Social, acquisitions, CEM topped CRM news in 2011

In 2011, CRM professionals were faced with acquisitive vendors, a social tidal wave, a push for mobile computing and the never-ending demands for better, faster customer management systems.

Pundits on every corner were telling companies to get going with their social strategies this year. But in the real world, companies were dogged by basic business problems, be they social or not, and most struggled to make their CRM operation more strategic. CRM professionals were asked to enhance customer service and marketing, improve the management of customer data and sales processes and, as always, make sure their contact centers were running as efficiently as possible. While social technologies touched all of that, the ROI from social initiatives was still unclear. Meanwhile, customers also had to contend with a rapidly changing vendor landscape. Key CRM software providers went on buying sprees in the customer service, analytics and human resources markets, suggesting that 2012 will bring, among other things, its share of hiccups as these companies absorb these new acquisitions.

Here’s a look at the top 10 stories of the year.

And then there were three … or four

The year began with typical product rollouts. For example, Microsoft released a global version of Dynamics CRM Online.

The top CRM companies then boosted their product lines and consolidated the CRM software market through a series of acquisitions focusing on customer service, human resources and social media. Salesforce.com kicked off the buying season in March when it acquired Radian6, a maker of social media monitoring and analysis tools.

Oracle had its checkbook out on more than one occasion, purchasing RightNow in an unexpected bid for the customer service software vendor and Inquira, a high-end knowledge management software maker. As 2011 was coming to a close, SAP picked up SuccessFactors, which sells human resources software, for $3.4 billion. Not to be outdone, Salesforce.com announced in mid-December that it would aquire Rypple, a social human-resources software company.

Social CRM
Salesforce.com certainly led the charge for, or at least talked the most about, social CRM. It promoted the concept throughout the year, drawing attention to such clients as Toyota, which launched a social network. It pushed the concept of the social enterprise and highlighted the strategy at its user conference Dreamforce at summer’s end. In response, competitors like Oracle said they already offered “activity feeds” with their CRM software. Microsoft announced its social strategy for its Dynamics CRM Online product midway through the year.

Social weaved its way into most discussions, as companies examined how to best make use of it in contact centers, marketing and sales. Companies in the financial services and other regulated services industries wondered how to add a social dimension to customer relations without running afoul of industry regulations. Also, loyalty programs were overhauled with social components.

Mobile CRM -- for real
The impact of mobile technology has been discussed for years, but in 2011 real-life examples began to emerge. Many companies, such as Santander Consumer USA, created armies of mobile sales forces using hand-held devices. Another mobile application gaining momentum was customer service. Companies like The Boston Globe extended mobile support to its customer service operations so its on-the-move customers could get support from their hand-held devices. Companies such as Salesforce.com announced mobile extensions to their core applications. But analysts warned about the challenges of mobile support, and Forrester offered a report that outlined several steps to avoid creating chaos when rolling out a mobile CRM strategy.

Companies zero in on voice-of-the-customer programs
Whether it was electronics giant Best Buy explaining how it gathers in-store customer feedback to improve customer relations or General Nutrition Stores talking about its use of monitoring tools to find online customers, companies were focused on using social technology to listen more to customers.  Another example: Video game maker Activision rolled social channels into its customer service efforts to give customers another gateway to product support.

Contact centers grapple with multi-channel challenge
In 2011, companies were increasingly adding video technology to their contact centers as a way to more effectively provide a self-service option, using prepared videos as well as a concierge-level service with live-video chat. There was increasing evidence that other self-service options were not working as expected. Also, companies such as DirecTV and Sirius XM Radio evaluated just how big a role social would play as a service channel.

Resurgence of cloud battle
Just when it looked like the cloud versus on-premises debate was finally over, it was back in the headlines when Oracle and Salesforce.com went at each other -- again. This time, Oracle announced a public cloud strategy and claimed it was superior to the “closed” cloud architecture on which Salesforce.com had built its entire applications platform. Oracle further declared its seriousness on cloud matters when it acquired RightNow, which built its customer service products as hosted applications.  

Data management became critical issue for CRM
With all the talk about social technology and using customer data more effectively, how would companies manage all this new CRM data? There are no fully defined data management strategies yet, but some options were discussed. Salesforce.com, for example, announced the Data Residency Option at Dreamforce. This would enable customers to designate certain data fields for cloud storage and others fields to remain on-site. 

Getting the value out of CRM data
Companies began to understand the value of putting an analytics strategy in place to help make use of the reams of customer data. But some industry observers suggested that many CRM practitioners were still reluctant to embrace customer analytics tools. Even so, smaller independent companies, along with the top-tier CRM vendors, including SAP, pushed out analytics tools. The big focus was on social monitoring and analysis. Salesforce.com, having absorbed Radian6, by year’s end officially announced the social monitoring platform would be the basis of its marketing cloud, a maneuver it had been hinting at all year long. 

CRM alone no longer enough -- companies need CEM strategies
Increasingly, companies were broadening the scope of projects that addressed customers and they adopted the customer experience management (CEM) moniker. More and more companies, from Adobe to American Express, had executives with “customer experience” in their title. In fact, a professional group was launched by CEM gurus Jeanne Bliss and Bruce Temkin. The Customer Experience  Professionals Association (CXPA) had several hundred members at the close of 2011. Companies such as SAP put more and more emphasis on the customer experience, and some of its key executives even published a book on the subject, calledThe Customer Experience Edge.

Marketing strategies continued to get turned upside down
Social and mobile technologies pushed marketers to adopt new approaches for reaching customers as they realized they no longer controlled their brand and needed to work with customers as partners. Marketers struggled to understand how to best approach content marketing with these newer technologies. One of the more interesting marketing technologies to emerge this year was QR codes, although their real value was debated by industry experts.

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