What is Real-Time Interaction Management (RTIM) – and why is everyone talking about it?

The Forrester Real-Time Interaction Management Wave 2020 has recently been released and we’re suitably delighted to have been named a Leader. Based on the positive feedback we received from our recent ‘What is Journey Orchestration?’ blogpost, it seemed appropriate to explain what RTIM means – and how it relates to Customer Journey Orchestration.

Why the time is right for RTIM (a little scene-setting)

To understand why Real-time Interaction Management has enjoyed a meteoric rise in recent years (alongside Customer Journey Orchestration), it’s worth briefly setting the scene.

Generally speaking, campaigns represent a significant proportion of an organization’s communications with its customers. They are fundamental to a business, transmitting new offers or seeking to persuade a ring-fenced audience to purchase additional products and services. However, despite smarts in suppression and targeting, they are essentially one-way traffic; created with a business’s (not a customer’s) needs as the driving force.

BrandZ 2020 Global Top 100 report image
Customer-centricity is intrinsically linked with financial success. According to the BrandZ 2020 Global Top 100 report from WPP (which analyses the world’s most valuable brands), “The most successful brands aligned with how people today conduct both their personal and business lives. These brands provided high levels of customer-centric service and convenience”

You’ll have read ad nauseam how consumers’ expectations, particularly around the need to be understood as individuals, have risen – so we’ll spare you the spiel. But clearly, despite their many benefits, campaigns don’t deliver in this regard. The catalyst creating an unprecedented race for ‘customer-centric’ communications, products and services is the fact that enterprise marketing technology has (finally) caught up to meet these expectations. This means global brand giants are able to reorganize around customers and deliver unique experiences, at great scale. Their associated digital experience (DX) design and development successes elevate benchmarks and customer expectations more generally, creating a challenge for other brands.

“The most important single thing is to focus obsessively on the customer. Our goal is to be earth’s most customer-centric company.”

Jeff Bezos
While campaigns have a place, their success is measured on meeting organizational needs, and treat customers as targets. Campaign planning also assumes the ‘best’ channel, based on typical efficacy and cost. On an individual customer level, this is unlikely to result in the finest set of interactions. Conversely, customer-led journeys begin with the needs of a customer, delivering on intent to create a seamless, intuitive and valuable experience.

To be customer-focused, an organization must be customer-led. This usually means stepping away from a fixation on the numbers alone to a more service mentality; instead, considering above all how customers use, enquire and engage with its products and people to drive growth. With the current surge in digital usage and direct relationships (D2C), more devices in play, and a wealth of data, it’s achievable for any organization (not just global giants) to deliver best-in-class experiences this through seamless, customer-led communications and services. However, getting the experience right, making it instantaneous, and (most importantly) on the customers’ terms, can be tricky. This is when RTIM enters the arena.

What is Real-Time Interaction Management (RTIM)?

At its core, Real-Time Interaction Management is an in-the-moment decision engine. It aligns all utilized channels and powers hyper-personalized customer communications to create optimal and consistent experiences for every individual.

RTIM is an intelligent execution and delivery mechanism within the Customer Experience (CX) stack, drawing on context through an up-to-date data stream to make instant decisions. You could describe it as ‘centralized decisioning’; RTIM forms a fundamental layer in a brand’s ambitions to deliver better in-the-moment experiences.

In our recent webinar on RTIM, Rusty Warner (VP, Principal Analyst at Forrester and author of the Forrester RTIM Wave) defined RTIM more succinctly: technology delivering “contextually relevant experiences, value, and utility at the appropriate moment in the customer life cycle via preferred customer touchpoints.

Forrester breaks RTIM down into five core elements:

  1. Customer recognition (cross-channel identity resolution, for both known and anonymous customers)
  2. Contextual understanding (current situation merged with customer history)
  3. Decision arbitration (next-best-action)
  4. Offer orchestration (delivery across online, offline, inbound and outbound channels),
  5. Measurement and optimization (reports, dashboards, attribution and marketing performance management)

What one customer needs right now is often very different from what they will need in just a few minutes’ time – let alone hours.

Our SVP Global CX and Product Strategy, Wil Lynch, reduces RTIM down to a brutal level of simplicity. “At its core, it can be useful to think of RTIM is a ‘last mile check’. Before you press the button on a campaign or offer, or converse with an individual, is this the right thing to do?

This decisioning is in essence a final, up-to-the-minute verification enabling the right message – or no message at all – to be delivered to every single customer. There are myriad applications, for example:

  • RTIM helps a brand avoid the promotion of its credit cards to someone who’s just failed a credit check.
  • It probably isn’t appropriate to upsell to a customer five minutes after they’ve complained. RTIM ensures an audience is as suitable as possible.
  • Equally, a business can prevent the expense of an outbound call when a more cost-effective email would be better placed for an individual, based on their (very) current value and behavior.

The addition of RTIM means an organization can rest assured that it has done all it can to ensure that its customers have received the most relevant, empathetic and compelling communications.

“At its core, it can be useful to think of RTIM is a ‘last mile check’. Before you press the button on a campaign or converse with an individual, is this the right thing to do?

Wil Lynch, SVP Global CX and Product Strategy

How does RTIM differ from Customer Journey Orchestration (and do you need both?)

