The prediction business is a tricky business. It is a challenge to separate the signal from the noise when you are looking at the trends that are shaping the market. For me, this challenge is compounded by the rapid pace of innovation in both the core Customer Relationship Management (CRM) space and the adjacent technologies that influence the core.
If we quickly look back to 2016, the continued investments in mobility and social integration have created a wealth of new, rich data and opened the floodgates with regards to interaction channels that are available to customers. There has also been continued investment in analytics with a real focus on turning insights into actions. The evolution of these areas has created a springboard effect in the trends for 2017.
The first trend that I see shaping the CRM landscape in 2017 is personalization. Our workforce is continuing to evolve into an incredibly diverse, multi-generational, multi-cultural body. The way that people interact with CRM solutions varies wildly depending on background, experience, and expectations. The concept of “off the shelf” or “out of the box” has been fully obviated. The coming year will see a demand for CRM solutions to enable deep personalization across four key levels:
Effective personalization drives a sense of ownership at all levels, and that ownership translates to adoption, utilization and achievement of the true CRM value proposition.
The second trend that will dominate CRM in 2017 is simplification. CRM solutions have become part of a standard technology ecosystem over the past several years. Over time, the solution is modified, extended, and enhanced based upon the changes required by evolving business needs. However, these modifications tend to be additive in nature. The continual cycle of additive changes creates overly complex data models, confusing screens, and complicated processes. Organizations with CRM implementations that are over 3 years old should take the time to do a deep review of all aspects of their system with a focus on the following questions:
There are two very specific benefits that a simplification project will provide. First, simplification leads to higher adoption and lower costs of ownership. Simpler solutions are more approachable and easier to embed in a user’s day to day life. In addition, simpler solutions reduce overall training (and retraining) demands as well as reduction in overall user support costs.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, a simplification project paves the way to both predictive and prescriptive analytics. The effectiveness of machine learning and advanced analytics is fully predicated on the quality and consistency of the data that is provided to the algorithms. The adage of “garbage in, garbage out” is fully realized in the world of advanced analytics. Organizations that focus on simplicity will create cleaner, more focused data sets to teach the modeling algorithms, thus deriving better output. Over time, additional data can and should be added to the models, but it is best to start simpler.
The final trend in 2017 that bears some focus is delivering CRM though alternative user experiences. By now, mobility is a given. It is incredibly common to walk into any coffee shop in the world and see people on their smartphones, their tablets, or their laptops interacting with CRM solutions. The innovation that will come to the forefront in 2017 is leveraging voice and chat driven interactions with CRM tools. The recent evolution of natural language interaction in the consumer space through tools like Alexa, Siri, and OK, Google, has created an opportunity for users to interact with CRM solutions in the same manner. From simple use cases, like searching and retrieving information, to more sophisticated scenarios, such as dictating meeting notes or updating records, voice based interactions will change the way people interact with CRM technology.
Similarly, there has been rapid innovation in artificial conversational entities, more commonly known as ChatBots. These bots allow for deep interactions with CRM systems through non-traditional interfaces like Skype from Microsoft. Like voice based use cases, ChatBots enable both simple search and retrieval functions, as well as deeper navigational and data manipulation opportunities.
The value proposition for these alternative user experience models is that there is absolutely no learning curve for a user to be efficient and effective while interactive with a CRM system. The ability to frame questions and drive actions using speech or plain text prompts will drive significant reductions in total cost of ownership. Additionally, these new modes will decrease the informational time lag that is inherent in most CRM systems today. Access to real time user updates will allow organizations to react more quickly to opportunities and challenges in the market.
In conclusion, 2017 will be a transformative year for the CRM space. Advanced technologies like machine learning and natural language processing are opening the door for an explosion of new capabilities for the CRM market. However, organizations need to take the time to thoughtfully prepare for the adoption of these technologies. This year, companies need to take the time to re-think their overall CRM goals and drive simplification efforts through their solutions. Once the solution has been rationalized and simplified, the road forward to enable personalization and alternative user experiences will be much clearer.
