What direction is CRM software currently heading? And what CRM trends should your company be aware of so you can be at the forefront of innovation rather than a step behind?
CRM is a competitive, growing space. Everyone talks about providing best-in-class customer experiences, about CRM strategies and solutions, and about the vital role CRM plays in catapulting companies forward as marketplace demands intensify.
So how can your organization know which shiny new objects are worth pursuing?
We’ve pulled in research and asked industry experts for their take to provide insights you can apply at your own company.
Let’s see where CRM is headed in 2020.
- 84% of consumers value the experience they have as much as the product or service a company offers
- AI use cases are projected to increase more than 250% over the next two years
- Positive social media interactions make people 7x more likely to purchase
- Marketing organizations are expected to use data from 15 sources in 2019
- CRM adoption will grow at 13.5% CAGR over the next three years
CRM Trends for 2020
1. The Age of Customer Experience
Business revolves around the customer today more than ever. So it’s no surprise customer experience is predicted to become the top brand differentiator by 2020.
Consumers agree, according to a 2019 Salesforce survey. In it, 84% of respondents ranked the importance of experience at the same level as products or services.
Trying to compete solely — or even primarily — on product and price is a losing battle in today’s arena.
People go where the best experience takes them, and Forrester research has shown that the majority are always willing to try out new products and brands. Furthermore, acquiring a new customer is a whopping 500% more costly than retaining an existing one.
Knowing this, your organization’s goal should be to deliver a better experience than competitors, not only to draw new prospects but more importantly to boost customer loyalty.
Today’s CRM platforms are much more robust than previous iterations. With a CRM implemented, sales, marketing and customer service teams have a host of tools at their disposal that can empower CX initiatives.
Shep Hyken, CAO at Shepard Presentations, identifies two drivers of an exceptional experience: convenience and competition.
Hyken says that when it comes to CX, convenience is king. “The company that’s easiest to do business with is ultimately going to win.”
Companies also need to realize their direct competition isn’t the only competition. In the world of CX, Hyken explains, people don’t have different buckets for different companies — e.g., their experience with a B2B manufacturer vs. a luxury retailer.
“The service a customer has is being compared to the best service they received from anyone,” Hyken says. “Customers know what a good experience is like because they learned it from Nordstrom, Amazon and any other company that provided a rockstar experience.”
Personalization is another CRM trend worth noting. Not because it’s new to the game, but because it’s becoming more hyper focused and individualized.
Creating relevant, personalized content is old hat, after all. The difference is that CRM platforms built with intelligent, real-time capabilities allow companies to take the next step toward a more connected, customer-centric approach.
Think about companies like Netflix or Amazon. One of the reasons they’re successful, Hyken says, is their ability to serve up personalized content, whether it’s suggested products based on a recent purchase or TV show recommendations similar to the one you just watched.
And the reason such precise targeting is possible is largely thanks to one of the hottest customer relationship management trends: artificial intelligence.
2. The Role of AI
AI is not only here, it’s on the path to major growth, according to Salesforce research. Respondents to the 2019 State of Marketing report indicated that their AI use cases would go up 257% over the next two years.
The areas poised to see the greatest expansion were:
- Customer segmentation and lookalike data modeling (277% increase)
- Programmatic advertising and media buying (269% increase)
- Personalization of the channel experience (266% increase)
The possibilities are nearly endless when it comes to applying AI in CRM. And the market is huge; by 2020 it will be worth $73 billion according to Infoholic Research.
With that in mind, here are some AI trends worth paying attention to:
David H. Deans, Senior Partner of David H. Deans & Associates, sees AI as a tool companies can use to more effectively manage their relationships with customers. AI will be able to “create ‘personalized agents’ that, via machine learning, discover the primary needs and wants of sellers for automated assistance,” he explains.
One of the biggest benefits of AI is its capacity to take over tedious, time-consuming manual tasks. The ultimate goal, Deans says, is to use robotic automation to enhance productivity.
Hyken agrees AI can be helpful but doesn’t see it advancing much beyond improving in its current function: answering basic customer questions. So while AI is getting better at what it already does, it won’t replace humans anytime in the next several years.
In fact, Hyken suggests that AI actually enhances service agents’ abilities to help customers. It does this by analyzing customer data such as past calls and buying patterns to generate a profile that gives agents a better understanding of the customer. This lets the agents deliver a more personalized interaction.
