I read this passage in an article on CIO.com yesterday:

Most election prediction shops and public polls in recent days foresaw Republican Donald Trump losing the U.S. presidential race to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

They got it wrong, bigly. And the failed predictions could cast doubts on some hot technology sectors, including big data and customer relationship management.

Let me begin by saying this isn’t a political post. Instead, I’m going to focus on the value of clean data. No matter what side of the vote you come down on, I think we can agree something went terribly wrong with the almost all of the pre-election predictions. The reason, the forecasters were working with incomplete data. Which, led to a shockingly inaccurate (at least according to what the data predicted) result.

Relating this back to the CRM industry. If your CRM has inaccurate data, you will also get an inaccurate result. If you are dealing with dirty data, how can your CRM project be successful? How can your sales team be efficient and perform at an optimal level? Once dirty data enters the CRM, it can be painstaking to cleanse.

Luckily, intelligent CRM can help by automatically bringing in a broad range of accurate data for a more complete view of the customer. In so doing, the CRM solves a problem that has often been a stubborn obstacle to CRM adoption — the time-consuming effort of having to add, edit and update information in the system. Even more important than gathering a tremendous amount of accurate data, a product like Sugar Intelligence will use predictive analytics to sift through the data to enable the CRM to make intelligent recommendations for insights and best actions to take when engaging with customers.

It’s been said we are in the era of “big data politics.” Perhaps by 2020, we’ll have evolved to a political era of predictive analytics or even machine learning. But, I’ll save that for a future post.

(Editor’s Note: the following is a guest blog post from Rachel Brink, the marketing manager at 3CLogic. It originally appeared on the SugarCRM Community)

customer-serviceFor most of today’s consumers, customer service plays a larger role in purchasing decisions than both price and product. And this fundamental shift has led many businesses to invest more resources in innovations that enhance the customer experience, including CRMs, Marketing Automation platforms, and contact center software. But despite an increased focus, there continues to exist a large gap—while 80% of businesses think they are delivering a superior customer experience, only 8% of consumers agree. How can organizations make better use of their data management and customer engagement solutions to streamline and automate customer service processes, and boost customer satisfaction?

 

1- Help customers help themselves

customer-service-channelsConsumers are increasingly gravitating towards self-service channels to resolve their problems and inquiries—in fact, self-service recently exceeded phone as the most used customer service touch point. Sugar Enterprise and Sugar Ultimate each offer a self-help portal, enabling customers to create cases, upload notes, track case statuses, manage subscriptions, and update account information. They also offer a searchable knowledge base where customers can find FAQs, troubleshooting guides, and product updates. Platforms such as 3CLogic’s contact center software also offer the ability to enable self-service via IVR menus—all of which will help decrease support costs, and boost customer satisfaction.

2 – Leverage client data to optimize queue management and call routing

While every customer is important, certain instances may require the need to prioritize specific incoming calls due to the client’s size, the urgency of their need, or their status (i.e. Premier Customer, etc.). When integrated with Sugar, 3CLogic’s contact center solution can automatically prioritize calls in the queue based on the clients’ information stored in Sugar records. It can also intelligently route calls to the individual best suited to address them based on a number of factors, including language, who the customer has worked with in the past, and the complexity of the case/agent skill level.

3 – Offer users immediate access to client records and cases

3clogic-sugar-integrationWhen assessing why certain cases were not resolved on the first call, customer service managers have found that more than half the time, it is due to the agent’s inability to quickly access customer information. But by leveraging Sugar in combination with a cloud communications platform, help desks can automatically populate agent screens with each client’s record and open cases upon every incoming call, facilitating fast and seamless customer support. Users will also have access to click-to-call functionality within each customer record or case for enhanced efficiencies.

4 – Automate the recording and documentation of callscrm-call-data

Less than ten percent of interactions are entered into the typical CRM, largely due to the fact that it is an extremely time consuming and manual process. And this lack of interaction data can inhibit service rep and managers’ ability to adequately understand previous as well as existing client issues. But by using a solution such as 3CLogic’s telephony platform, businesses can automatically save all call recordings and call details within each Sugar record or case, enabling reps and supervisors to better understand each customer’s service history. Call recordings can also be used by managers for coaching, and quality and training purposes.

5 – Measure, measure, measure

The only way to truly understand how your customer service team is performing, how satisfied your customers are, and what product or process changes need to be made, is by properly documenting all case information, interaction details, and customer feedback. Thanks to Sugar, this is quite easy to do using its reporting Module, offering actionable business intelligence including support team responsiveness, customer satisfaction scores, and incident frequency. Combined with call center data, managers can gain a better understanding of their team’s efficiency and where improvements should be made to cut down support costs and improve CSAT scores.

