How will you know tomorrow's customer?
It's time to admit the truth about CRM (customer relationship management). CRM is not a great technological breakthrough, but an acknowledgement that we as a society have grown more knowledgeable about making purchases. Software that supports marketing and sales operations is just now catching up with the software that supports the rest of your business. The outcome of the growth and improvement in this software sector is good for consumers and businesses alike.
Understanding where we are with CRM today and where it might go tomorrow means appreciating where we've been. (See our illustration, "The development of CRM.")
Marketing and sales have come a long way since the glitzy, glamorous ads and jingles of the 1950s. Consumers everywhere have changed. We want more personalized attention, more information about competing products, and more opportunities to provide feedback on the items we purchase. Rather than passively accepting broadcast marketing and sales messages as we did in days gone by, we want proactive interaction before, during, and after purchasing.
The response of businesses to these customer demands has led to the explosive growth of CRM solutions as well as other technologies, such as SFA (sales-force automation) solutions and ERP (enterprise resource planning) software. Integrating CRM offerings with other back-end processes and related technologies, such as ERP, data and text mining, voice-to-text, and BI (business intelligence) tools, will only strengthen a company's knowledge about its customer base and what its customers really want.
Consumer buying patterns and interaction with companies will continue to change given the ever-fluctuating influences of society and technology. This will cause the CRM segment to undergo many changes in the coming years.
Considering the amount of change being forecast for the CRM marketplace, it's no surprise to find that the majority of the 500 readers we polled in the InfoWorld CRM Survey were seeking outside advice pertaining to CRM. And more than a third of those polled indicated that they would seek outside help for CRM implementation, consulting services, or training.
Knowing that consumers' habits change, what technologies can we expect to shape the CRM arena? CRM solutions and services will be most deeply affected during the next three to five years by connectivity enhancements and changes in software constructs.
Sometimes referred to as mCRM (mobile CRM), wireless and mobile technologies are beginning to converge with CRM solutions. Customers already expect access to your company via phone, fax, e-mail, and Web browser. As wireless technologies become the norm for consumers, they will begin to expect to contact your business for purchases or support via wireless devices, too.
Extending CRM to wireless devices is not as big a stretch as you might imagine. Many commodity-based middleware technologies, such as application servers, already support or will soon support the extension of CRM software components to wireless and mobile devices. At the moment, few packaged mCRM solutions are available; KnowEx Solutions' KnowEx Wireless is one early entrant. Expect more mCRM solutions to hit the market in the next 12 to 24 months.
CRM service providers are also gearing up for the move to wireless. Wireless providers, wireless standards, and tools to create or outsource wireless CRM are coming of age -- although not quickly enough for some of the respondents of our CRM survey. Two-thirds of those polled felt the biggest obstacle to implementing wireless CRM was lack of standards or differences in the technologies supported in various solutions.
But the biggest CRM leap will come with the infusion of peer-to-peer technologies expected in the next few years. Today we think of CRM solutions as access points that are one-dimensional software applications helping companies interact with their customers. Peer-to-peer technologies will create multidimensional interactions: customer-to-company, company-to-customer, and customer-to-customer.
Peer-to-peer technologies will take CRM into an arena where sales and service are supported via componentized application services, and user-driven communities are the order of the day. Imagine a time in the near future when customers not only can interact with your sales and service infrastructure but can also converse with other customers to help one another and exchange information.
The added dimension of customer-to-customer interaction might seem a bit unusual within the current CRM paradigm. But blending peer-to-peer technologies with CRM will be a boon for both companies and consumers. Businesses that can successfully build peer-to-peer customer communities can expect the costs of sales and service to decrease as consumers adopt more self-service habits. Peer-to-peer customer communities also increase the amount of feedback on a company's products and services. Business leaders who can implement strategies to harvest peer-to-peer information exchange will be able to make continuous product and service improvements, thereby increasing customer loyalty.
The next generation of CRM solutions is clearly about giving customers a louder voice and more choices. Companies that don't leverage emerging technologies to this end will be left in the dust.