Remember when 2020 used to be the date we pinned all of our visions of the future to?
A distant dreamscape beyond the horizon, where hover cars from Philip K. Dick novels ruled the skies. A year that governments were able to apply lofty carbon emissions and biodiversity targets to, safe in the knowledge they could put them aside and not have to worry about them for another five or so years?
With 2020 now less than three years away, it would be foolish to look at CRM’s future with a similar, rose-tinted veneer. However, such is the speed in which the market is currently evolving, that some CRM magazines are once again discussing the ubiquity of flying cars in relatable terms, and there’s a genuine feeling amongst industry leaders that CRM technology is in the midst of breaking new ground. So what can we expect from the next two to three years of CRM?
“Best-in-breed systems are rapidly appearing in the market, bringing increasing layers of sophistication and becoming extremely good at solving specialised needs,” says Mike Richardson, managing director at Maximizer Software.
“The growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) is allowing companies to monitor and service their clients in new and proactive ways. Artificial intelligence (AI) and bots are also allowing companies to scale and provide personalised customer experiences way beyond what we saw even five years ago.
“However, all of these different touchpoints with the customer need to be centralised into a single view of the customer experience, in a system of engagement, something we all continue to strive for and something we’ll see significant progress with in the next few years.”
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Integration and engagement
Whilst in previous chapters of this guide we’ve touched upon both integration and the single customer view as key components of today’s CRM market, looking ahead three years is likely to show a continuation of these current trends, with integration of systems of engagement a critical criterion for delivering the single customer view.
Paul Greenberg, author of the seminal work CRM at the Speed of Light, noted in this year’s CRM Watchlist that vendors needed to acknowledge integration as being more about engagement than something wholly technical:
“While it is noticeable…that there are significant integration efforts and partnerships accordingly, the bulk of them gear toward technical integration of marketing and sales applications and/or value add sales tools, or sales and customer service integration. But what lacks more than I expected at this point is integration or even development of customer engagement-related tools with the CRM related systems out there.
“There is lip service to it, there are also vendors who are exclusively devoted to customer engagement but the sales, marketing, customer service, vendors and CRM suite vendors have largely given lip service to that effort or when they have done them, have relegated it to the back of the line.”
An appreciation of this fact means many of CRM’s major vendors are in the process of redefining CRM to their customers. Microsoft Dynamics, for instance, dropped CRM from its semantics in its entirety as of late last year, and much of this has been put down to the need to be seen as more of a holistic, integrated system for everything customer-related.
“If you look at CRM and ERP over time, one was essentially a more sophisticated, digital rolodex and the other was a place to house finance and supply chain information,” says Chris Rothwell, Dynamics business group lead at Microsoft UK.
There is a major chasm opening up between vendors evolving CRM systems into engagement hubs and vendors offering salesforce and marketing automation.
“Different vendors have extended those alternate worlds out so they no longer represent those two separate ideals – they’re way more blended together. What’s important is to deliver integrated business processes.
“As an example – delivering an invoice to a customer is a function of ERP, yet getting an invoice wrong is the number one customer complaint among B2B transactions. So, delivering a customer experience, which is typically referenced as being a CRM term, is actually impacted by a poor ERP system. It shows that you need to think about how different systems work in tandem.”
Jeremy Cox, principal analyst for Ovum, believes a chasm will develop in the near future between the brands that have recognised this point and are working with systems that allow them to hone more of an omnichannel customer experience, and those that are looking to CRM to serve single functions, such as sales force automation.
“This is also leading to a major chasm between CRM vendors that are evolving their CRM systems into customer engagement hubs as the foundation of omnichannel, and CRM vendors that offer only the traditional triad of sales force automation, basic marketing automation, and a limited service capability,” he adds.
“The latter are more typically to be found focused on small businesses, whereas the more advanced are targeting midmarket and large enterprises.”
How will brands become more customer engagement driven between now and 2020? Glen Stoffel, general manager of Europe for Bluewolf, an IBM Company, believes they’ll be guided by their employees, first and foremost.
