Customer Relationship Management: What Will The Next Five Years Bring?



A while back, I read an interesting post* from Lauren Carlson of online reviews site Software Advice who interviewed several experts in the realm of CRM to compile the top 5 trends to watch in the realm of customer relationship management over the next 5 years.


They were as follows:


  1. The Rise of Content Services
  2. The Realization of Real-time Customer Intelligence
  3. TV as Customer Engagement Channel
  4. Continued Adoption of Unified Communications
  5. Gamification in the Business Realm.


This got me thinking – how many of these concepts could not only be applied to CRM, but to ERP and business as a whole?


Some concepts like marketing and customer interaction through TV didn't really seem viable, not even for the realm of modern customer relationship management. I was of course skeptical until I read about a certain soft drink vendor in the US that used an ad spot during the Super Bowl to demonstrate how an app on a smart phone could be used to control polar bears on the TV screens in the viewer’s home. Wow, sci-fi meets sci-fact, meets smart marketing! However, that said, we are already seeing the interactive television services being applied in the healthcare setting – especially for things such as senior care.


Outside of this concept of TV as Customer Engagement Channel, the trends that grabbed my attention were: gamification, contextual CRM data, and taking consumer social products and moving these into the ERP system.


I, like others, use most of these concepts in my daily life. I certainly use games to get my kids to do things; rewards always work better than punishment. Nothing motivates kids to do their best than a potential reward - do this and then you will get that, clear your room and you can get an ice cream. So why shouldn't this work for motivating my colleagues, my subordinates, my sales people or even my machine operators. So I thought about how this could be used in a job shop or a distribution center. Imagine if gamification could be used to incentivize and reward employees for exceptional quality assurance or customer experience?


Contextual data is not a new concept and this has been around for as long as time. The key to this trend is that we will continue to use CRM to aggregate information and then use data from multiple sources to create a more detailed picture (think 3D versus 2D) of our customers, partners and suppliers. The topic of contextual CRM data and leveraging consumer social media channels is breathing new life into the concept of Customer Relationship Management, which is often called “the most critical application that is often used”. The use of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to track customers’ movements, likes and dislikes, and comments is increasingly helping companies move from simply collecting customer feedback to being true “listening organizations.” Online conversation mining, sentiment analysis, ratings and reviews, Web analytics, and social media monitoring allow companies to gain important insight to enable them to be more customer-centric.


Epicor Retail is already doing a lot of work in this area. Social Media is being used to generate in-store information to help target marketing to shoppers by trending their purchases across multiple locations. A customer can walk into a store, digitally check in, and then they might receive a special offer. These concepts might be more difficult to apply to traditional manufacturing or distribution customers in the short-term. In the long-term, the ability to gain a richer more, rounded view of customers and prospects will most definitely help drive promotions, intuitive offers, up-sell and cross-sell opportunities.


How can tapping into this Voice of the Customer make your company more successful? A organization is a collection of people, processes and customers. Effectiveness and efficiency is driven by how well the people and processes are “connected,” managed, and focused on delivering products and services that satisfy customers. Leveraging social networks can provide the means to identify who your customers are, find out exactly what they want and what kind of services and products they need, so your organization can best meet those needs.


The last of the trends that really grabbed my attention was that we will see an increase in the uptake of consumer Social Media products into the ERP. As an avid user of consumer social media products this is extremely appealing to me. Epicor is working actively to add consumer social media products into its core ERP product. Epicor Enterprise Search allows users to use consumer search capabilities to search for, view, and then work with ERP data. These search capabilities can be triggered using a special command from other productivity applications such as Microsoft Office Outlook, Word, or Excel.


The ability to consume bite size pieces of information about the world I live in in both appealing and something we all do on a daily basis – think Facebook, Twitter, MSN, Skype, etc. Activity stream management builds on this, collecting multiple data sources into one place to introduce a new way of disseminating ERP data across the organization. This allows the user to focus on what they want to see and when they want to see this instead of having to search for this or sift their way through reports, etc. From a customer relationship management perspective this offers endless possibilities: updates could be tweeted to the salesperson/account manager when an order status is changed, a delivery date is changed, the customer pays open invoices late, etc. This will allow the account manager to react more quickly to changes and respond to the customer.


These concepts can be taken and applied across the organization; combining the power of business process management (BPM), workflow and task management, and social media concepts will allow organizations to streamline processes in an entirely new way. Onboarding for new staff will be simpler as they will immediately recognize the tools that they are using on a daily basis. Combining this with contextual information will further enhance the power of the ERP application – a one-stop-shop for all my information needs.


The future is already here as they say. There is a good chance your competition is adopting these technologies today. Five years from now, if you haven’t mastered these new tactics and channels to support business activity and customer engagement, there’s a good chance you might no longer be the market leaders you once were...


*To read Lauren's original post, head to the Software Advice blog.


Posted by Robert Sinfield, Senior Manager, Product Marketing, Epicor


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