Customer Journey Orchestration and RTIM are highly specialized solutions enabling brands to provide individualized, lifetime customer experiences (note that these are more meaningful and quite different from conventional personalized experiences or communications). Over time, lines between the two have blurred slightly, partly because they co-exist to provide customer-led experiences (which can cause confusion), but also since they have a highly symbiotic relationship. It’s a rapidly evolving space; some in the industry also argue that RTIM is a subcategory of Journey Orchestration. Nonetheless, they are differentiated and there is clear distance between the two, which is why Forrester invests in a separate Wave for each capability.

So, how can we delineate each from the another?

We’ve introduced RTIM: this could be described as an ‘in the moment’ decision engine, making cross-channel, up-to-date decisions based on recent context across touchpoints. Being overly simplistic, you could contend that while decisions are being made to improve relevance, the focus of RTIM is ultimately to improve business results (supporting campaign or short-term engagement metrics, for example). While RTIM harnesses interactions to guide segmentation and targeting, it is still effectively ‘inside out’: making decisions with the needs of the organization coming first.

RTIM and Journey Orchestration enjoy a symbiotic relationship, working together to deliver unsurpassed customer-led experiences at great scale. This is the true customer-centricity.

Customer Journey Orchestration (with its Customer Journey Analysis) on the other hand, listens to, understands, visualizes and orchestrates journeys across all touchpoints and time (the ‘end-to-end’ customer lifecycle), purely to improve the customer experience. Its journey-based approach is ‘outside-in’ and individualized; CJO is concerned with the creation of customer value with every interaction, over the long term.

By harnessing and responding to a customer’s intent (which evolves over time), Journey Orchestration then predicts future behavior and adjusts a journey in the moment for increased customer lifetime value. Because individuals can be on multiple journeys simultaneously and profiles are perpetually evolving, audiences are now amorphous and fluid: ‘live’ and complex. Customer Journey Orchestration represents the epitome of delivering a ‘customer-led’ experience and inevitably, the customer engagement that follows provides positive impacts on operational efficiencies and business results.

RTIM and Customer Journey Orchestration together

If RTIM is business-led, concerned with current execution and making the right decision for communicating in the moment, Customer Journey Orchestration is strategic, driven by customer intent, and conversing in the most valuable way, over time. It follows then that Journey Orchestration needs RTIM in order to deliver when the time is right.

Armed with a true understanding of customer intent over time (thanks to Customer Journey context), RTIM takes on an incredible level of potency. Since meaningful experiences are only possible when driven by an understanding of the customer journey – and logically, communications must occur while insight is still relevant – each capability needs the other to complete a circle of customer-centricity. Together, customer Journey Orchestration and RTIM then provide short- and long-term consistency, demonstrable value and, since trust is won with every positive interaction, a deep level of engagement. Ultimately, both are needed if a brand is to have authentic, relevant (in the moment) and compelling conversations with its customers.

The Business Value of RTIM

The commercial impact of RTIM is significant, for obvious reasons: customers with better experiences pay more, stay longer – and serve as advocates.

Complex, instant decisioning is clearly advantageous for businesses with convoluted product and relationship structures such as retail or automotive, but it also provides demonstrable value to low-frequency purchase cycles, as seen in banks, utilities or insurers. After all, with fewer interactions (events) to draw on, it’s vital to make the most of each occasion and (literally) avoid sending out the wrong messages.

We have various case studies that attest to this on our website; if you’d like to see more, do get in touch.

What is the Forrester Real-Time Interaction Management (RTIM) Wave?

Forrester is the leading source of professional benchmarking, analysis and commentary. Equally, the Forrester Wave is a hugely respected, heavily researched guide for “buyers considering their purchasing options in a technology marketplace”. In its creation, analysts interview providers and clients to provide objective analysis of each technology’s realistic capabilities, so the Wave is often a first step in the RFI process. It’s also worth downloading our Buyer’s Guide to Journey Orchestration.

The very existence of a Forrester Wave dedicated to RTIM serves to demonstrate just how critical this practice has become. And we are delighted that Thunderhead is the only vendor awarded the accolade of “Leader” in both the Forrester Journey Orchestration Platform Wave 2020 and Forrester Real-Time Interaction Management Wave 2020.

As mentioned earlier, the author of the 2020 Wave, Rusty Warner, was recently our guest presenter in the Thunderhead webinar on RTIM, explaining “How to keep it Real(time) with your Customers”. If you’d like a more thorough explanation of RTIM from an expert (followed by a Q&A at the end), it’s well worth a watch.

Brands are seizing the moment

Once described as ‘decisioning’, Real-Time Interaction Management has evolved apace in recent years, becoming intrinsic to many brands’ ability to access all available information and act in the moment. It also represents a key component of Customer Journey Orchestration. The landscape may seem overwhelming and riddled with jargon but fortunately, getting started can be a fairly painless experience. When navigating the available marketing technologies that deliver real-time experiences (and working out which can actually perform), the Wave is a useful starting point; you can download your own copy of the 2020 Forrester RTIM Wave and see the results using the link at the beginning of this article. Some organizations then find it useful to develop a feasible use case that, while manageable, will deliver specific value to the business from their existing customer data.

If you’d like to know more about Real-Time Interaction Management, or how to create engaging customer interactions at scale, do get in touch

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