ashumskiy - Fotolia
Blockchain technology recasts customer expectations around data privacy, bringing competitors together to enhance data analysis and strengthen customer connections -- making it a prime candidate for the next disruptor of CRM.
The technology behind bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies might be tough to explain -- or to keep people interested in -- because it involves infrastructure, and not a sexy new technology such as artificial intelligence. Yet experts anticipate increased usage of blockchain CRM technology over the next decade, and predict business verticals including healthcare, insurance, utilities, government, supply chain, publishing and real estate will find uses for the technology as well.
Blockchain creates distributed, encrypted ledgers that can operate without centralized management and serve as highly trusted repositories for transactions, digital rights and sensitive data, such as identities and property records. Transactions can self-execute via smart contracts that eliminate friction and transfer data and value without the participation of traditional intermediaries.
SearchCRM spoke with three experts at this month's Blockchain for Business and IT Leaders conference in Cambridge, Mass. While blockchain CRM technology may be in its infancy, the experts said they see potential for its wide-ranging application in the sector.
Blockchain can address privacy concerns, data analysis
Paul Tatro, co-founder of the Blockchain Training Institute, said CRM systems will be affected by new expectations around data privacy. Consumers have been required to share personal information and expose themselves to risk through hacks, such as the breach at Equifax this fall, and are hungry for change. A blockchain can store and encrypt personal data and confirm details upon inquiry without actually sharing them.
"The whole CRM space will soon be tied to what I call self-sovereign identity, because customers will want to have control of information about them instead of letting it be bandied about," Tatro said. "With self-sovereign identity, you take control of your own identity and reveal qualities, not facts."
CRM systems will need to adjust how they handle customer data in order to meet consumers' rising expectations, he said.
Tatro said he also expects the future of blockchain CRM technology to include new opportunities for large-scale data analysis. A networked CRM-type system could provide multiple businesses -- including competitors -- with deep insights into customers' preferences, opinions and buying habits. The quality of insights would improve with scale, and blockchain's network architecture would eliminate the need for an intermediary data manager. For such a shared system to work, developers will need to create distributed ledgers with precise access privileges so that company data is protected, he said.
Blockchain-based applications might be limited in scope in the near term, but champions can justify early investment to ensure that the organization is prepared to move quickly and create opportunities.
"We're seeing stalwart companies like IBM and Microsoft offering blockchain services," Tatro noted. "Even Intel is pushing SGX chips that are optimized for transaction processing and faster consensus on the blockchain. This is something companies need to have their eye on, the same way you had to know about the internet when it was emerging."
Tatro said he established the Blockchain Training Institute to offer blockchain education and certification. Training is offered online to enable users to learn at their own pace.
Blockchain technology improving incentive programs
Lynne Dunbrack, a research vice president at IDC Health Insights, said she sees blockchain CRM carving out a role in healthcare.
"CRM is fairly new in healthcare," she said. "One area where blockchain is likely to make an impact is in customer incentive payment programs for achieving health milestones."
Healthcare providers typically recommend exercise programs, such as walking 10,000 steps a day, through which patients can accrue points that are redeemable for rewards, such as merchandise.
"People can lose interest in exercise programs after their short-term goals are met," she said. "Maybe they wanted to be healthy for a pregnancy or lose weight before a school reunion or wedding to look good in family pictures, but then they revert back to old habits."
The future of blockchain CRM technology could include strengthening the patient's connection to the incentive program by enabling near-real-time processing of monitor data as frictionless micro-transactions.
"Now they can find out in real time how they are progressing toward their reward goals, instead of waiting for a monthly statement," Dunbrack said. "This is a way to make it fun and interesting and help customers stay involved for the long term."
The application of blockchain to CRM technology will enhance customer lifecycle management. This is a growing concern in healthcare, as the vertical turns its focus from billing and reimbursement to patient-centered wellness outcomes.
"The whole notion of patients as consumers is relatively new," she said. "It used to be physicians would refer their patients to a specialist or provider and they went there, but now, they are looking around to see if they can save money by going elsewhere. Healthcare organizations need to capture attention and manage customer lifecycles just like other industries."
Using blockchain CRM to make lead generation obsolete
Jacob Hall is co-founder of Agingo Corp., which has built a search platform that uses blockchain and machine learning to identify which businesses are most trusted in more than 200 subjects. Agingo users can discover new companies within their chosen areas of interest as those companies gain trust in the Agingo community.
Companies will not be able to buy their way to the top of the search pile on Agingo, because it is not ad-driven.
"We think the current ad space is broken, and we want to change how people interact with the brands and people they love," Hall said.
One company will not be able to dominate multiple categories in retail, because companies must choose their search categories on Agingo.
"The fewer keywords you have, the higher you rank in your top category," Hall said. "There will be no targeted marketing. We take that away and give the user the power to say what they want and not have to see the same thing over and over because someone is tracking them and retargeting them."
According to Hall, Agingo's approach will affect CRM-based lead generation.
"Companies have had to advertise for leads and buy data with no way of telling where it came from," he said. "It's not like people provide data lineage for their email addresses."
Fellow co-founder Kyriakos Skiouris said smaller businesses will be able to compete effectively for attention in Agingo by earning trust.
"We love innovation and mom-and-pop shops. With traditional search, if you want to open a restaurant and get found, you have to be prepared to spend millions on marketing," he said. "When the people with the most money can get to the top, of course they will game the system. That is what we are trying to correct."
Like Tatro, Hall acknowledged that the future of blockchain CRM technology will be affected by user concerns regarding privacy. Agingo users can store their personal data in encrypted wallets and easily decide what information they want to share.
"As you see more and more breaches like Equifax, people are going to look to interact with people they trust," Hall said.
A guide to implementing blockchain
Visual insight into how blockchain technology works
Separating blockchain hype from reality