As consumers continue to change the way they engage via social media, businesses must also adjust their approach to their customers. The use of private social networks like Everyme and Yammer, as well as messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, are on the rise. The messaging apps combined have almost 3 billion users, while the social networks count 2.3 billion users. Consumers are moving between private and social channels and engaging in multiple modes of communication. As a result, businesses are looking at how to engage within dark social, the social sharing that occurs outside web analytics. Chatbots are the future of interaction within these private channels.
Chatbots are a conversational artificial intelligence (AI) capable of interfacing with both humans and other technology. These programs go beyond interactive voice response (IVR) systems to give companies more flexibility in the way they answer customer questions and increase the percentage of questions they are equipped to handle. They will be able to quickly understand the contextual request or problem rather than forcing the customer through a series of selection menus to understand the problem. They are quick to access and available from desktop and mobile devices. Rather than force users to stop what they’re doing and open another application, chatbots allow companies to inject themselves into the places where people are already communicating.
As organizations look to enhance their relationships with customers, the ubiquitous Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system must evolve to meet the demands of both the customer and the CRM user. The software must move from an internally focused information warehouse to an externally driven engagement tool, designed to build relationships based on what is important to both customers and users.
Bots and Your Customers
Consumers are moving away from the browsers and apps to chat platforms for simplicity and convenience. Market research has found that 62% of people who downloaded messaging apps were still using them 12 months later, compared to just 11% of users of other apps, and daily sessions within messaging apps are almost five times greater than all other apps. Over 2.5 billion people have at least one messaging app installed, and that number is expected to reach 3.6 billion within a few years.
Gartner predicts that by 2019 requests for customer support through consumer mobile messaging apps will exceed requests for support through traditional social media. Since chatbots are not downloaded, they should provide a smooth experience for consumers. Rather than searching a website, consumers would engage the chatbot within their preferred messenger app. Content delivered via a chatbot would also be more relevant to the consumer. With social media integration, chatbots have a rich data source to understand user habits around when they check their device, what their interests are, and what event are scheduled, so bots can deliver updates, information, and recommendations that encourage engagement.
Chatbots could become the first interaction a consumer has with a business. For example, a customer utilizes a chatbot to check on their account balance and transfers funds from one account to another. In return, the bot might suggest that you set up an automatic transfer based on your past history of transferring similar amounts around the same time each month. The next interaction might be an inquiry about the current mortgage rates and the loan process. From there, the conversation thread would be transferred to a loan officer, to offer more in-depth information about credit qualifications and completing the loan application. At each step of the process, the conversation threads would be recorded in the CRM system, allowing greater insight into the customer.
Bots and Your Employees
Chatbots also have the potential to serve as a virtual personal assistant for the employee. A chatbot is a perfect tool to help develop the 360° view of the customer. Chatbots can be integrated into a company’s own enterprise chat application, connecting and gathering information from across company-wide applications like CRM systems, Support Ticket systems, or even ERP systems. Such an integrated bot will give you all you need with just a few typed commands. Chatbots have the potential to resolve the data leakage issue in CRM. Garbage In/Garbage Out, as it relates to data, becomes less significant due to automation and smart AI. Potential results include increased customer retention and more accurate revenue forecasts. Chatbots add to the mobile experience as well. The information exchange becomes easier and more productive if you can access data within one mobile app.
Continuing the banking example, a chatbot within the CRM would provide the loan officer with the number of applications currently in underwriting, along with the list of priority tasks for that day. Rather than launching the CRM software, the service representative could tell the chatbot to attach the conversation to the customer record, which saves time. As machine learning continues, bots will enable the user to take action directly by presenting pertinent workflow scripts. For example, when a quarterly update on a key customer relationship is required by the executive team, a bot can present the user with a link to launch a workflow enabling a quick, efficient update script. Such an engaging experience surpasses the current “login – search – retrieve – act” paradigm of today’s enterprise solutions.
Customers want organizations to react to their needs more quickly; to be able to maintain those speeds as the organization grows; to have someone engage with them when they need to connect with the organization; and to have experiences that are tailored to their needs. CRM users expect the same from their systems. While computing tools such as the AI chatbot can automate some job responsibilities, the technology won’t be a replacement for most employees as it isn’t equipped to handle complex tasks. People and smart machines work better together. Chatbots have the potential to allow an organization to increase revenue, streamline internal processes, and improve data exchange across departments.