The Next 15 Years of CRM

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This month’s issue examines the past 15 years of CRM through the tales of several best-in-class companies. In the next 15, increasingly sophisticated (yet easy-to-use) social media tools and techniques will make creating and sustaining lifetime customers central to customer-centric business strategies. But customer needs will keep changing, leading to a difficult balancing act—one requiring not just commitment, expertise, and innovation‚ but also mastery of three essential CRM developments.

1. Engagement True customer engagement will require a shift from one-way broadcasts reaching all customers to a two-way dialogue with each of them. This transformation is already under way, thanks in large part to technology leveraging the fundamental human desire to interact. (See a related video at http://sn.im/jul10-smvideo.) Online communities increasingly allow people to get information, opinions, solutions, and ratings directly from each other rather than from organizations.

Consider the recent finding that more than 80 percent of healthcare consumers online place greater trust in peer-generated social media content than in pharmaceutical-company Web sites and their own physicians. The baton has passed to the consumers, and every industry will inevitably be matching their stride. Your only recourse? Become an active participant in that two-way dialogue. As the chief executive officer of Cisco Systems noted several years ago, “the collaboration that kids got through social networking is the future of business.”

The transition to customer engagement will also require dynamic customer profiles. I first wrote about customer profiles in 1986, and they’re now part of every successful CRM system. Tomorrow’s profiles, however, will integrate static profile data with dynamic customer information generated from customer interactions—interactions with one another, and hopefully with you.

2. Mobilization Portable computers are now the workhorses of mainstream business, and phones such as Research In Motion’s BlackBerry and Apple’s iPhone are not just pocket-sized personal computers but critical productivity tools and the lifeblood of enterprise communications. Even as laptops and smartphones emerge as enterprise-caliber hardware, innovative software is really the key to mobile. Today’s software runs on desktops, laptops, and smartphones, with increasingly ubiquitous access to custom applications making CRM data and customer information readily available, anytime and anywhere.

Apple’s iPad and competing devices (especially those that provide ubiquitous connectivity) aim to extend portability and expand access to information and applications. What’s more, new interfaces will usher in the era of touch (and multitouch) enterprise computing, while advances in mobile technology, broadband wireless networks, and cloud-based applications will drive the next generation of technology.

3. A New Paradigm CRM success will still depend on the people/process/technology mix: Fifty percent of success depends on people, 30 percent process, and 20 percent technology. But new collaborative technologies will change how people interact, pushing out increasingly real-time information and analytics, and new business processes will ensure two-way customer dialogues and the integration of those communications into the customer record. Multichannel expertise, now a luxury, will become a necessity, with even the most-conservative organizations adopting a concentric-circle approach to incorporate social media tools and techniques.

Advances in people, process, and technology over the past 15 years have helped make customer relationships deeper and more meaningful. But the next 15 years will deliver innovation at a much faster pace, and organizations will only survive by embracing meaningful two-way dialogue with increasingly mobile customers. The ones that truly thrive will be those that focus on user-adoption rates, allocating the right time, money, and effort to training, incentives, and coaching. It would be a mistake to consider this transition merely “part of an employee’s job” and far worse to assume that customers will easily adapt to a new way of conducting business.  

Barton Goldenberg (bgoldenberg@ismguide.com) is president and founder of ISM, Inc., a consulting firm that since 1985 has specialized in applying CRM, social CRM, and social media to realize successful customer-centric business strategies. He is the publisher of The Guide to CRM Automation and author of CRM in Real Time: Empowering Customer Relationships (Information Today, Inc.).

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