 

A couple weeks ago, I was speaking with a journalist about all of the recent “artificial intelligence” announcements in the CRM industry. We both agreed the marketing and PR people have found their new buzzword, and the AI-craze is getting to be a bit much.

What we disagreed about, is how important predictive analytics and machine learning will be for the daily CRM user in the future. His take, “If I’m a salesperson who is good at my job, I don’t need the CRM to tell me what to do next. I can already anticipate when my key accounts need attention and prioritize my hot leads. The benefits of AI seem marginal at best.”

My counter argument, “You’re not really getting it are you? Data is gold, and there is so much of it out there, and the value of AI is that your CRM will automatically gather it, organize it, and make recommendations based on the data far better than any human ever could. If a salesperson is already good at his or her job, imagine how much better they can be with his or her own tireless personal assistant.”

Then, over the weekend I read this very interesting HBR article, “Customer Relationship Automation Is the New CRM.” The author, Clara Shih (CEO and founder of Hearsay), made the point that CRM must evolve and incorporate data analytics and machine learning to reach its full potential. She wrote:

“Just as Amazon proactively suggests to someone who has purchased a stroller that they may also want to buy the coordinating car seat, enterprise apps should proactively advise enterprise users on what the highest-value or most-urgent tasks are so they can prioritize them. Artificial intelligence and decision-support algorithms that can offer data-driven suggestions will unleash a new level of productivity among workers, allowing everyone to focus on what matters and to continually help one another improve.

Harnessing the power of machines to recommend actions and approaches allows every salesperson to become data driven, freeing their time to focus on the human trust and relationship aspects of closing business.”

She brings up a great point. AI in CRM isn’t about replacing salespeople with machines, rather it’s about making them more productive and freeing them up to do what humans do best, which is to relate to other humans. Granted, there will be a learning curve and a needed cultural shift so that salespeople learn to trust the data and the CRM’s recommendations. This shift is coming sooner rather than later, SugarCRM’s initial version of Sugar Intelligence will be available early next year.

Clara concluded her article: “The future of CRM is harnessing predictive data to become a proactive system. Sales reps who are able to leverage robot assistants are the ones who will thrive in this new world.”

Agreed! So, if the question is: Does the CRM Industry Need AI? The answer is absolutely.

The scientific method is an elegant one – always experimenting in the pursuit of the truth and accepting that new facts overturn previous belief. Our experiences shape and builds our understanding, and and it’s critical to never assume we know everything.

Great marketing is borne of this mindset. Best practices, judgment, and instinct guide marketing strategy, but what sets makes it great is the practice of experimenting, observing, analyzing and breaking new ground.

If you’re a Marketer today, and you’re not thinking this way, it’s time to reflect on whether you’re doing your best.

Marketing must be transformational

Your organization might be failing because it’s not responding to changes in your marketplace. And, you might not even know it.

Unless you acknowledge that marketing needs to adopt an inquiring and observational mindset in order to identify and lead business transformation, then you’re missing a huge opportunity – for you and for your organization.

We’ve seen some spectacular failures where brands just haven’t responded to change quickly enough; Borders and Blockbusters have become sad case studies in failure. And, we’ve seen others like Amazon and Uber who have not only responded to new customer preferences, but been forward-thinking enough to shape them. So what about your organization? How can you make sure it’s a master of change, not a slave to it?

Understand and experiment based on holistic observation

Be brave enough to keep asking questions about your customers and your organization, and develop the means to answer them. Stay close to your customers – understanding what they want and why, what they’re doing, when and how.

This isn’t a new idea. But there are modern approaches that provide new insight, about customers, and opening up a whole new line of understanding. It has the potential to keep us right on the pulse of change so we can tell the organization how to respond.

What exactly is this new method?

SugarCRM recently partnered with Telsyte to talk with 255 CMOs in Australian & New Zealand about how they’re getting closer to customers and shaping business transformation based on their observations.

From those results, we produced a report for marketing leaders entitled “Digital Leaders Use Customer Journey Maps to Guide Business Transformation.”

The paper looks at the value of personas and customer journey maps in relation to business transformation, and some of the practical steps to implementing them.

About half the Marketing leaders said:

“Our team promotes an understanding of the customer across the organization, helping to shape its entire approach to business transformation.”

Are you in this half?

(Editor’s note: this post was originally published by DestinationCRM.com)

How did we, as an industry, get to a place where so many CRM customers have buyer’s remorse after they invest in a new system? I hear about it on social media, in user forums, and in meetings with prospects: Customers feel like they’ve been duped.

