Taming the Digital Client in 2009

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In the face of an economic downturn that has been severe, multifaceted, and particularly complex, it's critical to note some companies have opted not to make any cuts to their 2009 CRM plans.

One consumer packaged goods company, for example, cut 3,300 jobs-but not a penny from its CRM budget. A global financial services firm, bloodied by the economic crisis, nevertheless refused to chop its CRM initiative. A major transportation company had a less-than-stellar 2008, but is still aggressively pursuing its Web 2.0 initiatives.

These three best-in-class organizations each came to this conclusion: Even when every expended dollar counts, you still need to spend money to better understand your customers so that you can then focus on cost-effectively marketing, selling, and providing services to them. Having made that decision, these and other companies (including yours) will have access to a number of complementary technologies to help them achieve CRM's two key objectives in 2009: customer focus and cost-efficiency. But take a breath: You'll need to properly evaluate these technologies before investing in them.

Companies will increasingly consider software-as-a-service (SaaS) options to shift CRM projects to the Web. This bodes well for vendors such as Salesforce.com, NetSuite, RightNow Technologies, and others; the trend will also push most other CRM vendors aggressively in this direction. This will make it more likely you'll be joining the transition to cloud-based CRM solutions, driving cost efficiencies into your customer interactions as a result.

Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, says we are on the verge of a very disruptive technology with impact beyond just CRM: Pervasive connectivity will mean Internet access anytime, anywhere, and from any device. As a result, the CRM people/process/technology mix will also change. Organizations will need the right technological building blocks to move from a hybrid client-server/SaaS model to one that ultimately shifts everything to the cloud.

From a process and people perspective, companies will have to grapple with the explosion of mobile CRM applications and mobile devices with easy access to the cloud (e.g., iPhones, BlackBerrys, Windows Mobile 7 devices) both internally (by field sales and service personnel) and externally (by customers). The perfect storm of mobile devices, CRM applications, and Digital Client demand will help you achieve customer focus by deepening real-time customer collaboration. (Windows 7 will likely form the cornerstone of your technology team's next-generation hardware, software, and applications framework.)

A new class of supersmall, ultralightweight notebook computers will come embedded with a cutting-edge wireless chip, and next-generation wireless networks will deliver speeds to enhance mobile data business offerings as early as 2010.

Executives will insist more strongly than ever on high user-adoption rates, forcing you to rely on best practices that include executive leadership, training, change management, communications, champion programs, and an improved user experience.

Social media tools will contribute to this effort-and they'll also help you collaborate with your Digital Clients as they seek a seamless experience across all of your sales and service channels. Companies such as Neighborhood America, Mzinga, and others have already begun to extend their Web 2.0 technology offerings into the CRM space, with impressive results.

These (and existing) CRM tools and techniques will improve your understanding of customers, and the emerging trends-especially pervasive connectivity and mobile CRM-will help you drive down costs even as you build up customer focus. You'll do all this because you need to stay competitive-not just with best-in-class companies, but with all your peers; and not just this year but also into 2010 and beyond. 

Barton Goldenberg (bgoldenberg@ismguide.com) is president and founder of ISM Inc., a Bethesda, Md.–based strategic consulting organization that since 1985 has specialized in CRM, contact centers, and the Digital Client. He is the publisher of The Guide to CRM Automation and author of the new CRM in Real Time: Empowering Customer Relationships (Information Today, Inc.).

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