A sneak peek for CRM applications and more

CRM professionals can look forward to new applications hitting the market and redefining the very meaning of the word 'customer,' says Alan Earls.

As with most subjects, customer relationship management (CRM) has accumulated various schools of thought. That's inevitable and generally positive. No individual or field can be reinvented continuously. However, challenging views can help clarify current practice or provide a path to new opportunities.

Seeking predictions for CRM in 2014, two voices offered fresh takes on some familiar challenges -- Peter Perera, president of the Perera Group, a Los Angeles-based CRM consultancy, and Michael Ni, chief marketing officer at Avangate, an e-commerce company based in Redwood City, Calif.

New management role

First and foremost, some experts think a new C-level role is in order. "With information on companies and their products and services so readily available, prospects today are no longer on predictable customer sales paths," said Ni. Those customers are constantly deciding where, when and how they engage with a company and are demanding more and different interaction points. He said that more than 33 systems and six organizations -- including CRM, online marketing, content, sales, finance and operations -- may participate to deliver a single order and the commerce experience itself.

"Where the CEO drives the values and vision of the company and the CFO defines the financial strategy, a new Chief Commerce Officer (CCO) role will bridge marketing, sales, operations and finance to deliver on the promise of a cohesive and compelling customer experience," said Ni. In addition, the CCO will establish "what every customer engagement needs to look like in order to make doing business an exchange of value, not just product," he said.

What will really emerge in 2014? No one knows for sure. However, inquiries at the margin of current practice will likely drive change and may well shape the years beyond.

Big (and complicated) data

According to Perera, one emphasis in the year ahead will continue to be on data.

"Big data is the conversation du jour, but in CRM-land, big data has different meanings than the accepted V-words: volume, velocity, variety and veracity," he said.

In CRM, Perera said the language of "big" is context, connections, resolution and density. Context can get quite complicated when a given party has multiple roles. Perera cites an example of a physician who could be part of an insurer's provider network but also a plan member seeking health services as a patient. In a similar way, an insurance broker could have additional roles as an employer and plan sponsor. These kinds of complexities make managing context, connections, resolution and density more challenging.

"Representing a single party in one consolidated view without regard for the multiple roles a party plays in different transactions or interactions can lead to role or context collapse, since 'big' now relates to a single party, not necessarily multiple parties," Perera said.

NoSQL grows

Perera thinks the year ahead will also see more experimentation in CRM applications with NoSQL databases, specifically graph databases. The importance of connections -- or so-called Friend of a Friend requirements to represent deep relationships among different parties -- will lead businesses to look beyond relational databases, which are not particularly adept at traversing the extensive network of relationships among people, organizations and groups.

According to Perera, graph databases are built for quickly navigating network-type connections, making them the database of choice in social media applications like LinkedIn. Furthermore, Perera stressed, NoSQL is an abbreviation for Not Only SQL, so relational database formats may be included.

"It's an and, not an or thing," he said.

Redefining the customer

What is a customer, anyway? According to Perera, the traditional notion of customer will change to include more parties than just consumers and buyers.

"There are multiple parties in different roles associated with transactions and interactions. The C in CRM will increasingly stand for constituent to reflect this," he said. Perera gave universities as an example, saying that they can have transactions and interactions with individuals who are students, employees, alumni or even library card holders. The connections to other parties will be different for each role.

"Connections can get tangled when a constituent party has different roles during different transactions and interactions. Consequently, accounting for and traversing connections among all constituent parties in any and every context is an emerging business requirement," he said.

Redefining personal data

Where did your CRM data come from? Perera sees growing concerns and opportunities with personal data.

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"Over the next several years, individuals are going to gain greater control over their data … and who receives it," said Perera. "I believe we will see the emergence of platforms, such as personal.com, for individuals to manage their own data, including the sharing of it, possibly even selling it on an exchange of sorts."

A part of this personal data discussion corresponds to identity. However, Perera noted that when discussing identity, it is important to recognize when you are viewing identity from the standpoint of an account, a role or a party, as these perspectives are often so different. Perera added that CRM pros should think of identity as a verb.

"That simple step can help prepare you to integrate data across siloed systems, especially when a given person, organization or group has different roles for different interactions."

Other considerations

Mobile has not yet reached its potential, Perera noted.

"Software vendors are determined to make mobile a CRM application, but they are still missing the boat because they seem to be focusing more on porting their applications to smartphones than on creating altogether new applications," he said.

This was first published in February 2014

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