Give Your CRM a Platform

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In spite of the reported death of it—both confirmed and disputed by different columnists in these pages—CRM is still around. The simple reality is that as long as brands have customers, they will need a way to manage those interactions. And so CRM will live on until all interactions are fully automated and customers and brands barely know each other (alas, even then we'll have records and processes, so little chance of its going away, or "dying").

A better point to debate is not whether CRM is dying, but what's happening to it in the era of digital transformation. If the world of digital is about data, why wouldn't CRM benefit? After all, isn't data management of the customer-brand interaction where CRM shines? So what is its next iteration?

To answer, we need to make a distinction, as we have from the beginning: CRM is not a technology or a piece of software but a strategy—it's an initiative that takes decades to accomplish and continues to iterate. It does benefit from technology—you must have systems in place to support it—but it is not the technology itself. And I am making this distinction because the next generation of CRM will come aided by the technologies inherent in cloud computing and platform-as-a-service (PaaS).

While all of the large CRM vendors claim that their platform is the core of their offerings, the plain reality is that platform adoption by them and their customers is still under way and nowhere near complete. Some of the platforms are more advanced than others, but it is not my intent here to compare or promote one over the other; they all deliver value in different cases. But it is my intent to give you a better sense of how CRM running on a platform can help you achieve your goals. There are three major benefits—and they’re all derived from the benefits of adopting a public cloud computing model.

The power of digital. Let's face it, when we talk about the digital revolution, we are talking about data. The most interesting aspect of the cloud computing model is that the data—and everything in it, really—is not only the data, but also the data-about-the-data, called metadata. And having access to the metadata will change the way you manage customer interactions, since you will have a treasure trove of information available for making decisions and improving interactions like you've never had before.

End-to-end experiences. We have been talking about building better experiences for customers (a better way to put it would be to let them build their own better experiences—but I digress) and making those same experiences span across business units and functions. Customer service, marketing, shipping, inventory, e-commerce, human resources, and many others combine to provide some of these end-to-end experiences—and the inherent trust and complex distributed computing model of the cloud makes building them very easy compared to the models today, where complicated point-to-point integration with multiple levels of log-in must be mastered. Cloud computing also makes these experiences far simpler to manage and improve as transformation takes hold of the enterprise.

Customer engagement. The ultimate goal of CRM is to build great interactions that translate, over the long run, into engaged customers. For customers to become and remain engaged, an organization must deliver the best possible interaction each and every time, based on customer needs (and those needs are constantly changing). Serving multiple customers equally well at the same time in the event of a crisis, for example, is complicated, but that's the kind of scenario where cloud computing's infinite elasticity—and metadata's ease of personalization—can really deliver.

The benefits inherent with cloud computing—metadata, inherent trust, deep, secure integration, and infinite elasticity—can help you tackle your next challenge: building a new way for your organization and your customers to interact, in platform-modeled CRM. Are you ready?

Esteban Kolsky is the principal and founder of ThinkJar, an advisory and research think tank focused on customer strategies. He has more than 25 years of experience in customer service and CRM consulting, research, and advisory services. He spent eight years at Gartner and has assisted Fortune 500 companies and Global 2000 organizations in all aspects of their CRM deployments. He can be reached at esteban@estebankolsky.com.

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