ON THE SCENE—CRM Evolution: For Customers, Time and Efficiency Trump All

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Simplifying complex processes and reducing the amount of time customers spend interacting with companies will inspire their loyalty, many speakers emphasized at this year’s CRM Evolution conference in Washington in late April.

“The organizations that have been successful in the digital age have focused much more on saving time for the customer than on saving time for the organization,” Gerry McGovern, founder and CEO of Customer Carewords and author of Transform: A Rebel’s Guide for Digital Transformation, told attendees during his opening keynote. “Whether it’s Google, Amazon, Uber, or whoever—they’ve all relentlessly focused on the time of the customer and making it faster and faster for customers to be able to do what they need to do.”

And industry experts agreed that speed and effort reduction will be crucial to all areas of the enterprise.

Salespeople, for instance, must do what’s in their power to help save customers time while providing them with valuable advice, stressed Graham Hawkins, CEO and founder of Salestribe, in a breakout session.

“At the high-value, high-complexity end of the scale, we’ll always need a salesperson,” Hawkins said. “If you think about what buyers want now, they want to engage with a specialist, someone who can actually bring insights and help them solve their own problems above and beyond what they can find themselves on Google and so on. The challenge now is on salespeople to move from generalist, as far as they can, to specialist.”

But the onus is on the salesperson to do the work required. The most difficult sale any modern salesperson has to make is “asking for time off somebody’s calendar,” said Lance Tyson, president and CEO of PRSPX, during his presentation. “The folks we’re dealing with are a heck of a lot more prepared than they were in the past,” Tyson said. “Where 15 years ago, as sales professionals, we spent more time educating a prospect on a product or service, right now we need to spend more time figuring out what they know or don’t know or what misinformation they have and adjusting or adapting to that.”

Many customer interactions, however, are solvable with the proper technologies. And on day two of the conference, speakers spotlighted the importance of using artificial intelligence (AI) to optimize customer engagements and improve overall consumer impressions of their businesses.

During a panel, executives from SAP, Oracle, Lithium Technologies, Microsoft, and Saleforce.com argued that AI is destined to play an important role in shaping the industry.

“AI is definitely going to change CRM as we know it and how we engage with customers forever,” said Volker Hildebrand, global vice president at SAP Hybris. “My prediction is we’re all going to be witnessing the rise of the machines.”

Michael Wu, chief scientist at Lithium, said that AI technology will help companies provide customers with consistent, automated, data-driven experiences without sacrificing speed or scale. While humans are good at solving customers’ problems, they are often affected by moods, subject-matter expertise, and other variables. Intelligent systems, however, can ensure that all customers are afforded the same levels of attention and service. At its best, AI improves customer experience, Wu said, and creates a “win-win” scenario for both businesses and buyers.

Thanks to advances in computing and the growth of data sources, AI has the potential to work much more efficiently than it has in the past, said Marco Casalaina, vice president of products at Salesforce.com’s Einstein division. But companies have to understand that for AI to work to its fullest capacity, it must digest data that will allow it to learn over time. In this era, he said, “training is the new coding.”

This means that humans will also have to oversee the machines and guide them toward success rather than letting them “run amok” without “adult supervision,” added Rajan Krishnan, group vice president of applications product development at Oracle.

But like any human, AI is still prone to errors. Hildebrand pointed out that a 90 percent confidence rate might be good for a particular business case, but less than sufficient for another. A 90 percent chance of a sales lead converting to a purchase is fairly good, but 90 percent accuracy in providing correct answers to customer queries is “pretty bad,” Hildebrand said.

Closing out day two, Esteban Kolsky, founder of ThinkJar, shared a framework for enterprises that want to get started: First, find out if there is a demand for automation, then determine what approach to use (functional or outcome-based); then test it out.

“Start with the simple stuff that you can do. Pick a simple process, figure out how to automate it, automate it, document the results, and see what happens,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, do it again. If it doesn’t work twice, it’s not for you. It’s really that simple.” 

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