10 CRM Trends to Watch in 2017

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These considerations are top of mind for organizations; TSIA’s 2016 Knowledge Management Survey found that 34 percent of companies expect to achieve a 20 percent to 30 percent improvement in productivity once employees start sharing knowledge more often. Further, 40 percent said an improvement of 30 percent or more was possible.

Of particular note here is the trend toward employees working from anywhere but the office, whether it’s from home, in the field, or at the airport waiting to board a plane for a client meeting.

“With more service, sales, and marketing employees working from home or in remote geographic offices, providing [embedded] tools to easily ask a question or share lessons learned with a larger team is becoming more common,” Ragsdale says.

Like many other earlier CRM technologies, the market for collaboration tools was previously limited to niche vendors like Jive, Lithium, and Get Satisfaction. Today, however, more mainstream CRM vendors, including Salesforce.com, Oracle, and SAP, are showing up on Ragsdale’s list of top collaboration tool providers. The businesses that use their products demand nothing less.

“The transition we’re seeing is that [businesses are] realizing that the way to really move with the customer at scale, and with the speed of the customer journey, is to look to systems of insight rather than information,” says Jeff Nicholson, vice president of CRM product marketing at Pegasystems, a provider of business process management and customer engagement software. “At Pegasystems...we believe that in this new world, the insight should find you in the moment when it’s needed. And whether that’s guided to customer-facing employees or the customers themselves, really they’re looking for the actions that guide them as to what they should be doing, not just the data they should be using to find answers. That’s a big transformation, and it’s a different way of thinking than we’ve seen in the past.”

4. USERS WILL BE BETTER ABLE TO BLEND CHANNELS.

Ament anticipates another move within organizations: enabling agents to blend channels, with a single interface that lessens their need to toggle between screens and applications to accomplish their increasing list of tasks.

It’s important, Leggett says, “to deliver [business insights] to the CRM user in the flow of the work that they’re doing.”

Most of the major CRM players have started to investigate such technologies in a big way. Salesforce.com, for instance, has been making noise around its Einstein AI solutions. Pegasystems has invested in robotic automation to help with routine tasks. Oracle has introduced adaptive intelligent cloud applications that tackle common ground. Similarly, IBM’s Watson’s cognitive computing tools learn over time to cut corners. It wouldn’t be surprising to see others entering this market in the near future.

5. BEHAVIORAL INSIGHTS WILL GO DEEPER.

Another growing trend in 2017 will be the continued extension of customer journey analytics to provide insights beyond simply what people are doing to the why behind it. “Without understanding the why, customization can only go so far,” says Yuping Liu-Thompkins, chair of the marketing department at the Strome College of Business at Old Dominion University in Virginia.

Of course, the question of why is not easy to answer, she says, because it goes beyond tracking typical behavior. “You might need to bring additional insights from social media, from traditional marketing research. There’s more of that qualitative insight that needs to come into the CRM system,” she says.

And there’s a growing need to integrate customer service phone records with transactional data and marketing campaign analysis information, Liu-Thompkins emphasizes.

6. CRM WILL BECOME (EVEN) MORE AUTOMATED.

With the emergence of artificial intelligence, cognitive computing, machine learning, deep learning, virtual reality, intelligent assistants, and a host of other buzz terms, the talk of robots taking over bubbles up in our culture more than ever. And, according to analysts, the chatter is at least partly legitimate.

Leggett suggests that customers are definitely not interested in interacting with humans if they don’t have to. According to her company’s research, 75 percent of business professionals indicate that buying work products from a website is more convenient than doing so from a sales rep.

In customer service, the idea is similar. Leggett holds that customers use self-service channels as their first point of contact and only make a phone call as an “escalation point.”

Consequently, the trend, Leggett says, is to automate as many customer interactions as possible to enable customer self-service. “What this means for companies is that they need to make self-service journeys easier.”

In the coming year, companies will be wise to use new tools for submitting tickets, tracking orders, scheduling service visits, and recommending content, among other tasks.

It’s important to remember, however, that customers don’t necessarily want to feel as though they are interacting with a machine, even if that’s what they’re doing. For this reason, Nicholson suggests blending machine-based interactions with human interactions through conversational interfaces. “The opportunity and challenge that exists for those who implement these approaches is to do it in a way that respects individuals, has empathy for their situations, and…is proper and transparent.”

7. ROUTINE TASKS WILL GET MORE STREAMLINED.

The appeal of automation is not strictly limited to customers. All business professionals are also consumers, after all, and there are many things they’d rather do than go through hoops to achieve their goals. It’s no surprise, then, that chatbots, virtual assistants, intelligent assistants, and other such tools have begun to gain traction. Experts expect them to play an even more dramatic role in customer-facing professionals’ day-to-day activities.

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