• April 14, 2022
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Where Has the Time Gone?

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As you might have surmised by now, CRM magazine this month is celebrating its silver anniversary. In April 1997, 25 years ago, the magazine’s first issue came out, though it was called Sales & Field Force Automation at the time.

I wasn’t on the staff then. In 1997, I was still trying to get a footing in the world of journalism, running around between school board meetings, crime scenes, and religious processions for weekly newspapers in Brooklyn and Queens in New York. I joined Information Today, CRM magazine’s parent company, in late 2006, and started working on CRM magazine in 2010. My first feature-length article appeared in the magazine’s February 2011 edition. Titled “A Gray Area,” it highlighted the difficulties many senior citizens encountered with interactive voice response systems and what companies could do to improve their engagements with older consumers.

For that article, Alvin Shatkin, a 73-year-old retired IT tech living in New York, confided to me that he hated IVRs. Among his litany of complaints with IVR technology was that volume, pitch, tone, and speed were not exactly senior-friendly. Clear diction was often lacking. Systems didn’t give him enough time to respond to prompts, and when he did enter a response—either by voice or touch-tone—the systems often failed to recognize what he entered. “And then, when I need or want to speak to a human, they don’t make it possible,” he said.

A lot has changed since then, and some things haven’t really changed much at all.

My parents, who are now well into that “gray” generation, don’t want to deal with IVRs any more than Mr. Shatkin did 11 years ago. When my 86-year-old father needs to resolve an issue with any company—whether it’s disputing a questionable charge on his credit card bill or scheduling an appointment with one of his doctors—he waits until I come over to make the call and then has me navigate the automated systems for him. Just like Mr. Shatkin, my father has no patience for long scripts, convoluted menus, and a seemingly endless stream of button press requests.

Apparently, problems with IVR still linger after all these years. So, too, do several of the other shortcomings that existed in the early days of CRM systems, as pointed out by our esteemed panel of analysts and consultants, each with decades of experience covering the customer service, marketing, and sales fields.

The analysts also point out that CRM’s ride between 1997 and the present has been very bumpy. Back in the 1990s, high costs, limited functionality, a lack of integration, low adoption, and failed implementations threatened to make CRM systems obsolete before they ever really caught on. Thankfully, the industry didn’t give up, and today, CRM technology is vital to businesses of all shapes and sizes, in all industry verticals and geographies.

That was only made possible by radical and highly disruptive change that has rocked the CRM world over the years. Some of these changes were organic, as vendors with long standing in the CRM industry expanded their software with new functionality. Some of it was foisted upon the industry by outside forces, like the burst of the dotcom bubble in the early 2000s and the COVID-19 pandemic of the past two years. A lot of it was introduced by innovative startups that recognized a need—no matter how small—and devised a new, shiny object to address it. Many of those startups have come and gone, swallowed up by larger players with deep pockets, but some have stuck around and expanded on their own to become significant industry players themselves.

Mr. Shatkin, wherever he might be today, would be happy to know that IVRs are going away, giving way to chatbots and intelligent virtual assistants. But that is just one small change in a long line of upheavals. Communication channels that were not even imagined 10 or 15 years ago are available today. Everything is deployed in the cloud and on our smartphones, and artificial intelligence plays a role in everything we do in our business and personal lives. And now things are moving to the metaverse and beyond.

We at CRM magazine have been proud to present these changes and more to you over the past 25 years. And we look forward to bringing the next shiny objects to you for years to come.

Leonard Klie is the editor of CRM magazine. He can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.

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