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By Clint Oram, Co-founder and CTO at SugarCRM

Think you know who in your organization is part of your customer service team? Think again. The fact is that almost every employee is potentially customer facing in today’s social era, compliments of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, to name a few.

Fifteen years ago the customer relationship management dynamic was entirely different and much more finite. Back then employees in just a handful of departments engaged with customers through traditional channels — email, phone, chat or face to face. But the landscape evolved and direct lines of communication to customers have been extended to everyone in an organization — even back-office or “invisible” employees — via social channels. (Here at SugarCRM, for example, several of our engineers might blog for us, and these blogs are read and commented on by our customers.) This practice is not unique to SugarCRM. Many companies encourage their employees to responsibly engage with customers via Google+, Twitter or another social channels.

Unfettered access to a range of employees is a major benefit to customers who want to consocial-customer-care-1nect with company representatives apart from those in the marketing, sales or customer service departments. Today’s customer wants to make a human connection with “regular people,” and know, like and trust those they do business with. Social media facilitates this type of connection. But the challenge is ensuring customer engagement is consistent and effective across the company regardless of which communication channel is used. It’s also important to provide value to the customer in each interaction, so having critical, up-to-date customer information at hand is critical throughout the customer journey.

In a recent article on ZDNet, best-selling author, Paul Greenberg, argues that customer’s voices, amplified by social media these days, makes them feel entitled to an amazing customer experience at the speed of light and woe to companies that don’t give it to them. He also goes on to say that if companies want to provide an amazing experience, they really need to understand, and be in close contact with, their customers. They need to be engaged with their customers. What a concept!

So, how do you stay ahead of this challenge and create a customer-centric culture at your company? Here’s a start:

  • Choose a CRM system that extends across the organization to all employees. With traditional CRM systems, we see that they are typically relegated to users in marketing, sales and support. If CRM was extended to everyone in the organization, imagine the customer relationships that could be nurtured and imagine the level of customer satisfaction that could be achieved.
  • Pick a CRM that is social-ready with an advanced user experience. Sugar helps you manage all social interactions with collaboration tools and contextual intelligence within a single dashboard.  This turns every individual into a customer expert by uniquely personalizing their interactions, creating a 360-degree customer view and driving true customer loyalty.
  • Recognize that great customer service is not solved by technology, but rather supported by it. Truly becoming customer-centric may require significant cultural changes inside an organization. Invest in this initiative. By getting every potential customer-facing employee to understand the value that they bring to the organization as a brand ambassador, and equipping them with the tools and information to facilitate superior customer experiences, the results will be overwhelmingly positive.

In our hyper-connected world, it’s imperative that all employees have the same access to customer information to deliver a consistent experience and avoid appearing fragmented and siloed. In essence, all employees can/should evolve into “customer experts.” This is how you ensure customer experience integrity is maintained in the 21st century.

This mission has guided SugarCRM throughout its decade-long history — well before the social media wave hit our shores. The company was, after all, founded on the idea that customer relationship management is more than marketing, sales or customer support automation. We have always inherently championed the individual, and emphasized that each customer-facing employee (these days that means everyone with a Twitter handle or Facebook profile) should be empowered to create extraordinary customer relationships.

By Laurence Leong, Senior Director, IBM Alliance, SugarCRM

Both Analytics and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) have been around for a long time, and provide value on their own. But organizations can gain more value when analytics is embedded into, and presented in context of, CRM.

In fact, at SugarCRM, our view is that CRM is not just about tracking sales opportunities or service cases for management; our view is that a CRM system should make every customer-facing individual, such as a sales or service agent, more effective and productive. SugarCRM CTO and Co-founder, Clint Oram, said it best when he said “A CRM system should tell sellers and service people something they don’t already know.” Analytics, embedded directly into CRM, are a big piece of this.

Imagine a sales person going into their CRM system and not only seeing their list of opportunities – but seeing which opportunities have highest propensity to buy, and which opportunities have highest propensity to close.

One SugarCRM customer – who happens to be IBM – does exactly this. By now you’ve probably heard the story and read the Ovum analyst report of how IBM uses Sugar for IBM’s 45,000+ sales people worldwide. What you may not know is that IBM also uses a set of rich predictive analytics tools – including its own analytics offerings – along with two years’ worth of account and industry information – to provide its sellers with an indication of the opportunities’ likelihood to both make a purchase, and to close a pending deal. This is not a simple lead score, but advanced predictive modeling. For IBM sellers are thus more effective and productive because their CRM system tells them something they don’t already know.

At the IBM Insight 2014 conference, I will be speaking on this topic along with Mike Padilla from the IBM CIO office – see details and materials here.

SugarCRM also partners extensively with IBM in a number of other analytics areas.

  • Sugar includes built-in reporting that provides Sugar uses with the ability to report on a wide variety of CRM data.
  • For customers that need more powerful analytics capabilities, we introduced an offering this year called “Sugar Analytics Powered by Cognos Business Intelligence” or “Sugar Analytics” for short. As the name implies, Sugar Analytics includes IBM Cognos Business Intelligence under the covers. We’re excited to be able to offer the industry-leading capabilities of Cognos, pre-integrated into Sugar and on a subscription basis. You can see a screenshot of Cognos reports embedded directly into the Sugar UI below. Find out more herePicture1
  • For customers that already have Cognos, Sugar provides a Sugar Connector for Cognos BI which extends those customers’ existing investment in Cognos and integrates it seamlessly into Sugar.
  • SugarCRM was also one of only three partners on stage at IBM’s September launch of Watson Analytics. We’re excited about the new capabilities of Watson Analytics including the built-in predictive model, the very compelling new user interface, the ability to ask questions in a natural language, and the freemium cloud pricing model. Look for more between Sugar and IBM Watson Analytics soon.
  • Speaking of Watson – how would you like to take advantage of the power of the supercomputer that won the game show Jeopardy! and combine that with your CRM? Findability Sciences, an IBM Watson Ecosystem partner as well as a SugarCRM partner, has done just that, with a solution called “Impact Measurement and Analysis” (IMA). 70% of non profits say at least half their funders demand impact measurements. Yet, determining that impact often involves time-consuming human perusal of thousands of pages of grant proposals and other lengthy reports. The IMA solution integrates Watson along with SugarCRM to provide a revolutionary way to measure and analyze impact for non-profits. See it in action here or see the screenshot below (note the “Ask Watson” button on the Sugar screen).
  • IMA

At SugarCRM, we’re excited about the possibilities of providing analysis and insight for customer-facing individuals like sales and service representatives, and we’re partnering with IBM to do so. Learn more at sugarcrm.com/ibm.

What are your thoughts on analytics and CRM? Contact the author at lleong@sugarcrm.com, or on @laurenceleong.