CRM tools have revolutionized customer engagement

Changing customer habits and the use of technology have encouraged a whole new set of CRM tools that can provide faster access to information.

SQDM shares an article published by the TechTarget portal, highlighting customer engagement through social media and how to strengthen a CRM business strategy by paying attention to such channels.

Customer relationship management is certainly nothing new, and yet the rapid evolution of CRM presents the market with an almost perpetual sense of novelty.  Today’s CRM tools provide far more capabilities than traditional technologies, and include functionality that makes them indispensable for both small and large companies.

What is driving this growth in CRM?  For businesses, it’s the advent of mobile and cloud technologies-better tools for accessing information immediately make CRM a real-time necessity.  For customers, social media is rapidly expanding the buyer’s role in market evolution, product development and the proliferation of effective marketing and sales channels.

Customer engagement strategies today

Increasingly, as social media opens up new ways to connect with existing and potential customers, it becomes more important to refresh customer engagement strategies – not just on a frequent basis, but on an ongoing basis.

Managing customer relationships has become more complex in recent years-for no other reason than the amount of customer information to manage.  But more than that, it’s the customer who defines how the engagement happens; customers rely on social media tools including Facebook and Twitter to air their grievances, and good customer care depends on marketing and sales teams.

Technology and customer perception

The crux of CRM is in creating a more personal approach to attracting and retaining customers, as you add big data that can more effectively represent the market as a whole.

The biggest recent shift has been toward two-way customer engagement; it’s not just about coming up with a better understanding of the customer and a better plan to respond to their needs, but also opening up new channels of information.  This includes learning to listen to customers through social media, to learn what is being said about a company’s services and products.

Technology has quickly made these channels reliable sources of brand awareness and new avenues of customer engagement, going beyond marketing and sales.  Mobile technology and cloud platforms make this new communication simple and hassle-free.  The challenge is to devise the best strategy to make it work.

How does CRM benefit customer engagement?

CRM tools do much more than aggregate customer profiles and analyze buyer behavior.  Here are some of the latest customer engagement features:

Selective social media presentation.  As attention spans shrink in the internet age, CRM empowers marketing teams to target the right customers on social media through a combination of analytics and demographic data capabilities.

Pre and post behaviors.  Social media monitoring can create a map of a customer’s online journey, illuminating not only their buying habits, but also their social profile.  This provides insights into what customers are interested in and what they think is important.

Two-way communication. Through social media, it is now possible to directly engage customers and prospects beyond the confines of the company-not only listening to what they say to each other about the brand, but also opening a door that allows for inferences about product development, customer service improvement and peer-to-peer product support.

The evolving market of CRM tools

All of these innovations derive not from the CRM market as such, but from its response to changing customer habits and the use of technology.  The rapid evolution of CRM and the accompanying advancement of new functionality in CRM tools represent the rapid adaptation to growing customer engagement online.

CRM tools keep pace with the evolution of social technology and expand at the same pace (or nearly at the same pace) with every shift in consumer behavior in social media and technologies, prompting corresponding improvements in technology and CRM methodology.  Without a doubt, today’s CRM tools look very different from traditional CRM management tools.

A quick look at traditional CRM

From the beginning, CRM has been about improving a company’s means of identifying, attracting and retaining customers, as well as automating these processes as much as possible.  This includes generating new sales leads from marketing teams, scoring those leads, and following up on those that look like good prospects to convert to sales.

Part of that task has included becoming more adept at refining – and correctly employing – demographic data that supports the development of those leads.  The other part of that task includes cultivating lead profiles that provide insight – not only into their buying habits but a picture of their lifestyles, with the goal of knowing the customer’s needs in order to be able to determine how they may change over time.

Next comes the refinement of sales processes to align with that improved marketing effort, synchronizing sales with high-precision identification to establish where the customer is in the cycle or pathway.  The pipeline concept is centered on the customer’s buying cycle and allows for an individualized customer experience, as well as broader opportunities for the sales team to intervene and resolve incidents.

Finally, there is the problem of retaining customers for the long term, which requires constant nurturing of the relationship and ongoing cultivation of brand loyalty.  Turning a one-time customer into a long-term loyal one requires careful study of their buying habits, attention to their needs and articulate responses to their questions or requests, as well as early, personalized and effective resolution of their incidents.  Nurturing the relationship after marketing and sales have done their job is the real core of effective CRM – it is the single most effective contribution to a positive customer experience.

As discussed earlier, these core CRM functions are now more complex and more flexible thanks to the ubiquity of social media and increased customer engagement.  Social CRM, which includes two-way customer engagement, listening to sentiment expressed toward a brand, and cultivating loyal customers as brand ambassadors, is taking CRM to new levels of effectiveness.

Cloud-based CRM is also advancing technology rapidly, as easy access to information is transforming traditional processes into real-time operations.  This adds a wealth of demographic data to customer activity, enabling analytical calculations that help companies plan their next steps.

Latest developments in CRM

A lot of behind-the-scenes development has improved CRM technology in recent years.  The growth is not obvious at first glance but it makes a big difference in the quality of data going into CRM processes.  Analytics and big data drive the intelligence behind lead generation and engagement strategies and most major cloud platforms now offer built-in artificial intelligence and analytics tools, making these capabilities available to companies of all sizes.

Sales CRM and e-commerce are rapidly emerging hybrid models for improving transactional efficiency between websites.  Information from an enterprise CRM can be integrated with e-commerce websites to capture relevant information about customer behavior, consolidating processes that were previously siloed – ordering, delivery and tracking, inventory, and sharing that information with peers.

The self-evolving internet of things has not been left behind; Gartner calls it one of the top five drivers of CRM as it expands the information that defines a customer’s behavior in ways that improve predictive power and responsiveness.  Retail will be able to respond at the individual level.  Marketers will adjust their messages to customers in real time and customer service will be able to get in touch before a service failure occurs.

Although the cloud is driving the evolution of CRM, on-premise options continue to be offered, with the advantage of better integration with legacy systems.  This is an important consideration for many organizations, as the information from a CRM can be useful to the entire enterprise, even forming its own information core.  A solid on-premise implementation can serve as a cornerstone for reformulating in-house information management.

The CRM market today

Traditional CRM players have kept pace with the evolving market, responding with new functionality and enhancements to classic features.  Larger, more established platforms, such as Salesforce Sales Cloud and Microsoft Dynamics CRM, are cultivating social media functionality and expanding core CRM functions, while smaller platforms (SugarCRM, Zendesk and HubSpot) focus primarily on one CRM functionality, such as marketing campaign management, flexible customer application integration and/or customer service enhancement.

The leading players in the market are a healthy mix of large and small vendors – some with monolithic platforms that address every conceivable need (at some cost), while others are more limited, but also more affordable.  Some platforms are on-premise, some in the cloud, some in both; many offer social CRM functionality; and, the broad spectrums of cost models mean there are options for companies of all sizes.

CRM is mission-critical in the modern enterprise, for many obvious and some not so obvious reasons.  The main one, of course, is that competitors are sure to be beefing up their CRM tools to improve their operations. Each company has its own unique needs and operational differences, so identifying whether a CRM can help, where it should be deployed and how to use it is no easy task.  A number of important questions must be answered in order to make such determinations.

Read the full article, here.

For over 11 years, SQDM -Software Quality Driven Management- has provided countless companies with professional consulting services on CRM and IT strategies.  SQDM is an official partner of industry-leading vendors including Salesforce, Microsoft, Oracle and AuraPortal.

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