With enough data points to parse, Hyken says, AI applications can even predict what question the customer will ask next or make recommendations about what the customer will call back about so service reps can address those issues proactively.
AI also powers conversational features such as chatbots and voice assistants like the Einstein Voice program currently in the works at Salesforce.
John Chan, Software Lab Director at ISM, points out that chatbots mainly aid customer service efforts. This ranges from helping users find answers to directing prospects or customers to the correct location in their search.
Looking forward, he thinks AI has significant potential to move beyond basic inquiries. “In the coming years, it may be possible for chatbots to use natural language processing, deep neural networks and conversational capabilities to comprehend consumer inquiries, while automatically providing an appropriate response,” Chan says.
Natural language processing (NLP) is a feature that enables computers to effectively converse with customers by understanding human language. Chan highlights several ways NLP can play a role in customer service:
- Determining which requests are the highest priority
- Classifying those requests so agents know what’s most urgent or important and can respond accordingly
- Analyzing customer emails to better understand their sentiment
Voice assistants aren’t a new concept, thanks to products like Alexa. And there’s no denying their popularity. A 2019 Microsoft report found that 72% of respondents conducted voice searches using a digital assistant over the last six months.
In the CRM world, several systems already have voice assistant functionality in place, and Chan sees advanced tools coming in the future that will allow “CRM users to dictate their commands rather than manually typing in the requested information.”
AI will also enable actions like recording voice meetings, creating transcripts and identifying topics or words that have a specific meaning, Chan says.
Lastly, AI brings predictive analytics capabilities and data intelligence to the table.
AI enhances forecasts and makes sense of the reams of data stored in a CRM to drive improved business outcomes. Examples include segmenting customers based on certain factors and revealing popular products, Hyken says.
AI also identifies patterns in user behavior to enhance selling opportunities.
“AI-powered analytics help sales reps readily respond to market dynamics by providing them with real-time insights into customer preferences, sentiments and a host of other buying triggers,” Chan explains. “These insights can empower sales reps to shift from solution-related selling to insight-related selling.”
AI as Support, Not a Silver Bullet
Like any trend, AI has shortcomings. Hyken points out one of the potential downfalls: AI can negatively impact customer experience.
“Companies are becoming enamored with technology, and as a result, they get excited about it and think it’s the answer,” he says. “What actually ends up happening is technology puts distance between the customer and the company as far as the connection that would cause a customer to want to come back again.”
While a lot of hype surrounds AI, companies need to temper their enthusiasm over new technology with an understanding of its impact internally and externally. This will allow technology to become the catalyst for achieving the ultimate goal: serving the customer.
3. Mobile CRM Isn’t Going Away
Mobility has long been a central component of sales activities. An Aberdeen Group study from back in 2012 was already highlighting the importance of extending CRM systems beyond the confines of the office.
But that doesn’t mean mobility is a bygone trend. If anything, as processes become more involved, the workforce becomes more scattered and buyer demands place more pressure on sales reps to perform, putting the power of CRM into the palm of your workforce’s hand will only serve to propel your brand further down the road to success.
Mobile CRM solutions, according to a 2018 report from MarTech Advisor, have a lot to offer:
- Strong security features
- Intuitive interfaces
- Apps that work across platforms
- The ability for sales professionals to transition between online and offline environments with ease
As you evaluate your current CRM — or look at implementing your first CRM — don’t underplay the value mobility can bring to your operations.
4. CRM Will Continue to Get Social
As the customer experience bar raises to new heights, social media has become a focal point.
Social channels allow companies to connect with their audience in real time and build brand equity where prospects and customers are already spending time. It also enables one-to-one marketing and the personal attention customers crave.
A 2019 report on marketing trends showed why social publishing and advertising are valuable. From lead generation and customer acquisition to customer retention and customer advocacy, social is among the highest channels for ROI across the customer journey.
In a recent CRM Land article, Christopher Sirk states that “a positive interaction on social media … makes a user 71% more likely to buy stuff from your business.”
Another Salesforce study examined customer preferences in B2B and B2C in 2019. It found a couple things worth noting:
- Four out of every ten respondents would do business with a brand only if they could use their channel of choice.
- 78% want different channels for different contexts.
These findings point to the importance of incorporating social channels into CRM platforms and strategies. From providing valuable data to offering social listening opportunities, social media has set itself up as a lynchpin of CRM activities.
Taken a step further, social CRM also facilitates better customer service. MarTech Advisor suggests that social CRM is to customer service agents what mobile CRM is to sales reps.
CRM integrated with social media platforms enhances the customer experience. To illustrate, say a customer needs a problem solved. They can hop onto their preferred social media site and connect with the company via messaging or by @tagging a handle dedicated to customer service issues.
Email and phone support aren’t dead, but some customers will prefer the ease of using social media to resolve their question. And that’s the point. Giving people the option to choose which platform to connect with your organization, on their terms, is a fundamental part of winning.
In a world where empowering customers and elevating the experience is top-of-mind, social CRM will continue to grow in prominence.
5. CRM Software Will Become More User-Friendly
David Dozer, CTO of Blaze IT LLC, believes the coming few years will bring about a “renaissance of simplicity, where the focus shifts back to making things easy and simple to use.”
“CRM systems have grown and evolved so much over the last decade that in some cases they now mimic ERP systems in some areas. This is great on the surface, but for a salesperson who’s on the road and needs to focus on selling, or a customer service rep who’s trying to find the right information quickly, the systems have become somewhat cumbersome.”
AI is one example of CRMs catering more to end-users. In a recent Forbes article, Adrian Bridgewater describes how Salesforce has taken steps to make AI capabilities accessible for non-technical users, using a lone line of code. He goes on:
“In some cases, where the AI functions … can be compartmentalized into what are almost mini-apps in and of themselves, it’s not even a line of code … it’s just a click to say that the person creating the software would like to have that function available.”
Deans also sees usability playing a critical role. “Everyone has access to the same basic capabilities. Therefore, vendors must enable more application customization to address this value-add requirement.”
Deans says that people will adopt the intuitive capabilities and ignore the rest.
From a vendor standpoint, this means to “never under-estimate the power of a superior user experience,” he says.
And from a buyer standpoint, it means to seek out the solutions setting themselves apart by offering that next-level experience. After all, as Dozer emphasizes, “In order to be truly effective, CRM systems must be easy to use.”
6. CRMs Won’t Live in a Vacuum
A MarTech Advisor article by Surajit Nath identifies several key systems companies should integrate with CRM. In addition to standbys such as marketing automation, customer service tools and email, he makes the case for analytics software and customer data platforms (CDP) among others.
Integration is something Dozer sees major potential for as well. “Most current generation CRM systems do a good job of tracking internal sales activities, but there’s still a huge amount of external interactions that happen outside of the CRM system,” which he says creates “a wealth of information available.”
The statistics agree. Salesforce research revealed that marketers used data from 12 sources in 2018, a number projected to jump to 15 this year. On top of that, seven in ten organizations used second-party data in 2018, a 19% increase over 2017.
Dozer concludes, “It will be up to the manufacturers of these apps to leverage [the information outside the CRM] so that businesses can tap into it and better serve existing customers while expanding their reach to new customers.”
The internet of things (IoT) also presents substantial integration possibilities. The number of IoT connected devices is projected to climb from 22 billion in 2018 to 39 billion by 2025. Furthermore, CRM systems are beginning to incorporate connections to IoT feeds, Chan says.
“IoT will be a significant advancement in the CRM market, as it will improve system performance, enhance customer service and increase sales,” Chan predicts. “IoT devices can send data about product issues, maintenance needs and improper usage to an organization’s CRM platform.”
IoT/CRM integration will allow companies to take advantage of feeding more data into the system for deeper insight that leads to more strategic marketing efforts.
Chan says it will also facilitate fast, efficient customer service:
“For example, there are hospital refrigeration units that store medications. If a detection device determines the coolant is low or the temperature is problematic, the refrigeration unit will send out a critical message to the refrigerator manufacturer via an IoT platform. Afterward, the manufacturer will receive the message and relay it to the hospital’s CRM/IoT system. The CRM system will then issue a case to notify the hospital staff of this problem.”
As a CRM buyer or user, it’s important to consider which integrations will best support your operations. You’ll also gain value by determining how to pull in data from outside your CRM and putting it to work.
7. Channel-Less CRM
This is a relatively recent development but one that Hyken believes is the biggest opportunity moving forward for CRM users and vendors. And it applies not to how CRMs can aid customers but to how they can streamline internal activities.
