little engine that could, a new trend in customer communications management (CCM) is worth paying attention to: SaaS-based CCM.
Like so many other tech applications, CCM's move to the cloud reduces the technological divide between large firms and everyone else. In CCM's case, it enables small and middle-market organizations to design consistent, appealing customer materials at the same level of visual quality as their larger peers.
"Improved visual quality and consistency enables smaller organizations to have broader shoulders," says Tom Eid, a research VP for Gartner. "They can look like the big guys."
Gaining a Seat at the TableTake Salem, Mass.-headquartered Salem Five Investment Services (SFIS) for example. About a year ago, the firm rolled out a cloud-based CCM solution from Seismic. According to executives at Salem, the solution elevates presentation quality and, as a result, enables the firm to gain more traction with institutional investors.
Now, we're getting called back to the second and third rounds. Leveraging CCM has leveled the playing field significantly."
-– Sean Tesoro, Salem Five Investment Services
"Traditionally, we wouldn't get past the first round of presentations to large 401K funds, non-profits or other institutional players," says Sean Tesoro, president of SFIS, the investment arm of Salem Five Bancorp ($3.3 billion in total assets). "Now, we're getting called back to the second and third rounds. Leveraging CCM has leveled the playing field significantly."
Interestingly, the SFIS ($425 million in assets under management) story doesn't start with the intention to adopt CCM. Instead, it began with the engagement of the bank's marketing department to assist with improving the consistency of annual client reviews.
"After weathering the storm of 2008 we began a major financial advisor recruitment effort in 2009," explains Tesoro. "By 2011 we'd more than doubled our number of advisors, going from four to nine. With more advisors came more diversity of styles and skill sets -- ranging from yellow pads to printing and binding of materials provided by investment companies."
Efforts to create an in-house solution were floundering when the bank's digital marketing partner learned about the situation. It suggested contacting the 2010 start-up Seismic, whose founders had held leadership positions with Document Sciences before and after its acquisition by EMC.
"Not only could Seismic enable creating a high-quality and consistent client experience, but they also had built the tool to take into consideration regulatory and compliance aspects," Tesoro recalls. "That sealed the deal."
After signing on with Seismic in October 2011, SFIS began the process of gathering requirements and securing data feeds. "Although the technology tool was ready to go, we had to define our client experience first," says Tesoro. "We accomplished this by undertaking a discovery process with each of our advisors and then examining the common threads."
Uniformity with FlexibilityWith the discovery process complete SFIS used Seismic to build an annual review template that enforced uniformity but also allowed individual financial advisors customization capabilities. "While we wanted a common look and feel in every annual review," Tesoro says. "But we didn't want to dictate all of the slides a financial advisor should use."
According to Gartner's Eid, who is tracking some 40 CCM solutions, the SFIS experience with Seismic is consistent with the evolution of CCM technology in general. "During the first wave, systems were primarily for batch jobs, such as monthly statements," he says. "The second wave enabled some customization. Now, we're entering the third wave, which is moving toward document production on-demand."
If there's a cautionary note for organizations like SFIS, Tesoro says its data ownership. "Some of the data we wanted to use with Seimic we control," he explains. "Some of it is owned by our broker/dealer, which means it can be the bottleneck. If we controlled all of our data, we could build out our CCM tool faster."
For SFIS a workaround to the data ownership bottleneck was adopting the same CRM system used by its broker/dealer, Salesforce. "We undertook an entirely separate adoption track for Salesforce within our organization, which impacted our CCM rollout," says Tesoro. "But Seismic integrates with Salesforce seamlessly."
Otherwise, for data owned by SFIS, creating a repository of elements for Seismic to access was as simple as adding a Microsoft Windows-enabled share drive in the marketing department's subsystem. "On that drive we store logos, photos of our advisors, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and other marketing collateral," says Tesoro. "The drive is monitored by an administrator in marketing and an administrator in our group.
In other words, like other types of SaaS-based solutions, Seismic is business-user centric. "Between our staff and the support from Seismic, we didn't need to leverage any IT resources," Tesoro says.
Regardless, Tesoro emphasizes a lesson learned from the CCM project was the importance of partnering with appropriate internal teams. "Make sure you have buy-in from marketing and any other divisions that might need to be involved," stresses Tesoro "If either our investing team or the bank's marketing team had tried to drive the project separately, without partnering, it would've been less successful – or it might not have succeed at all."
Immediate ResultsSince going live with Seismic in late 2012, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. "We generated our first client reviews at the end of last year," Tesoro says. "Clients noticed immediately and became more interested in discussing referrals to family and friends."
Today, SFIS is working on segmenting its market and targeting presentations to match. "Until now we've been building the foundation," says Tesoro. "We've only scratched the surface of what's possible. We're really excited about opportunities for where we could go next."
On a larger scale, Salem Five's retail banking units are also eyeing the tool. "Now that our unit has worn the path our institution is looking at using CCM for our other divisions," acknowledges Tesoro. "Whether it's cash management or commercial lending, the client experience needs we're addressing in SFIS are fundamentally the same for the bank's other divisions."
Tesoro also believes CCM will assist with Salem Five's corporate goals for capturing market share. "Our bank is number two in Salem County," he says. "But, next door in Middlesex County – where the job and other growth is – Salem Five is in the middle twenties. The bank is building new branches in Middlesex, so it's a battleground for us. I believe our CCM tool will become a real benefit for being competitive in that market."
Most importantly, Seismic works as advertised "We've all been through adoption experiences that didn't deliver on what was promised," says Tesoro. Not only has Seismic delivered, but they continue to develop and expand the tool. Given our growth and client experience goals, Seismic is an essential partner for us."