Where CRM is Heading in 2018

By:  Peter Kowalke

While buzzwords such as artificial intelligence and IoT will be invading your CRM soon, most businesses won’t be substantively mixing their customer data with such tech in the next few months. These technologies are certainly on the way, but today’s CRM evolution is the rollout of a slightly older trend: the delivery of good customer experience.


By and large, better CX is where CRM is heading right now.


“CRM is morphing from the record of customer interactions to the broader philosophy and approach of customer experience,” says Des Cahill, vice president and head customer experience evangelist for Oracle. “Sure, collecting customer data and making it available to your employees is important, but in CX it’s even more important to make sure that the customer experiences you deliver to your customers are connected, immediate and personalized.”


CRM is embracing CX in a variety of ways.


Life Beyond Salesforce?


One of the first trends is the continued proliferation of niche CRM systems. Businesses have woken up to the need for managing CX through CRM, but the dominance of market leader, Salesforce, has meant that many businesses can’t afford the system and are looking toward more affordable options.


“The CRM market leader by far is Salesforce.com,” notes Frank Scavo, president of technology consultancy, Strativa. “Because of that, Salesforce has had the ability to raise prices to the point that it often is not price-competitive with other providers. Already we are seeing Salesforce getting priced out of deals, especially among small and midsize businesses.”


He predicts this trend will continue.


The Reemergence of Social Data


Managing the customer experience is hard when you exclude social media data. But if you talked with CRM makers two years ago, you would think the trend was on its last leg; there was much concern among smaller CRM makers about the walling off of social network daa and the quick downfall of the social CRM concept. Only Twitter, public by nature, easily flowed into most CRM systems.


That is changing again, though, as CRM is figuring out how to reintegrate with social, and LinkedIn is emerging as a data utility that companies can use for more complete and accurate customer data.


“Recruiters have been using LinkedIn for years, and now you are going to see important applications of LinkedIn data in CRM,” predicts Scavo. “To avoid antitrust regulations, Microsoft is going to have to make LinkedIn data available, at a price, to other CRM providers. I think in the coming years you are going to see LinkedIn data routinely worked into CRM processes in many companies.”


Reduced Data Silos


Interdepartmental turf wars might not go away any time soon, but the ability to operate data fiefdoms within these departments is disappearing fast. CX is hard to impossible without coordination among sales, marketing and customer service, among other areas, which is prompting CRMs to better serve multiple departments and make collaboration easier.


“Companies seek to serve their customers across many channels and to do that consistently,” says Cahill at Oracle. “For example, sales knows my history with service, ecommerce knows the marketing campaign I responded to, and retail knows what I bought online.”


Sales or marketing CRM is giving way to a more overarching system that enables organizations to learn more about their customer at every touch point and to use that information to make that next interaction better.


This is taking the form or robust integration for some CRM systems, and an all-in-one approach for others. But in both cases, the goal of CRM as the system or record for managing CX is the same.


Learn why DynamicsFocus is considered the market leader in recruiting for experience CRM professionals across North America here


Deeper Data Intelligence


Understanding customer needs and managing their experience at every touch point requires better and more complete data. CRM systems are aggressively addressing this need, bringing together more contact data and making it more actionable through better dashboarding and the first iteration of what will become highly sophisticated AI systems for making sense of customer needs and experience.


In 2018, you should see more visual representation of data, more automated analysis, and those sprinkles of early AI insight. CRM systems also are rolling out greater personalization options such as dynamic landing pages built around customer data and automated micro-segmentation.


“Deep learning will be applied at the individual and collective level across all customer touch points,” says Rob Käll, CEO and founder of AI startup, Cien. “Now that the major players have added commerce, customer service and marketing functions to their sales force automation platforms, CRM is continuing its relentless march towards personalization.”


This includes more sophisticated workflows based on machine learning and sentiment analysis that will inform the timing and sequence of customer interactions, according to Käll.


More Third-Party Data


Finally, CRM is heading toward more integration with data sources that lie beyond a given firm.


An e-commerce provider might know that a customer tends to buy classic rock albums on their web site, for instance, but they will miss cross-sales opportunities unless they also use third-party data to discover that this customer likes adventure sports, food and travel in addition to classic rock.


“Third-party data is very hot right now in CRM,” says Cahill. “Most companies are working to deliver an omnichannel customer experience by enabling a holistic view of first-party data across sales, service, commerce and marketing. But advanced companies are moving beyond first-party data and licensing third-party data to gain a deeper understanding of their customer.”


CRM systems are increasingly supporting this wider range of data, especially for enterprise users.


It is taking many forms. But overall, customer experience is the name of the game for CRM heading into 2018.


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