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Customer Relationship Management (CRM) in 2016 and beyond

Smartphones, social media, and the rise of the digital economy means organisations must be able to interact with customers in real-time, while still providing experiences that are personalised to each unique customer.

With access to multiple channels online, customers are now more empowered than ever before and it is up to businesses to meet the subsequent increased expectations.

What will really matter through 2016 and beyond is how businesses can make the customer experience as smooth and streamlined as possible. In today’s digital environment, customers use a range of different platforms and devices and expect to be able to move between those channels while maintaining a single conversation with the business.

This is why CRM technology, which can integrate these channels and provide customer-facing employees with a complete view of the customer, will become even more important.

How CRM software has evolved from a simple sales tool

At one time, CRM was essentially a sales force automation system, whereas today what we have are more comprehensive solutions that support a broader range of customer interactions, including marketing and customer care. A modern CRM system plays a much more central role in an organisation as a platform that brings together disparate customer information and systems, and supplies a single source of truth about the customer across all departments.

Having said that, the full capabilities of CRM are still being underused – while many CRM platforms now have extended scope and functionality, many companies are still using them as narrow solutions to support separate, siloed functions. The opportunity is there right now to use CRM in a more transformative way – bringing a customer focus to everything, and orchestrating all interactions through the entire customer journey.

Even as the CRM industry has evolved, it’s important to remember that the most important thing a CRM system can do is help you get your job done. It helps sellers sell and customer service agents provide an optimum customer experience. The best CRM systems focus on ease-of-use to enable people to do their job better by giving them the right information, when they need it, before they even ask.

Companies today must differentiate themselves by offering a superior customer experience and the foundation of this is built around a customer-first CRM strategy.

Is Big Data a blessing or a curse for businesses?

Ultimately, it comes down to focusing in on the pertinent information. Used effectively, big data can help businesses understand a great deal about their customers’ behavior, but the sheer volume of information available can be overwhelming. CRM tools can help businesses organise data and present employees only what they need, avoiding information overload.

By integrating big data into CRM systems, businesses can transform the information they have into valuable customer insight – allowing employees to quickly establish a full picture of a customer’s history in one central location before talking to their customers. Information gained from analysing big data into CRM systems can transform their customer information into valuable customer insight. This allows employees to understand the 'who, what, where, when and why', in one central location before talking to their customers.

The Internet of Things and CRM

The potential of harnessing the data of billions of connected devices and integrating that data within the CRM to transform customer relationships is very exciting.

For vendors, there is huge potential for personalised marketing. The ability to collect real-time information from customers via wearables, smart home devices and the connected car is a goldmine. It will help them sell more products and services faster, and with less risk. This all sounds good, but so far, one thing is missing. Surveys indicate only seven per cent of consumers own a connected wearable device like a smartwatch, and only four per cent have a connected device in their home. Until those numbers go up, the potential of IoT remains something for the future.

CRM on a global scale

One recent development which has brought the UK more in line with the US and other countries is the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Said to be the biggest shake up of UK consumer law for a generation, it means that consumers are now more empowered, better informed and more protected when buying goods or services. Potentially, it could mean US-style class action lawsuits in the UK - companies found to have broken antitrust laws in Europe may also be liable for millions of pounds in compensation, with potential collective actions on behalf of large groups, meaning damages can add up quickly.

This should underline to businesses that they need to think about how they interact with their customers, especially when handling complaints. Ultimately though, for global companies, customer experience needs to be extraordinary the world over, especially now that we live in a global economy and customers are connected through social media.

Data privacy and security

High profile breaches have raised questions for enterprises about just how secure the customer data inside their CRM solution might be – unsurprising, given that there is so much data at stake when it comes to CRM security.

Customer data is a critical component of any business’ daily operations and it’s essential to ensure the privacy and protection of data regardless of where it resides. Ultimately, businesses should have the freedom to implement the systems and architectures that best address their evolving needs for security, regulatory compliance, and business flexibility.

How important is it to have a good analytics system in place?

A good analytics system is vital, and analytics and CRM are increasingly being used in tandem. Modern CRM applications provide greater analytics for the individual user, sifting through a variety of data sources to serve the most pertinent information and even recommending next best actions to enhance the customer experience.

Businesses are increasingly investing in real-time analytics in order to respond rapidly to changing market conditions and exploit customer data to maximum effect. CRM software can seamlessly unite data from many sources from within or outside an organisation. This provides a complete view of every customer to every employee in real-time.

The future of CRM

Mobile will undoubtedly continue to be crucial. As the workforce becomes more dispersed and employees increasingly spend more time away from their desks, a high-quality mobile CRM app is crucial to ensure those valuable interactions with customers that take place outside the office aren’t left behind. CRM on mobile isn’t about shrinking the desktop experience down so it will fit on your smartphone screen. Instead, it’s about empowering users to build customer relationships wherever they are, with access to updated account, contact, and opportunity data.

As the cloud continues to evolve, customers will increasingly want the ability to deploy a CRM on their terms. Some cloud solutions are available only in a proprietary, multi-tenant, cloud configuration. There is little or no opportunity for customers to decide where they want their applications and data to reside. The only choice is the vendor’s proprietary cloud - a model that just doesn’t work for everyone.

Larry Augustin is the CEO of SugarCRM

Image Credit: Mikko Lemola / Shutterstock

Larry Augustin
Larry Augustin is CEO of SugarCRM and is a former venture capitalist and the co-founder and former chairman of VA Software, now Geeknet.