touching water
Topdown released its INTOUCH solution in early May, but the product was years in the making PHOTO: Yoann Boyer

Customer communications management (CCM) specialist Topdown launched a new product on May 1 designed to improve the consistency and quality of customer experiences by putting the management customer communications in the hands of the users.

At a time when customer and digital experience releases come out on a daily basis and businesses push to increase agility and frequency of releases, it's a surprise to hear a company admit a product was years in the making — but that's the case here.

Identifying a Change in the Market

According to John Zimmerer, senior director of marketing at Rockville, Md.-based Topdown, Intouch is the result of almost five year's of work. 

“Back in 2012, we started looking at where the industry was going and where it would be in 2020. It took us three years to conduct the research, both primary and secondary, to find out what the future of the industry we are working in was going to be like. What we concluded was we needed to merge into the broader digital experience phenomena,” he said.

The move was a logical progression for Topdown and a continuation of the solutions it already provided. Intouch can be seen as a response to a CCM landscape that was being disrupted by WCM and growing interest in digital experience.

Topdown’s Story

According to its website, Topdown provides customer communication management software and services to organizations looking to provide the best possible customer experience during high-value customer journeys.

It has retained its focus on customer communications since its founding in 1979:

"We started on the mainframe. It was all about taking data in various forms and cranking out customer communications. We were specifically focused on enterprises that needed to communicate with the end customer. At the time, though, it was all very operational, there was no such thing as customer experience,” Zimmerer said.

“About five years ago we noticed the conversation had started to change and it had started changing in other parts of the organization too. It was obvious that something was going on and we needed identify exactly what that was. That’s when we started the research.”

Researching Enterprise Needs

The first thing Zimmerer said they identified in 2012 was the market needed a complete closed-loop, integrated digital experience architecture.

He said they also identified the need for a cutting edge, seamless users experience. To do that it went to an outside UX company, which helped Topdown with the design.

That company also helped Topdown covertly assemble a list of UX requirements from Topdown’s customer base. Based on that input it developed concepts for a dashboard and a new take on CCM.

Topdown then embarked on a year-long process of vetting technologies to form the base of the new product. According to Zimmerer, the company realized CCM was merging with the digital experience (DX) architecture and so it would need to integrate with WCM and other DX components.

“We updated our content services architecture, evaluated several candidates and ultimately chose open source Hippo CMS [editor's note: now part of BloomReach] for our initial integration. That integration allows us to share our content repository with the WCM,” he said.

“Around that same time, we commissioned some primary research to validate combining CCM and WCM technologies. The results clearly showed us that the market wanted to integrate CCM and WCM as well as the anticipated business benefits.”

Building a Solution

The building phase took place starting in June 2015 until the release of Intouch on May 1. The process involved many different stages, including hiring outside development teams to develop new code using microservices and containers.

After further customer research and product tweaking, Topdown debuted Intouch at the 2017 Document Strategy Forum. According to Zimmerer, Topdpown will start onboarding launch customers starting this summer.

Those launch customers will get an opportunity to try out new functionality as it is released — with releases planned for July and October 2017 — and will also benefit from special terms that will reflect their early-adopter status.

Creating a Unified View of Customer Communications

The main drivers behind the creation of Intouch were the familiar problem of finding the right content for the right customer, as well as maintaining a consistent communication experience, across all channels.

“Intouch is an acknowledgement that the silos that separate the different departments are beginning to crack, if not crumble, and the realization by enterprises that they have to connect these service areas to the digital experience architecture,” Zimmerer said.

“So a good part of what Intouch is all about is connectivity with the rest of the digital experience architecture. There is a lot of open source, a lot of open standards and a lot of APIs in this product to enable productivity. We think this should make it very easy for enterprises to share content across the entire organization.”

In practical terms, Intouch addresses the decentralization of customer communications in many enterprises. In other words, communications sent by customer service representatives and other frontline employees often bear no resemblance to the marketing communications the same customer receives. 

Even worse, many enterprises have no way to track the communications that have taken place between the business and the customer. 

What’s Inside INTOUCH?

Through a newly designed CMIS-compatible interface, Intouch provides a cloud-based application that Zimmerer said is:

  • Simple: Enables business users to create their own communications without having to go to IT
  • Effective: Comes with all the standard functionality of a CCM solution
  • Flexible: Uses open standards and RESTful APIs to integrate with other enterprise applications
  • Secure: Security protocols are in place to protect customer data when in use or stored.

There is one other price of functionality that is worth noting:

“One of the cornerstones of our solution is ‘history’, which tracks not only the communications that are sent out, but is also extensible so it can connect to any other communion channel whether inbound or outbound to create a 360 degree view of the customer,” he said.

“Intouch is about orchestration of the communication across the organization and making sure that the message that is coming across the channels is the same no matter what the channel."

Over the coming months two new releases will add to the functionality. Topdown will also be working on strengthening its APIs.

“We have chosen not to reinvent wheels. We will also focus our energy where we can offer unique value," Zimmerer said.

"When it comes to the service-orientated world, we will continue to mature the content services of Intouch so we can be part of other solutions in other ways.”