The forest through the trees – how to find your future-proof CRM

Looking for a new CRM vendor can be painful; wading through the self-congratulatory, overcomplicated jargon spat out by vendors, how is a marketer supposed to get a clear answer? Here’s Michael Evans with the key features to look for to fit your company now and into the future.

Michael Evans 150 BW

It seems every customer relationship management (CRM) software vendor is calling itself either a ‘customer service company’, a ‘digital transformations provider’ or often both at the same time. This is creating mayhem for customers who are left trying to cut through the noise created by vendors to understand which solutions are best for them. But even when users manage to find their perfect customer service software partner, what’s new today may not be relevant tomorrow.

Of course, most organisations can’t afford the time or money required to constantly overhaul their CRM strategy to meet the latest customer demands. Or can they? Instead of chasing technology trends, organisations should first look to set themselves up with a flexible foundational technology infrastructure that spans the enterprise from end to end. This way, organisations can easily adapt their software on the fly and stay ahead of competitors without abandoning past IT investments.

So how can companies be ready for change and stay current? These five core infrastructure capabilities will help future-proof customer service systems so that organisations are able to get longevity out of their CRM investment.

End-to-end automation with dynamic case management

Case management is often thought of as a help desk ticket that tracks work assigned throughout the organisation, but it’s much more than that. Done right, it fundamentally drives all work from beginning to end to improve operational efficiency. Businesses must be sure that what they promise to customers on the front end is effectively and efficiently processed on the back end. All the fancy apps and voice-enabled interfaces can’t overcome the disappointment of a customer who ordered a red shirt to be delivered on Tuesday, only to receive a blue sweater on Thursday.

Getting it right can be challenging given the various business lines, geographies, policies and permutations of enterprise processes, particularly for large and complex brands. But while the process is complex, for the customer it must appear seamless. Dynamic case management allows an organisation to manage the complex tasks of driving work to completion.

Channel-less digital engagement

Customers want resolutions to their issues as fast as possible, via their preferred channels. The biggest mistake organisations make is creating individual channels in silos within isolated business units and logic. Organisations can maintain as many channels as necessary, however it’s important to be able to collect and connect information within a centralised location. This way brands can deliver the same level of experience that customers expect, regardless of the channel.

No matter which channel they may want to use on any given day (web self-service, mobile app, phone call etc), customers expect that every customer service representative or chatbot has the context of their inquiry at every touchpoint. In fact, customers should be able to move from one channel to the next and pick up their interaction with a brand exactly where they left off, without the hassle of retelling their backstory.

A centralised customer engagement engine can adapt to any channel form factor and deliver the same end result for the customer. The channel then becomes irrelevant, and the organisation becomes channel-less. This allows for a consistent experience on any channel and enables businesses to easily extend engagement to any of the latest and hottest channels their customers demand.

Real-time AI

In order to service customers effectively, organisations need to do more than just understand their needs – they need to anticipate them. Organisations are investing in AI-based analysis tools that engage with customers on a personalised level.

These tools aren’t implemented to replace employees but to enable them to perform their job more effectively, for example, by improving customer service. By anticipating customers’ thoughts and intentions, an agent, sales person or marketer can determine the next best action to take in that moment. AI can analyse the data from various customer touch points, evaluating potential actions based on what’s right for both the customer and the business.

By using AI-based decisioning, organisations are able to maintain consistency and generate relevant responses in real-time, catering to the customer’s preferences as they change in the moment. Each new response from the customer – be it reporting a product issue, accepting a marketing offer or making an inquiry – triggers the AI engine to recalibrate its next action as the engagement is happening. This way the organisation is always changing with the customer.

Cloud flexibility

It’s near impossible to determine which cloud a business might need in five years, given the increased uptake of hybrid models. To support varying data sources, applications, business models and delivery models, organisations should have a flexible cloud environment that can scale and adapt as needed.

Many software vendors lock their clients into restrictive cloud contracts, not really giving them the choice or flexibility to deviate from the norm. As markets change, businesses need this flexibility so they can respond to the latest customer demands. By giving themselves more cloud options, organisations have the ability to adapt and scale quickly to meet any condition.

Open integration

Organisations typically can’t identify a single vendor that ticks all the boxes in their technology needs. As an organisation, it’s important to implement solutions that are able to integrate with other technologies to best support the business’ needs.

This goes for CRM systems as well. The more walls the vendor puts up around their solution, the fewer options clients will have to plug in new or alternative solutions that work best for them. Look for vendors that enable clients to mix and match with other best of breed software so they aren’t always relying on a single vendor for everything.

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An organisation’s customers are critical to success and growth. Good customer service should therefore be a top business priority, with an effective CRM platform at the centre of growth strategies. What’s more, organisations can’t sit still waiting for consumers to demand more, they must instead get on the front-foot with the right technologies to empower staff and fulfil customer expectations.

It is for this reason that it is so important for organisations to ensure they future-proof their customer service by implementing CRM on a foundation that looks beyond today’s challenges and has room to grow to meet tomorrow’s needs.

Michael Evans is VP ANZ at Pegasystems

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Image credit:Casey Horner