CRM sucks. You know it, I know it, and the world of enterprise tech knows it. Yet companies are still shelling out billions a year on it, vendors keep serving it up, and users keep drowning in despair. Even today’s current flavor Social CRM is not appearing to help. While it has been an open secret for well over a decade, very little has been done to solve the inherent problems in CRM adoption and the lack of return on investment (ROI). Instead, we simply get another feature or get fed another acronym in a research report.
Customer Relationship Management certainly manages stuff and contains customer information, but somewhere along the line we managed to forget the relationship part. By relationships, I mean not just relative to the customer and company. The relationships between users and how they engage with customer through technology and modes of interaction is just as important.
A new vision of CRM is what we need. CRM, as a technology and a business philosophy, is really one of the few ways that companies can differentiate themselves from the pack. Great products only get you so far. Eventually the market catches up and the competition is not about product, it is about how you are reaching and engaging with your audience. The way you keep that audience engaged and loyal comes down to servicing their needs. Without that customer-centric view point, you are merely throwing darts at a wall.
We need to build a significantly better CRM. For CRM to truly succeed, it needs to squarely and competently address four major deficiencies that have plagued every single CRM technology to date:
- Interface – The interfaces are an abomination across all CRM tools. Even SaaS based offerings are guilty of this crime by simply lifting the old client/server screens to the web. Adding a social media “timeline”, creating badges, or inventing more ways to do the very same task have also done nothing to improve things. As such, usage and adoption drop off rapidly unless the carrot and stick approach is used. Think about it, when did you ever hear a user of a CRM system ever rave about using a CRM tool?
Interfaces should be optimized for the user and the use case, not optimized for the backend table schema. We are well into the Web 2.0 era and the ethos of “Jobs”ian design. The focus should be on creating intuitive interfaces that do not require days of user training, labyrinthine help menus, or mind numbing user manuals. We need to incorporate intuitive ways of capturing user input, enhancing application interactivity, and visualizing data that is more impactful yet simplified. For example, enabling voice interactivity, like Siri for enterprise CRM applications, could be one possible area for providing a simpler yet more efficient interface.
- Integration – This is not integration of backend systems, which has existed for awhile. In fact, at the enterprise level, integration has been the source of many implementation woes. From ensuring the integrity of master data, to the linking of business processes such as “click to lead” and “order to cash”, there has already been enough “integration” going on at the systems and process level.
Integration in this instance means assimilating the technology into daily usage modes and practices. Instead of looking purely at technical or process considerations, the human aspects of work and work styles become the main drivers for integration. The critical element here is the capture of interactions across a number of points, whether email or chat or social media or phone.
CRM needs to integrate with people, how they work, and where they engage with customers. That is where people are doing real work that accomplishes something of relevance towards building relationships. Very often however that interaction is not captured in any systematic or meaningful way, therefore threads of information and context are lost. This is where seamless integration needs to occur, in a way that in not invasive to users, yet is additive to the needs of users.
- Insight – CRM has been integrated to a variety of reporting and analytics tools since the earliest days. Whether simple Excel and comma delimited data exports, or connecting data warehouses to multi-dimensional analytics tools, there has not been a lack of well-formatted data or customizable charts. What is missing though is something that can determine “so what” and what the best course of action is to take.
Analytics seemed so promising. Some products even used the word “Insight”. Vendors would show whiz bang demos to pin-point obvious problem areas via the magic of a few clicks and drill-downs. However, this is a fantasy world as a lot of important data tends to lie hidden. Most people are not data analysis experts and have no idea when the datasets they are using are deficient.
This is the biggest win for analytical CRM is technology that can provide thorough assessments quickly based on relevant and accurate data, and walk users to the best decision across various outcomes. In this way, we take what has existed in the realm of intuition and make it both measurable and predictable without putting users through hoops to get there. If users want to drill into the why, offer that option, but most will want to forge ahead knowing they are making informed and impactful decisions.
- Immediacy – Opportunities fade away pretty quickly. The time for users to click to another website, abandon a shopping cart, or hang up the phone is seconds. Yet, in that short span of time, the chance to serve the customer disappeared in a flash. Most CRM technologies are great at collecting data, some are good at producing pretty charts, but almost none of them provide answers instantaneously or generate a call to action for the customer that is meaningful. This means aligning buying interests and seller’s offer at the intersection of need, location, value, and time.
The Holy Grail for many years in CRM was the ability to provide real-time, highly personalized service to customers. The idea was to improve satisfaction, generate loyalty, and bolster sales through up-selling / cross-selling. Often times however, the gap between the buyer and seller interests was pretty wide and informed by poor information. Even if need, location, and value were aligned, timing was off and opportunity lost. This is where the “relationship” part of CRM is so critical and integral.
Immediacy is not a one-way street though. CRM vendors and users for years focused on data collection. This data would be inputs into campaign analytics tools to segment and target populations for various offerings based on propensity to buy algorithms. The new interaction mode however is the customer owning his/her data. The more visionary CRM technologies would take this into account and handle the inbound customers as well as the outbound interactions, and develop an uncanny understanding of what the customer needs without much of the traditional data. Customers will know what they want before they even reach out, but the CRM aware organization can still be prepared to serve the customer.
There are not many specific items regarding the better CRM. However, that is part of the point. It is not another feature set or requirements document. CRM requires a complete overhaul, not just a nose job or nip-and-tuck. There are a lot of vendors and startups that are merely glancing at the problem, yet no one is tackling it head on. In essence, what we are talking about is a completely new way to use technology and an approach that is user and relationship centric. It is a more human CRM in design, philosophy, and implementation.