Toward a New CX: The Merger of EFM and CRM


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The promise of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) was always to create a better customer experience over the lifetime of the customer by engaging them and delivering value. It was to be a tool to establish an ongoing two-way mutually beneficial relationship.

Likewise, the promise of EFM (Enterprise Feedback Management) systems was to gather up the thoughts and feelings of customers and feed it back to the organization. That information was then, ostensibly, used to address both customer concerns and larger systematic problems.

In fairness, our impact has been hit or miss on both sides. There are some excellent relationship management programs in place, particularly among online retailers. However, a good portion of the vision of CRM devolved into email campaigns and newsletters.

NPS Programs Can Create Bad Behavior if Not Implemented Correctly    Photo Courtesy of Todd Blickenstaff
NPS Programs Can Create Bad Behavior if Not Implemented Correctly
Photo Courtesy of Todd Blickenstaff

Likewise, the use of metrics such as NPS really got organizations focused on the customer experience and it was added alongside other important KPIs on corporate scorecards. Still, we can see ample evidence of NPS programs that run amuck and turn into token quid pro quo economies rather than helping the customer experience.

Two Disciplines or One?

So how do we take the good of both, get rid of the bad and combine it? CRM and EFM programs are really not that dissimilar and can be combined together in organizations ready to do so. The prerequisite is strong coordination and connectivity between marketing and retention functions to work properly.

Before we start mashing systems together it is instructive to look at the key use cases among EFM and CRM. EFM has been traditionally focused on retention, whereas CRM has been traditionally focused more on acquisition and share of wallet. If we look at what each trying to do we can see some commonalities; in fact they have very common goals… just different sides of the same coin.

The Three Fundamental Use Cases of CX Metrics

1. Performance Metrics

Fundamentally, NPS studies are set up to provide a metric in order to assess how an organization, outlet, or representative is performing. I used the term NPS here a bit generically as it is not always a “NPS” measure per se but may also be other metrics such as “willingness to renew”, “willingingness to buy more” and so forth. Nonetheless what these metrics are used for is to assess “How am I doing?” These metrics are then used to do principally to things; 1) determine if the outcome of intervention worked and 2) use for goal setting.

If you think about a modification to an existing service or a marketing campaign you need some kind of metrics to assess the success or failure. A/B testing is not and should be the sole domain of marketing effectiveness, such experimental and quasi-experimental designs should be used to assess the defectiveness of experiential redesign for existing customers as well.

In many EFM programs NPS-like scores are used for incentive purposes. Oftentimes goals are established and rewards and punishments are doled out for achievement and non-achievement of those goals. When implemented correctly they can be quite powerful in invoking behavioral change.

While NPS scores are not used on the marketing side of the equation, other behavioral metrics are used such as open rates, click-throughs, and other engagement metrics. Interestingly, most modern marketing efforts are surprisingly devoid of attitudinal feedback from prospects. While rewards are not regularly attached to these metrics, they are still an indicator of success and I am sure are attached to marketers performance plans in some cases.

2. Individual Intervention

In the world of EFM a “hot alert” is created when there is a customer in distress that needs help. This is typically achieved through a case management tool whereby someone in the organization reaches out to a customer who needs help and helps resolves their problem. In essence, we are trying to resolve latent problems from “silent suffers”.

In the case of marketing we are also trying to solve a problem for an individual. That problem is how do we match their needs with what the organization can provide. This is where it becomes important to keep in mind that we don’t want to cram unwanted offers in front of prospects and see what sticks; we want to match what we know about them to provide a recommendation that the customer would consider to be of value. A visit to Amazon or Netflix is instructive on how to this well. As you can see, we are solving a problem in both cases and the same mechanisms for doing can be utilized.

This particular area is exciting in that you can use what you have in learned in the past about customers to help predict what perils they might face in the future and head them off before they happen. Likewise, if we have a good understanding of preference and a longitudinal view of the customer we can much more intelligently and efficiently match up customer wants with products and service rather via the brute force of even the most targeted email marketing campaign.

3. Systematic Intervention

While it good to solve individual problems (sometimes called the “inner loop”) it is better to prevent they issues from occurring by identifying the root cause (“the outer loop”). The heritage of EFM originated from market research and OD approaches to organizational problem solving. In this use case customer feedback is used for insight and diagnostics. The organization gathers up information about the experience and then it analyzed so the feedback wheat is separated from the chaff.

Based on that information and analysis we are able to prioritize key areas to work on. Next, we gather a cross functional team together and come up with a solution. That solution is implemented, hopefully quickly, and we would observe the impact on the key metrics.

This same exact process could be (and in some instances is) used on the acquisition side of the equation. Why are some people leaving after filling their online basket but before payment? Why do some people only buy one kind or category of product from a retail location? These are all questions that can identified and answered by behavioral data and direct feedback. It’s the same use case, but solving a slightly different problem.

Why Have Two Systems?