It helps to take a look at how we got here. Basically, the big traditional CRM and enterprise software companies have quietly promoted a set of CRM assumptions that steer customers toward antiquated solutions that fall far short of meeting the real needs of customers.

The negative impact is palpable, and making the wrong CRM choice makes it difficult to differentiate your business, removes choice and flexibility, doesn’t help create seamless customer experiences, makes individuals’ jobs harder, and winds up costing a lot more than expected.

It’s time to debunk these myths, and empower a new breed of CRM that helps customers transform their businesses by building extraordinary customer relationships from the first engagement forward.

Myth #1: I need to choose the most popular CRM to keep up with my competition.

Doing the same thing everybody else does is actually a risk. Why? It’s a terrible way to differentiate your business—and isn’t that what you’re trying to do? Being better means being different. If you want to differentiate yourself, go with a CRM that will transform your customer relationships, re-energize your customer-facing employees, and help you provide a truly exceptional customer experience.

The companies that win in this era of empowered, intelligent customers win because they create better experiences and better relationships with their customers. But using the same old CRM is the best way to deliver the same old customer experience.

Don’t be afraid to demand more from your CRM than adequate, average, and the status quo.

Myth #2: The cloud is the future, so the deployment environment doesn’t matter—just give me a cloud.

Ten years ago, the vendors who invented cool new SaaS offerings had to create their own cloud infrastructures—because there weren’t any others. But that was a long time ago. It’s now time for CRM champions to get much more sophisticated and choose the deployment model that meets your business, security and regulatory needs. Today, there are modern clouds from Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Rackspace, IBM, etc. These modern cloud environments are more affordable, flexible, reliable, and secure than any vendor’s proprietary cloud. Most importantly, they give you something you need and deserve: choice. And, don’t forget about private and hybrid cloud options. Those should be on the table as well.

Make your CRM deployment adjust to your business needs, not the other way around.

Myth #3: I have to buy different “suites” for the different departments in my business.

Traditionally, companies have been organized by function and department. The concept of CRM “suites” for different departments followed, and as a result, many organizations are often stuck in their old habits, using their legacy CRM technology to support separate, siloed business functions.

Buying multiple suites or clouds and development platforms to support sales, marketing, and service people increases complexity, cost, and time-to-market for your users. It also means you have to try to integrate different solutions, and that can be difficult, even if they are from the same vendor.

Instead, let’s look at the purpose of CRM from the beginning. What do you need it for? Isn’t it to build better relationships with your customers? Shouldn’t that apply to everyone in your company who interacts with them?

By making CRM available to all your teams, it ensures that no one in your company can claim ignorance and everyone has the latest on the status of your customer base.

Myth #4: When it comes to CRM, the sticker price is only the beginning.

For far too long, enterprise software vendors have gotten away with complex pricing models that make it very difficult to know how much your CRM is really going to cost. Vendors publish pricing that looks straightforward on the surface but requires a team of lawyers to really understand all the limitations and up-charges you’re going to face if you actually try to make the system do what you need it to do. These include:

  • Upcharges for system usage, which are often very hard to calculate and budget.
  • Charges for API calls, which equate to connections to other data sources.
  • Storage-based fees can balloon when storing large files such as PDFs or presentation slide decks in the system.
  • Charges for mobile access and more all make it very difficult to understand what your CRM solution is really going to cost.

There really is a better way. Simple and straightforward pricing should be the rule of the day so businesses can make their CRM initiative a strategic differentiator at a cost that works for them. Organizations should be able to make as many API calls as they want, store as much data as they want, and never be surprised by unexpected fees.

Myth #5: My CRM vendor can never be a true partner.

This one really bugs me. As an industry, we haven’t done a good job of being true partners that our customers enjoy doing business with. Sure, we need to make our products easy to use, pricing straightforward and deployment flexible. But even more important than all that, a CRM vendor should strive for an open and accountable relationship that creates trust.

Your CRM should be committed to our role as a trusted partner in your success, providing a holistic view of how you can balance people, processes, and systems to build extraordinary customer relationships—and steering clear of the above CRM myths is the first step in achieving this goal.

First-generation CRM vendors have sold a lot of software. But they haven’t helped a lot of companies build great relationships with their customers.

It’s time to stop accepting the conventional wisdom about CRM, and start exploring the power of being different.

Naming products is both an art and a science. Marketers work hard to come up with names that resonate with their target customers, maybe evoke a specific emotion, maybe tell you what the product does. Sometimes its a hit, sometimes its a miss. Heck, we named our company Sugar and then decided SugarCRM was closer to home. Either way, the name “Sugar” was stepping outside the bounds of normal back in 2004 and it’s been a hit for us.

