Customer relationship management (CRM) and knowledge management (KM) have existed side-by-side since the early 1990s, but historically they have been treated as two very separate, distinct disciplines. At most companies, the corporate knowledge bases—which likely contain articles, blog posts, how-to videos, peer-to-peer social community interactions, answers to frequently asked questions, product information, and other vital information—have probably occupied the same central databases as other systems but have otherwise been kept completely separate, devoid of any deep integrations with them.
Today, though, it is becoming a lot clearer that CRM and KM have really been working toward the same goal all along, and so the silos definitely need to come down. Companies can’t afford to have their CRM systems and company knowledge bases separate any longer. CRM infused with knowledge represents such a critical strategic imperative that it can fundamentally transform how businesses interact with their customers on many levels.
“KM is a much more integral part of CRM today,” says Jeff Foley, director of product marketing for customer service applications at Pegasystems. “They can’t be separate parts of the software stack any longer. Knowledge will be an important part of customer service going forward.”
“Companies need an integrated look into everything,” adds Anna Petriv, director of the CRM division at OSF Commerce, a global commerce technology provider based in Quebec. “They need one system where an agent can be working on a ticket and she has access to all of the company knowledge instantly.”
When agents are creating trouble tickets in CRM systems or dealing with customers on the phone, they need to be able to see related content from across the enterprise, Natalie Petouhoff, a vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, points out.
And it’s not just agents who benefit. With more tightly integrated CRM and KM, customers who choose to seek answers or resolve issues on their own through web self-service also have a much better experience.
AN OLD IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME
The idea of tying CRM, web self-service, and KM together is not a new one. In fact, as early as 2003, Gartner declared knowledge management and collaboration to be “critical factors in the long-term success of customer relationship management.”
Additionally, many other business systems are also being joined to CRM records. These include enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, tying customer-facing activities to back-office processes around shipping, billing, and returns processing; and configure, price, and quote (CPQ) software, tying customer activity with demand planning, pricing, and inventory management.
“As CRM is starting to become more focused on customer journeys and the end-to-end customer experience, we’re starting to see the consolidation of CRM with other separate software packages, and KM is one of them,” Foley observes.
So far, efforts to link CRM and KM have primarily been driven by the vendor community. In the past decade, some of the leading CRM vendors have made key acquisitions to bring KM functionality into their CRM portfolios. Consona (which later merged with CDC Software to become Aptean) acquired Knova in 2006. Then in 2008, Salesforce.com acquired InStranet. Oracle acquired InQuira and RightNow in 2011. Verint Systems acquired Kana Software in early 2014, around the same time that Microsoft acquired Parature, bringing a self-service knowledge base to Dynamics CRM.
“Vendors have been interested in more consolidation, in a single software stack. More vendors are presenting KM and CRM functionality within a single platform,” says Foley, whose company, Pegasystems, also offers a unified CRM/KM solution.
“At Pega, we offer a unified solution because we see the need to have KM as part of the total customer journey,” he says.
Still other KM vendors have chosen instead to partner with CRM vendors to more closely link their solutions. Coveo, for example, launched a plug-in to Salesforce.com. As the employee creates a support incident, the right side of the screen is constantly refreshed with knowledge articles related to the incident being created.