Customer Engagement Platform vs Customer Relationship Management

Looking at the more than 8,000 solutions in the MarTech Landscape Supergraphic, it’s easy to see that delivering a great customer experience depends on myriad technologies that may sound alike but often are designed to do different things. Two such technologies are customer engagement platform (CEP) and customer relationship management (CRM). Both are used to better understand customers and help your organization do the right thing at the right time with the right customer. Despite their similar goals, it’s the differences between these two technologies that will help you determine which is the best fit for your business.

See what happens when you can transform customer data into insights that drive customer engagement.

What is a Customer Relationship Management?

Customer relationship management (CRM) solutions help you manage what you know about customers. They collect data about how you interact with customers to optimize marketing, drive sales, and improve customer support.

CRM systems emerged in the 1990s as tools that promised to help organizations keep track of information about their known customers. Today, CRM solutions are a mature technology; they consist of disparate applications, departmental in nature, that are used to manage customer relationships within each business function. CRM solutions improve the customer experience by providing a system of record for customer transactions, so organizations can tackle inefficient sales and service activities, manage customer opportunities centrally, and providing executive visibility.

The data within a CRM solution is used for sales and service conversations for increased relevance and analyzed to fuel account-based strategies and reporting. For example, CRM for sales teams provides contact management, sales management, productivity, and more. Marketing departments use CRM to create and manage marketing relationships and campaigns with customers. Together, this gives sales and marketing a complete view of leads and prospects as well as a better view of relationships with accounts and leads in order to:

  • Close opportunities faster
  • Understand which sales and marketing activities are most successful
  • Manage contacts and interactions
  • Align the right resources to markets and territories
  • Create and target engaging communications to turn prospects into customers
  • Reach key decision makers faster

CRM systems are good for capturing and managing customer sales and service data. They provide a point-in-time snapshot into customer sales, marketing, and service interactions and give executive management a window into opportunities. CRM also helps service teams with customer success initiatives by supporting workflows, service level agreements (SLAs), and service tickets when issues arise. These departmental solutions are stitched together from operational silos.

For all of their maturity, however, CRM solutions still grapple with a number of limitations, especially when it comes to developing deeper customer insights and relationships. Common complaints include:

  • The customer journey, from awareness to lead to prospect to customer, remains disconnected organizationally and difficult to map or understand.
  • Interaction histories are fragmented, often scattered across multiple systems.
  • Decentralized or functional-specific rules, logic, and analytics results in conflicting experiences for customers.
  • Multi-channel experiences lack personalization and consistency.
  • The systems are not designed to manage nor govern data, and the quality of the data in CRM systems devolves over time. This creates a lack of trust in its accuracy and relevance.

What is a Customer Engagement Platform?

A customer engagement platform (CEP) is generally defined as an integrated set of data-driven technologies that helps you understand and engage with your customers across all available channels. It can be both a concept and a packaged solution, in much the same way that Customer 360 and master data management (MDM) are both a discipline and a solution. Some believe that CEPs are trying to pick up where CRM falls short by connecting applications across the marketing ecosystem (since marketing is generally responsible for a company’s customer experience initiatives).

As a system of engagement, CEPs and their underlying technology are still being defined by the market. For instance, a high-tech company calls their effort to bring together data, personalization, analytics, and reporting for multichannel orchestration a customer engagement platform; while in a retail banking organization, their Salesforce implementation is their customer engagement platform. Which is correct?

As currently defined, you could say they both are. That’s because at one end of the spectrum a CEP is characterized as a solution that marketing uses to centralize orchestration of multiple communications with customers across applications and channels: social media, chat, mobile, search, and email, among others. At the other end of the spectrum, a CEP is a platform for connecting the CX ecosystem and the individual elements or applications used to create persistent, relevant customer experiences.

Analyst firm Omdia (formerly Ovum) defines a CEP as “a platform that enables an enterprise to coordinate and intelligently orchestrate all customer engagement activities across its value chain in a way that delivers a symbiotic set of outcomes.”

The firm has identified six layers of a CEP, consisting of an Orchestration layer plus 5 supporting layers:

  1. Orchestration layer: Real-time customer engagement orchestration and outcome management
  2. Functional support for front line, including marketing, commerce, sales, service, and billing
  3. Interaction intelligence tools and process automation
  4. Security and compliance mechanisms
  5. Unified customer data management
  6. Cloud infrastructure and API integration

These capabilities combine to deliver outcomes such as superior customer experience, profitable growth, operational efficiency, and lower costs.

Four major differences of CRM and CEP: How do they compare?

When evaluating CRM and CEP solutions, you need to first determine where your organization is in its digital transformation and your level of focus on customer experience. Here are four ways to summarize the differences between these customer-focused solutions.

  1. CRM is a departmental solution; CEP is an enterprise platform
  2. CRM is operational; CEP allows for coordinated orchestration
  3. CRM is a front-office system of record with limited support for customer engagement; CEP is a platform designed for engagement, supporting rapid scale
  4. CRM anticipates that data will begin and remain “clean”; CEPs incorporate a data management layer to dynamically unify and cleanse data

Learn more about CEP and delivering great customer experience

Want to learn more about gaining competitive advantage through API management and API and application integration? Here are resources to get you started: