The CRM technology market
The four main vendors of CRM systems are Salesforce.com, Microsoft, SAP and Oracle. Other providers are popular among small- to mid-market businesses, but these four tend to be the choice of large corporations.
On-premises CRM puts the onus of administration, control, security and maintenance of the database and information on the company itself. With this approach the company purchases licenses up front instead of buying yearly subscriptions. The software resides on the company’s own servers and the user assumes the cost of any upgrades and usually requires a prolonged installation process to fully integrate a company’s data. Companies with complex CRM needs might benefit more from an on-premises deployment.
With cloud-based CRM — also known as SaaS (software-as-a-service) or on-demand CRM — data is stored on an external, remote network that employees can access anytime, anywhere there is an Internet connection, sometimes with a third-party service provider overseeing installation and maintenance. The cloud’s quick, relatively easy deployment capabilities appeals to companies with limited technological expertise or resources.
Companies might consider cloud-based CRM as a more cost-effective option. Vendors such as Salesforce.com charge by the user on a subscription basis and give the option of monthly or yearly payments.
Data security is a primary concern for companies using a cloud-based system since the company doesn’t physically control the storage and maintenance of its data. If the cloud provider goes out of business or is acquired by another company, a company’s data can be compromised or lost. Compatibility issues can also arise when data is initially migrated from a company’s previous system to the cloud. Finally, cost may be a concern, since paying subscription fees for software can be more costly than on-premises-based models.
Open source CRM programs make source code available to the public, allowing companies to make alterations with no cost to the company employing it. Open source CRM systems also allow the addition and customization of data links to social media channels, assisting companies looking to improve social CRM practices. Vendors such as SugarCRM are popular choices in the open source market.
Adoption of any of these CRM deployment methods depends on a company’s business needs, resources and goals, since each has different costs associated with it.
Traditionally, data intake practices for CRM systems have been the responsibility of sales and marketing departments as well as contact center agents. Sales and marketing teams procure leads and update the system with information throughout the customer lifecycle and contact centers gather data and revise customer history records through service call and technical support interactions.
The advent of social media and the proliferation of mobile devices has caused CRM providers to upgrade their offerings to include new features that cater to customers who use these technologies.
Social CRM refers to businesses engaging customers directly through social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Social media presents an open forum for customers to share experiences with a brand, whether they’re airing grievances or promoting products.
To add value to customer interactions on social media, businesses use various tools that monitor social conversations, from specific mentions of a brand to the frequency of keywords used, to determine their target audience and which platforms they use. Other tools are designed to analyze social media feedback and address customer queries and issues. Companies are interested in capturing sentiments such as a customer’s likelihood of recommending their products and the customer’s overall satisfaction in order to develop marketing and service strategies. Companies try to integrate social CRM data with other customer data obtained from sales or marketing departments in order to get a single view of the customer.
Another way in which social CRM is adding value for companies and customers is customer communities, where customers post reviews of products and can engage with other customers to troubleshoot issues or research products in real time. Customer communities can provide low-level customer service for certain kinds of problems and reduce the number of contact center calls. Customer communities can also benefit companies by providing new product ideas or feedback without requiring companies to enlist feedback groups.
Mobile CRM — or the CRM applications built for smartphones and tablets — is becoming a must-have for sales representatives and marketing professionals who want to access customer information and perform tasks when they are not physically in their offices. Mobile CRM apps take advantage of features that are unique to mobile devices, such as GPS and voice-recognition capabilities, in order to better serve customers by giving employees access to this information on the go.
Customer relations: From interaction to conversation
We are witnessing, in numerous areas of daily life, a dematerialisation and cross border flow of data. From disks, we have moved on to mp3 files stored on our computers, to today, where live streaming reigns. This cloudification impacts customer relations, and while the transformation may not yet be complete, hard copy is slowly but surely making way for digital.
It is already often possible to consult one’s account and its activity directly online using a PC or tablet. Nonetheless, change is slow and the quantity of data visible on the client interface is not always satisfactory. Intelligent information must, in the future, be available to the client, and cloudification must allow bilateral information sharing. In summary, it must put the two stakeholders on an equal footing. This means one single dossier, complex or simple, that is understandable from one end of the chain to the other. For example, on my telephone operator’s site, I can see my invoices, my current consumption, and my monthly fee. But why don’t I have a clear view of my contracts (Internet, mobile, tablet) or the history of my requests, as opposed to telephone consultants from call centres? From our side, it is not always easy to reconstruct the complete chronology of our activities. An electronic health record is one example, and although this is not yet a fait accompli, it is a step in the right direction.
Consumers and clients want transparency, so might this not be the time for companies to make the leap?
The availability and collection of personal data are currently under debate, and will continue to be so. With the sharing of information, a simple interaction becomes a real conversation. There is less need to call on intermediaries and clients are in possession of all information, with one goal: improved understanding for smarter decision-making. For companies taking up this challenge, it will not be easy: they must deliver a maximum of information, in a concise and pertinent manner, without revealing their internal mechanisms and competitive advantages. With a shared data system, misunderstandings are minimised. Only information relating to the process and management will remain on the customer advisor side to avoid overloading the customer with technical information.
We already know how to create, with technologies like CloudView, not just readable information from raw data, but real intelligent information using the same data.
This is enhanced information that is not only readable, but that can be used in a decision-making process by highlighting key points for the client and the client record.
If cloudification enables the display and modification of data in real time, why can we not imagine completely transparent and shared information?
This idea means going above and beyond simply accessing the same information. It means having the same interface on the client and employee side with a view, for the client, to accessing all the information that concerns it without the company’s approval.
It means dealing with a transparent company that restores the same data for its advisors and its clients. If certain companies were ready to cross this threshold, they would need tools to manage the wealth of information available on their clients: to find, aggregate and present the data in a way that highlights pertinent information. We can also imagine servers equipped with semantic technology able to understand questions asked in a natural language by the client, and presenting clients with a document, a contact or link addressing client concerns. The issue of IT system security would become more important… as would, of course, the performance of the IT systems themselves.
The technology exists, the need is there, we just need to make the move.
There is still of course much to think about with respect to our core businesses. We have recently been asking ourselves about the outlook for this year. We must also prepare ourselves and think about what comes after.
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