Predicting the future of CRM in 2014 and beyond

Big changes are afoot in the CRM market. This article explores the trends that will reshape the future of CRM, say experts.

Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part article by Alan Earls about analyst predictions on CRM trends in 2014 and beyond. The second part focuses on customer data management trends in CRM.

Analysts and experts with their eyes on the customer relationship management (CRM) market predict big changes in 2014, and with good reason.

A recent study from Dimension Data, the "2013/14 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report -- Executive Summary," outlines changing consumer requirements, restive personnel and an implicit need to retool.

Study author Andrew McNair, who is the head of global benchmarking at Dimension Data, names three specific CRM trends for 2014, based on the findings of his study:

  • Restive customers. According to McNair, customers are increasingly dissatisfied with their contact center experiences. This is especially true for members of Generation Y, who demand a choice of multiple interaction points beyond the phone, including Web chat, smartphone applications and social media. In fact, "Generation Y customers are now reporting that the telephone is their fourth choice when it comes to interaction with customer care professionals," McNair said.
  • Staff turnover. As contact centers continue to move to new communications platforms, front-line customer service staff are leaving these positions at a growing rate. In 2014 the focus should be on proper CRM training, support, and state-of-the-art tools to recruit and retain CRM staff, McNair noted.
  • New modes of interaction. Web chat communications systems may be the remedy for increasing end-user dissatisfaction, as customers increasingly expect seamless interaction transitions from one channel to the next.

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McNair isn't the only analyst with predictions for the short-term future of CRM. Ian Finley, analyst at Gartner Inc.; Apoorv Durga, senior analyst at the Real Story Group; Charlene Li, founder of the Altimeter Group; and Jay Rivard, Salesforce practice director at Harvest Solutions, shared their thoughts on the direction of CRM in 2014 and beyond. Their predictions include the following:

  • Mobility: Experiments and reactions. Gartner's Finley sees 2014 as yet another year of retail experiments with location-based mobile apps, particularly with in-store offers to drive impulse buys in every aisle. While most smartphone and tablet browsers can now provide location info to HTML5-based Web apps, most location-based apps will still be downloadable so the application will have a seamless, consistent awareness of location. But large segments of the buying public "will have reactions ranging from annoyance to fear, so retailers will have to step carefully," Finley warned.
  • Convergence. Real Story Group's Durga envisions activity surrounding convergence and integration of marketing automation with CRM. "Pretty much all lead-management and marketing automation vendors integrate with Salesforce.com," he said. "Not just that, but Salesforce.com and Oracle have acquired digital marketing vendors. Expect to see more activity in this area."
  • Social media monitoring grows. Durga noted another trend: the growth in the number of organizations that want to conduct social media monitoring in conjunction with CRM. "That seems like a natural thing to do, but most tools are not well placed to provide end-to-end services." But with acquisitions such as Salesforce.com's Radian6, this trend is picking up. "While it will still take some time for the tools to be truly integrated, customers are now beginning to use the two different sets of technologies together to identify influencers and leads via social media monitoring and have them become part of their CRM for further action," he said.
  • Privacy and permissions. Echoing concerns mentioned by Durga, Altimeter Group's Li expects growth in the information known about consumers from their digital interactions to continue to grow. However, Li cautioned, possession of such information is not a blank check. "Companies need to invest in building relationships in the same way they have invested in gathering and organizing data," she said. Users, she noted, are willing to sacrifice some privacy -- sharing their personal data, for example -- for a purpose or goal. But that doesn't mean they expect the data to be used for other purposes. Thus, companies need to cultivate a trusting and trustworthy relationship if they expect to continue to have customers share data freely.
  • Gmail integration. According to Harvest Solutions' Rivard, several CRM vendors have developed integrations for Google Apps such as Gmail, including Salesforce.com, which also developed a module for Google AdWords a few years ago. No vendor has a perfect approach, but the possibility of bringing Gmail into a CRM environment is appealing.
  • Use of data-cleansing tools. Organizations are investing more in cleaning up CRM data, which remains a persistent weakness for many organizations, noted Rivard. Incorrect and duplicative data can add cycles to the work of call center and sales employees and lead to both errors and missed opportunities. Data cleansing remains challenging, but tools are becoming more powerful and cost-effective, prompting more organizations to commit to the process.
  • Implementing workflows. Rivard said that organizations are showing greater interest in CRM workflow automation, which provides an organization the opportunity to write its own rules regarding how CRM is applied to sales and support tasks, moving data to the right people at the right time, generating alerts and emails, and generally leading to more efficient CRM.

So, for CRM professionals, there will be no rest in the year ahead -- just a fresh crop of challenges and opportunities to consider.

This was first published in January 2014

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