“Right now, there are so many different ways you can communicate with a company,” he says. “You can use the phone, email, text, messaging apps or social media.”
Although this omnichannel approach makes it easy for people to reach a company, it creates an environment where the average full-time service rep is switching screens up to 1,100 times a day. Although Hyken believes that estimate might be on the low end.
Where omnichannel refers to multiple communication lines between a customer and company, a channel-less approach doesn’t care about the specific channel used. Interaction can happen on any channel.
Hyken points out that most importantly, “One piece of software will handle all the channels. The only difference is that there’ll be a window that says ‘This is coming in via text message’ or ‘This is coming in via social media on Twitter.’”
Such technology will centralize all communications for service agents to view and act on.
Hyken concludes, “I think we’ll see a lot of [vendors] figuring out how to consolidate all these different channels into one piece of software that does virtually everything. We [as companies] want to be easy and convenient for customers, but we also need to be easy and convenient for the people who use the software.”
CRM’s explosion has been well documented, and Gartner forecasts its adoption will continue to grow at 13.5% CAGR through 2022.
Dozer is among those that see a market expansion being sustained. The reason, he explains, is that CRMs have become such a central part of a business’s tech stack, showing other companies the gains to be had.
“Now that CRM has become a ubiquitous term,” he says, “a lot of smaller sales departments are starting to see the value in having structured data and are beginning to utilize true CRM systems to manage their data.”
This has brought changes at the vendor level as companies seek to strengthen their offerings. One of the most notable examples of this is from the headline news in June when Salesforce acquired business intelligence vendor Tableau.
Some companies are even transforming. Mailchimp announced earlier this year that its email marketing solution has undergone an upgrade to an “all-in-one marketing platform.”
What to make of all this? Dozer believes the popularity of CRM is a good thing for vendors. “Even though the landscape is getting more crowded,” he says, “there will be room for everyone.”
However, he adds a caveat:
“CRM providers need to be specific in who they’re trying to serve with their product. Is it the business that has two salespeople and the sales manager is also the CEO or General Manager? Or the business with 20 outside reps, 10 inside reps and a whole customer service department? It’s important to distinguish that because those solutions look very different.”
From Deans’ perspective, Salesforce has set the standard for many companies. “Competitors will need to create something truly compelling (price and/or performance) to gain market share.”
CRM trends are like ocean breezes — the companies that stay aware of which way the wind is blowing can maneuver so they’re better positioned to sail toward success.
That doesn’t mean putting so much stock in each trend that your business ends up choosing different end goals to accommodate every wave of new development. The destination should always be the same. But tacking effectively will get you there in a faster, more efficient manner.
If these trends have made you aware of shortcomings in your organization’s CRM, or if you’re looking to upgrade so you don’t get left in the wake of more savvy companies, our CRM comparison guide is a good starting point. It will help orient you to the features available across a range of vendors.
What customer relationship management trends do you expect to play out in 2020? Did we miss any? Share your insights in the comments!
Contributing Thought Leaders
Shep Hyken is a customer service and experience expert and the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. He is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author, and his articles have been read in hundreds of publications. He also created a customer service training program that helps clients develop a customer service culture and loyalty mindset. Shep works with companies and organizations who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees.
David H. Deans
David H. Deans is the Senior Partner of David H. Deans & Associates. As a seasoned entrepreneur, he has worked within the multinational telecommunications, enterprise software, new media and ICT professional services industries. He is a frequent presenter at industry trade shows and conferences, and the author of numerous published articles and white papers on technology applications, public policy and organization development.
John Chan serves as the Software Lab Director for ISM. His responsibilities include testing software and defining the evaluation criteria for The Guide to CRM Automation as well as assisting with the implementation of ISM’s CRM Software Selection program. Prior to joining ISM in 1999, John worked on numerous marketing and consulting projects, including conducting a market research project for Citibank and organizing focus groups for US Airways.
David Dozer is a business consulting and IT specialist with more than 15 years of experience in the enterprise software realm. He has dedicated his career to helping clients find and implement software solutions that meet real-world business needs. In his current role as CTO of Blaze IT LLC, he focuses on helping small companies with their digital operations. David is also a member of the SelectHub Thought Leader program.