Why It's Time for CRM to Evolve

In today's instant digital world of Uber, GrubHub, and Amazon (accentuated by their latest foray into one-click shopping via the Dash button), the rules of customer engagement have changed. It's no longer just about the product or service a company delivers but delivering it in a trustworthy and personalized way. In fact, an astounding 78 percent of global digital companies try to differentiate themselves through customer experience. That experience can take shape across a number of touch points—in-store, mobile, social, the Web, via the contact center, and more—which means there are constant moments of truth with your customers, opportunities to delight and build loyalty, or frustrate and create churn.

Which is why it's more important and more difficult than ever to deliver a satisfying, efficient, and accurate experience. Organizations must simultaneously support today's channels while preparing for tomorrow's (like wearable tech, which is coming fast). At the same time, mergers, acquisitions, massive expansions in product offerings, and new regulations are rapidly exposing the flaws that currently exist in siloed processes and aging legacy systems. Traditional customer relationship management (CRM) software, including the cloud-based varieties, can no longer reliably keep pace with the needs of the enterprise in this complex, changing world. As a result, CRM systems must evolve to satisfy a new generation of customers.

For too long, organizations looking to implement a CRM system have had to choose between two evils: conform their business to inflexible, packaged CRM applications or embark on costly development projects to build their own customized CRM from the ground up. The "CRM Hangover" of the late 1990s was the result of these expensive and monolithic CRM applications that did little more than aggregate customer data, dumping information on to user screens with no useful guidance, intelligence, or value to the end customer.

The providers of the latest wave of cloud-based CRM applications promise simplicity, claiming they can deliver a better customer experience with "no software." But when you peel back the onion, these applications replicate the same old issues. They are conforming applications: businesses must conform to what the application does. Building any sort of differentiation or competitive edge into these applications requires expensive and risky custom coding or more training for users.

The core problem is that today's CRM applications originated as contact management systems, and are confined by that overall design. They can present consolidated customer data, but they lack the ability to convert that data into "context" and an understanding of customer intent. And they lack the ability to apply that context in an automated and intelligent way to simplify processes and fulfill their brand's promise to their customers.

It's time for organizations to align their CRM delivery to today's customer and business demands. This starts with developing a CRM strategy that clearly defines objectives for how organizations want to engage with customers across their dynamic journeys and how they can uniquely set themselves apart. Second, CRM applications need to provide the ability to directly capture a company's overall CRM objectives directly in system execution. A company should be able to take advantage of all the modern benefits of a model-driven system that no longer requires code, a system that can easily be changed by business owners who are tapped into customer or shareholder needs. CRM technology should be an active participant in the process, analyzing needs, delivering work to the right people, and intelligently guiding them through each touch point, all with customer lifetime value as the guiding light.

Finally, CRM needs to extend to all the operations of a business to ensure that every customer experience is complete and frictionless and every promise is fulfilled. CRM needs to deliver end-to-end support—from the first initial marketing touch through sales, onboarding, service, and ultimately growth of the customer relationship. Evolved CRM should achieve these objectives:

Connect customers to the people who can get things done. Through technologies like business process management (BPM) and dynamic case management (DCM), enterprises can automate service and fulfillment processes and deliver at the point of need.

Manage the complexity of the enterprise. Evolved CRM will make processes simpler and cut across silos to deliver a seamless experience. It enables companies to apply corporate standards and personalize each interaction regardless of product or geography.

Anticipate what's right for customers, in real time, on every channel. Analytics is more than pretty visualizations, and evolved CRM software needs to be able to help companies understand a customer's context (what they are doing, what they have done, what they want) and convert that through automated decisions into the next-best-action for that customer.

Evolve as fast as customers do. Traditional coding—whether done from scratch or on top of a cloud-based application—can't keep up with market changes. Evolved CRM will use model-based development to align IT and business in an agile development cycle that is many times faster than coding could ever be. Evolved CRM connects seamlessly into existing environments. It doesn't force an organization to preload data into a new repository, but rather wraps around existing systems. And evolved CRM runs where a company needs it the most, in the cloud or in their own data centers.

Customers expect each interaction—whether with marketing, sales, service, or operations—to be seamless, straightforward, and tailored to their needs. Customers who receive consistent and relevant experiences that deliver on their needs are more likely to remain loyal and recommend a company to their friends. If they're dissatisfied, it's easier than ever for them to take their business elsewhere or share their negative experience with others. This new generation of customers will either devour brands they love or demonize those they don't.

By approaching CRM systems holistically, organizations will be better equipped to meet the changing demands of today's customers and deliver experiences that are relevant and informed—and keep their customers happy and coming back for more.

Jeff Foley is a Product Marketing Director at Pegasystems. As an MIT engineer–turned–marketer, Jeff aligns sales, marketing, and product organizations to deliver software customers love. Follow him on Twitter at @jjfoley.

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