“Employees want systems that empower them to do their work. Employee engagement equals customer engagement. Their enterprise app expectations are set by consumer applications which engage the user and simplify tasks. Employers need to constantly think about the tools and technologies they provide for employees that simplify the way they access information and provides the intelligence to maximise every interaction with the customer.
“Ensuring that information is presented in context, is customisable and lets people see a single view of the customer –who they are, what and when they buy, what activities are driven by sales, marketing, service – vs. information scatter across multiple systems is critical to improving employee engagement and through that, customer satisfaction.”
One example of where improvement is likely to continue, as we tiptoe towards 2020, is in the mobile CRM space, which has been talked up for over ten years but continues to see slower than anticipated adoption rates.
Employees want systems that empower them to do their work. Employee engagement equals customer engagement.
Distinguished Gartner analyst, Ed Thompson, says context will drive many of the trends in the market over the next two to three years, and that subsequently, mobile will still be a predominant area of innovation.
“Some salespeople still go out, spend all day on the road, look at their phone for 30 seconds over and over for various other bits and bobs, yet at the end of the day they try and remember everything they’ve done over the course of the last eight hours through the medium of a laptop, updating their pipeline and forecasts for a couple of hours on a device that cumbersomely took five minutes to boot up.
“The question was and still is – can you help a sales guy do something useful in that 30 seconds of mobile phone use? Current trends are moving more towards offering products that better fit the employee behaviour, rather than the other way around. It’s why Salesforce, Microsoft, SAP and all the other big platforms are continuing to focus on mobile development, with 2, 3 click solutions to allow salespeople to update their forecasts and type or even speak a quick meeting summary whilst they’re walking across a client car park, and making CRM a whole bunch more efficient for those that use it.”
Much has been made about artificial intelligence in CRM, and with good reason. By 2020, Gartner predicts that 30% of all companies will employ AI to augment at least one of their primary sales processes, whilst Forrester research also expects insights-driven businesses to take $1.2 trillion a year from their ‘less-informed’ peers, as intelligent tools reign supreme.
“Intelligent solutions will take centre stage,” says Stoffel. “They have the ability to automate next-best action, translate it into deep insights and seed it across a company’s enterprise.
“In the next two years, 40% of digital transformation initiatives will be supported by AI capabilities. While companies are only beginning to adopt intelligent applications, Bluewolf research shows that companies that have increased their investments in analytics in the past 12 months are three times more likely to see their data as a competitive advantage than companies that have not increased their analytics investments.”
Jeremy Cox states this trend forms part of a growing, ‘intelligent orchestration’ of customer experience, and is a must-have for brands with any kind of omnichannel ambition over the coming years.
“By understanding how customers interact across their journeys, relevant content and information can be provided in a timely fashion. Customers, however, are less predictable than companies might like, so the ability to understand the implied intent from their online behaviours requires predictive analytics and machine learning allied to historical data, based on their previous purchases.
“Underpinning these predictive and prescriptive analytical capabilities, organizations must also capture and synthesize customer data from multiple sources, which could include IoT data from products or digital services provided as well as third-party data sources. Machine learning is important to improve the chances that content, information, and actions deliver the desired effect: to help customers meet their objectives.”
“If you think about a customer service experience, at the moment a customer rings a supplier to tell you something is broken, however with the rise of AI, IoT and predictive analytics, you can actually move to a world where an engineer arrives to fix something that isn’t broken yet, but the supplier is aware is about to break,” adds Rothwell.
“That is transformational from a customer experience point of view, but it’s also transformational for the supplier, as they’re moving away from a break-fix perspective to one where they’re able to manage that kind of service in an advanced and much more predictable way. In the near future we’ll see much more of brands using data to ask, 'have I got the right people in the right places with the right supplies, in order to make those changes based on what I see from a data perspective, and am I learning and adapting accordingly?'. That’s an incredible ,exciting way to deliver service compared with the way it’s currently being done.”
About Chris Ward
Chris is Editor of MyCustomer. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News. He joined MyCustomer in 2014.