What we need is one system that will work both the acquisition and retention side of the CX coin. At first it sounds a bit onerous and potentially irritating to customers and prospects… all those contacts and long questionnaires! I don’t think it needs to be that way. In fact, I think there is a way to reduce the burden on prospects and customers and actually add much more value to the interaction that what is there today.

Conducting longitudinal dialogs over the course of the experience that are both gathering data and adding value in the form of information and help is one area of opportunity. What was once seemed as an impracticable task is now well within our reach by using advanced AI systems to take the burden and guess work out of the complex contingencies in such a system.

Likewise, the use of “building” systems that compile information on customers across contacts and behaviors can make us smart about customers each time we talk to them. This makes us smarter and more adroit in communicating and assisting customers… not asking needless information or up unwanted help. Real-time communication in the moment across the journey helps create a more omni-channel experience and allows users to strike while the iron is hot…not hours or days later.

Finally, and most importantly, this type of system would reduce cost and deliver a direct and measurable ROI. No longer would EFM systems be relegated to cost avoidance frameworks or struggle with linkage models to prove their mettle. We could actually help organizations make more money through driving retention as well as share of wallet and conquest.

If this seems far-fetched, I think we are much closer today to this solution than we were even a few years back. The technology is mostly there, it is really just a matter on configuring it. In the EFM space we should stop trying to build better mouse traps for the existing one side of the equation and look at how to move to what’s next. On the CRM side, we should stop looking at the customer side as a “cost of business” and invest on those relationship as those customers have a choice about whether to come back or not.

The first company to get to this sweat spot between acquisition and retention will win the day and fundamentally change the industry for both CRM and EFM providers.

Dave Fish, Ph.D.

Dave is the founder of CuriosityCX, an insights and advisory consultancy for Customer Experience. Formerly he was CMO for MaritzCX, now an InMoment company. He has 25+ years of applied experience in understanding consumer behavior consulting with Global 50 companies. Dave has held several executive positions at the Mars Agency, Engine Group, J.D. Power and Associates, Toyota Motor North America, and American Savings Bank. He teaches at the Sam Walton School of Business at the University of Arkansas. He is the author of "The Customer Experience Field Guide" available on Amazon and


  1. Dave,

    I agree with your sentiment. Combining both CRM and EFM data would also help us build better predictive models of customers’ loyalty behaviors (any and all kinds of behaviors – retention, acquisition, up/cross-sell). As I see it, CX is about understanding both customers’ interactions with and attitudes about your company. That necessarily requires data housed in CRM and EFM systems, respectively (see:


  2. I think this is a good idea in principle. CRM systems are largely disconnected from customer feedback. Mostly, companies make assumptions about positive customer sentiment by considering metrics like email ‘opens’ and ‘landing page clicks’, and using them as proxies for “I’m interested” or “I like what your company offers.”

    Part of the problem with making the adoption possible is the heritage of CRM systems, which at the outset, was never about creating better customer experiences, but rather driving revenue for vendors – a much different mission. The database architecture, process workflows, opportunity tracking, and decision support tools were – and mostly still are – about management controlling and monitoring sales activities. If customers have ‘better experiences’ as a result, it’s all good, but since the first Rolodex was manufactured, and from the initial releases of ACT and Goldmine, CRM systems have been designed and built from the ground up to support revenue achievement, and to give managers a way to control it. The term management was put in there for a reason, and it’s not going away.

    I mention this, because while I agree that feedback mechanisms today are poor at best, and that it’s important to fix them, I’m unclear whether that can be accomplished by back-fitting or “bolting on” to today’s CRM systems to integrate customer feedback. In past discussions with clients, I have compared this to converting a Toyota Camry into a dump truck. It can probably be done, technically. But I think it would be easier and more cost effective to develop a new architecture.

  3. Andy, you’re right that CRM systems were created mainly for the company’s benefit. Despite all the talk about improving customer loyalty (a good marketing message) these systems were intended to extract value from customers (marketing/sales) or handle service requests efficiently. Customer experience benefits were at best indirect.

    That said, CRM systems do collect a massive amount of data that can be combined with VoC (e.g. surveys and other customer feedback) to create a more complete view of what customers are experiencing. Some companies already do this via custom integrations.

    What’s needed, in my view, is a tighter and easier integration of CRM and EFM systems. Yes they were designed for vastly different purposes, but if companies really want to understand and improve customer experiences, they need to use data from existing sources.

    And some CRM systems — most notably those focused on customer service, already include nicely integrated feedback mechanisms. For example, right after a service request is closed, the customer can be automatically invited to rate their experience via email, chat, or text message. No bolt on required.

    I am still waiting for the first mainstream CRM vendor to offer a complete EFM solution. The contact center industry has been more progressive in this regard, with Verint acquiring Vovici and OpinionLab, and NICE acquiring Satmetrix more recently. It’s only a matter of time before (see my VoC trends article) major CRM players like Salesforce, Oracle and SAP make a move. Then we’ll really see what can be done with CRM/EFM integration.


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