It’s certainly fun to watch all of the companies out there name their new AI services. From IBM with Watson (that’s their founder’s last name, not Sherlock’s sidekick) to Microsoft with Cortana (which cracks me up as a Halo fan) to SugarCRM with Candace (Candace…candy…sugar…get it?), we are seeing a whole new set of opportunities for marketers to make their impact with compelling names and creating compelling identities. It was exciting to announce Candace back in June 2016 and describe the future of CRM and AI together.

Our friends at Salesforce joined the fun a couple weeks ago and announced their approach to CRM and AI. They chose to name their AI service “Einstein.” But I’m going to pause on the obvious for a moment. Einstein? Really?!

Personally, I think Marc Benioff and his marketing team have let their hubris finally get to them in a big, big way. To try and steal the “Einstein” identity away from Albert Einstein, one of the greatest legends of modern history, is absolutely ridiculous. It is simply yet another illustration of how Salesforce continues to lose touch with their customers and believe the hype they spout about themselves everyday.

My fellow marketers at Salesforce, this is beneath you. Here’s a wag of the finger at the Salesforce marketing department.

 

We can all picture a swan gliding calmly over still waters. As business people, most of us can’t help thinking of those two legs beneath, paddling tirelessly, navigating currents, rocks, weeds and the odd pinching crab.

In the business world, you need to paddle hard to be a swan these days. Consumers’ expectations of always-on, mobile-friendly digital services are crossing industry boundaries so that it’s not good enough to just be better than your direct competitors. Instead, your business is being compared with the best customer experience in every industry. If it’s too complicated to get something done on a small screen with tiny keys, then your customers go elsewhere.

Further, every industry is at risk of disruption by new digital-native entrants, whose business models are designed with a customer-centric digital strategy first, and who move with an agility that established businesses struggle to match.

Customer Experience

In the past, “customer experience” has been something you could bolt onto a business, but in this age of the customer, the customer experience goes to the heart of every business model.

Analyst group Forrester refers to the three E’s of customer experience; Was the experience effective in achieving the outcome the customer desired? Was the experience easy to complete? Was it enjoyable; or at least leave the customer in as good a mood as when they started?

Even if your business provides an effective service to historically loyal customers, if your competitors can provide a similar service that is easier and more enjoyable, then you are at risk of losing that loyalty.

The burden of complexity must sit somewhere

How do you make experiences easy and enjoyable? Unfortunately, it is often the case that the easier it looks for the customer, the harder your company needs to paddle under to the water to deliver the great experience.

Every business has to have structure and departments; it is why we often refer to companies as “organizations”. However, the particular idiosyncrasies of your organizational structure are not the customer’s problems. Customers don’t need to know that a particular interaction crosses three departments. The burden of this complexity shouldn’t be pushed onto the customer. They don’t care.

So how can you manage this complexity?

There was a time where the answer was to buy a fully integrated application that crossed all business functions. Unfortunately, the reality is that IT systems evolve at different rates; ERP systems that manage finances and warehouses evolve more slowly than CRM and Marketing Automation systems, and new social media management tools are released each week.

As a result, a fully integrated suite is likely to be really good in one area but result in a whole lot of compromises in others. These compromises may impact aspects of the customer journey today, or reduce your agility by preventing you from changing components in the future.

Best practice today involves favoring agility over efficiency. A highly efficient system that restricts your company’s ability to adapt to rapidly changing customer demand will ultimately cost you dearly. “Orchestrating” information systems so they share data through loosely coupled web-services or middleware layers provides the ability to deliver great a customer experience, and easily replace any individual technology component that starts to play out of tune.

No-one is an expert any more – make data driven decisions

It used to be that 25 years experience in an industry would make you an expert on how your customers behave. Now, customer behavior is changing so fast that you it’s dangerous to rely on these long-held “gut-feeling” type opinions.

Today we’re awash in data. Use what data you have, or start to gather the evidence you need to make decisions. When you’re unsure, run experiments; test ideas. Resist hubris, and be humble enough to accept that the accepted wisdom may no longer be true.

Understand Customers

Ultimately it is the customer that matters to every business. If you want to understand your customers, you need to embrace complexity and turn it to your advantage, use your Customer Relationship Management system to consolidate information and surface new insight. Who are your ideal customers of the future and why? What motivates them, what will their journeys look like, and how can you redesign your business to deliver the best customer experience?

Be the swan. Use technology and insight to focus on all the right questions, and create elegant, simple answers. Your customers will thank you for it.