A Future Vision Of CRM

Several weeks ago, my colleague Brian wrote about the emergence of Social CRM. The conversation touched on new applications of technology and analytics to help improve customer engagement and generate insight for the enterprise. I thought it might be worth expanding on some of the points made and continue the discussion of what the future might look like for CRM (Customer Relationship Management).

Gartner’s Hype Cycle for social media classifies Social CRM (i.e. the integration of social media into CRM systems) as a transformational technology that is two-to-five years away from mainstream adoption in customer service applications and five-to-ten years away from adoption in community marketing. While I agree that Social CRM will be transformational, I think the adoption will (and must) happen more quickly. Specifically, our research at nGenera has uncovered new data, new tools, new channels, and a new mindset that are accelerating the trend towards Social CRM.

Data: The data that is included in traditional CRM is limited to very basic identity and transactional information about customers. It does not typically include the type of rich digital profile information contained in places like Facebook and LinkedIn.  Customer feedback is collected through surveys, a method of data collection that is expensive, time-consuming, temporal, and often annoying for customers. But this is all changing. Customer data can be gathered from many sources, some old – such as the contact center – and some new. With respect to the contact center, the amount of unused customer data that is generated is astounding. One interviewee recently confided that his contact center writes the equivalent of a book every day – a book that nobody reads.  A first basic step is to generate organizational learning from contact centers. Once you’ve mastered this, you’re ready to move on to new sources of data. In this case, I’m thinking about reality mining, social networks, forums, blogs, and other digital venues where customers are engaging in behaviors that affect the company’s brand.

Tools: Listening platforms and sentiment analysis tools allow companies to capture customer preferences, complaints, feedback, and queries expressed online, while social network analysis can provide insight into the connections between individuals and identify key influencers. Companies can also track prosumer activity across branded communities and company-sponsored networks. When integrated with CRM databases, this information helps create accurate, up-to-date, and meaningful customer records. Although the CRM systems that currently offer applications to incorporate social media data only include data from a limited number of social networking sites – of which Twitter is the most common – this will likely change. Data will eventually be collected from all public online discussions as the concept of Social CRM becomes more accepted and companies develop strategies to deal with larger volumes of data. Once customer conversations have been successfully captured and incorporated into CRM databases, one can imagine a future where companies will be able to capture other forms of rich data, such as emotional data, photos, voice, and even video content (i.e. not just video metadata). According to a vendor I interviewed, companies can already correctly identify individuals online using available profile data with up to 90% accuracy.  This allows comapanies to find existing and potential customers online and gather new data about them. The contact center of the future will have a much richer digital picture of customers, allowing companies to personalizing product and service offerings, engage customers in meaningful conversations, and generate sophisticated trend data.

Channels: Many contact centers, such as those at Best Buy and Comcast now support social media channels and have dedicated teams devoted to responding to customers and prospects in public and branded digital venues. The question of whether or not to use social media as a listening platform or a contact center channel is major one for organizations as it affects the number of touchpoints that need to be managed and the complexity of customer support operations. However, as sentiment analysis tools get better, and integrate more readily with CRM, we expect this distinction to become less and less of a concern. In the future, the new sources of data (inputs) will be the same as the channels for customer interaction (output). As these channels mature, I fully expect the data and analytics to help “close the loop” with respect to customer engagement metrics – directly connecting social media investments with customer sales information. In this way, companies will be able to measure the value of customer intention and calculate the ROI of social media interactions.

Mindset: The notion of ‘relationship management’ brings with it a particular bias that data is controlled by the party that is doing the managing, rather than ownership of the data by the individual. So, in the case of CRM, it is assumed that the company is managing customer relationships by controlling the data about them and their interactions. New notions of relationship management seem to embrace the idea that ownership of both identity information and the customer-vendor relationship should reside with individuals, not companies.  Exchange of information should be based a two-way value proposition in which individuals selectively share aspects of their rich digital profiles, as well as their discretionary effort in exchange for useful and targeted messages, promotions, and reputation.  Paul Greenberg from ZDNet discusses this in more depth and notes, “Co-creation and mutually derived value, is at the core of Social CRM.” As an example, The Internet Identity Workshop and Project VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) at Harvard is exploring a highly customer-centric view of identity information where the customer controls their data and manages relationships with various vendors.

I’ve heard the argument that traditional CRM “is dead,” but this is far from the truth. In fact, as Brian notes, Social CRM does not replace transactional CRM systems, rather it augments them. What CRM is in desperate need of is new data sources and tools that help integrate and analyze this data. The future vision of CRM also requires that companies get involved in new channels and cede a certain amount of control to the customer – it’s less about management and more about engagement.

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Naumi Haque has more than a decade of experience in the research and advisory industry. Naumi has been at the forefront of customer experience management, recently arguing that enterprises need an integrated customer experience strategy to meet customer expectations. He has conducted research and provided thought leadership on a wide variety of topics related to emerging technology and business innovation, including: social media strategy, customer experience, next generation marketing, enterprise collaboration, open innovation, digital identity, new sources of enterprise data, and disruptive web-enabled business models. He received his MBA and his Honors in Business Administration from the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business.