Ashley Verrill – a expert with CRM reviewer SoftwareAdvice.com – interviewed me recently for the second edition of CRM’s Next 5 in 5. This report was an update from predictions five of my industry cohorts made about technologies that will change CRM in the next five years. Special thanks to Ashley for the conversation and for providing the edited snapshot of our discussion below:
Ashley: You’ve talked a lot about how the importance of advancements relative to contextualizing CRM — such as Mobile, Big Data and Social – are a little over amplified (though still important). From your perspective, are there any products or services out there that have actually made real innovation and change to how we use CRM systems?
Brian: Digital networks have significantly transformed how we as people interact with other people, information, and increasingly devices and machines. More and more of our lives are moving into the digital realm. Where we are. What we are doing. Who we know. What we say or think or like. The technologies that capitalize on this increasing wealth of information are the ones that will endure past the hype. These innovators will advance our capabilities in three primary ways:
- One, they will elevate our prospect and customer discovery capabilities via Linkedin, Twitter, GooglePlus and other niche social communities. These services listen for conversations from those that might be interested in your products or services.
- Next, we should expect significant advancements around harnessing data for customer understanding and deeper segmentation. These products aggregate digital and social signals with profile information to provide an added layer of context and the opportunity for new market segments. I also know of a few organizations that are experimenting with using social influence to prioritize customer service response.
- Finally, I see huge opportunity in the customer communities space. Companies like Lithium, BazaarVoice, Get Satisfaction, and Jive are a few enabling such brand-owned communities. Despite mixed fanfare, there are plenty of case studies proving return on investment through reduced customer service costs, increased word-of-mouth marketing, and invaluable insights from listening to thousands of interactions.
Ashley: In the past, you’ve talked about how these trends are bubbling up around the edges. What’s stopping them from becoming mainstream now?
Brian: Organizations and individuals are wrestling just to understand what’s happening, let alone adopt. We’ve never had access to so much data about everything – from weather patterns, to location data, to spending habits, to internet browsing behavior. The reality of it is that most of it is just noise and not useful to us. So, as quickly as we race to gather data, we realize it’s hard to filter, and it’s hard to aggregate into meaningful ways.
Ashley: So are saying it’s more of a cultural gap that technical?
Brian: There is a disconnect between the way organizations have worked for the last 80 or 100 years and what’s increasingly possible. In general, few organizations are built to identify, consider, plan, and take actions that fully leverage these new capabilities. They work under an industrial age model which requires relatively static models of research, investments, and feedback loops, a stark contrast to a real time, agile, flat organization model that is continually in a state of evolution. The retrenching and adoption often requires new management structures, new people, new mindsets. It’s disruptive and disruptive is not always convenient or beneficial.
In most situations, we’re talking about significant shifts in culture, management practices, processes. It will take some time.
Ashley: : You wrote an article about optimizing the full spectrum of customer interactions. Have you seen technologies yet that effectively enable this sort of communication optimization?
Brian: I’ve yet to see any technology that can do this the way it should be done. There are many that are seeking to build, but many from an analog / pre-digital revolution core. In addition, many organizations are just now still trying to merge interactions across channels.
Merging web with phone and email for many organizations is still quite a challenge, as it means combining data from five, ten, or even 25 customer databases. Most companies that I’ve seen make progress in this regard have a central hub that gathers all data into a unified profile and enables multi-channel communication from there.
Ashley: So are there any innovators in this space you see?
Brian: Look at what Google is doing with Google Now. They are merging experiences across screens and channels and venturing into the world of predictive analytics, surfacing information that you may not even be aware that you want.
Recently, information taken from my Google searches or web activity or my email threads are leading to contextual “cards” showing up on my Android phone. Anything with a digital footprint can be tracked. Remember, as more and more of our lives take place digitally, the potential to create compelling and unified omni-channel experiences becomes more pronounced.
Ashley: I wasn’t as convinced by this prediction in last year’s CRM’s 5 in 5, but Lauren wrote about Brent Leary’s opinions that CRM integration with television was on the horizon. Have you seen any advancements on this front?
Brian: There are a lot of studies coming out about dual screening or multi-screening. People are sharing, reading, researching, playing games while watching TV. That is a fact at this point and I believe the trend is here to stay. If you consider all that the web has been able to do with cookies and other tracking technology, the re-targeting ad market, google’s relevant search results, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that same thing on another screen with media.
Ashley: What form do you see this interactivity taking in the next few years?
Brian: Over the next few years, I believe we’ll see more and more interactive integration with TV’s and the continued evolution of Smart TVs. Seeing what your neighborhood, city, friends are watching, optionally tracking their comments on the TV itself and/or your connected device is likely coming.
Ashley: Sounds like Spotify for television. How does this translate into a business opportunity?
Brian: Obviously when content producers and advertisers gain access to this data about what you are watching and sharing with friends, they can build and present more relevant content and offers. Think like Netflix and Amazon’s suggested titles or “what to watch next.” This will start with contextualized ads, then evolve to include product placement. I’d say it’s inevitable.
Ashley: Last year and again this year, we talked a lot about unified communications with Paul Greenberg. He believes Microsoft is really the only player that could make an effective move on this front by combining Skype, Sharepoint, Assure, and their other communication properties.
Do you agree with Paul that Microsoft is the only one that could potentially make this UC move, but won’t this year?
Brian: I’m not sure that I agree that Microsoft is in the lead here. Maybe in the context of today’s major CRM players, that is a true statement. But companies like Cisco and Avaya and other telecommunications are far ahead on some of those enterprise class technologies. Google is another one to watch out for. Gmail and Google Apps continues to grow, with GooglePlus and Hangouts. They are moving into that foray in a very interesting way with most people not aware of where this could go.
The others are just a couple of acquisitions away from making a play in the UC space, which I’ll likely write more about soon.
Ashley: Last year, we quoted Brian Solis talking about how gamification will move beyond marketing for loyalty. In the past year, I’ve seen a lot of development in gamification as far as using it with social enterprise apps to foster collaboration, which is something you’ve also talked about.
What specific technologies have made the most headway in gamifying the social business in the past year?
Brian: I think gamification is a widely misunderstood and misused term. At it’s core, it’s simply about incentivizing human behavior. Bunchball and Badgeville are clearly the two leaders in this emerging space, especially as it relates to incentivizing behaviors on internal social networking platforms. I do think that we’re in for a lot of trial and error here.
Ashley: Why do you say trial and error? What still needs to be figured out?
Brian: In my observation, it seems that we’re still a ways off from identifying and incentivizing real valuable digital actions. Most of the case studies that I’ve seen to date are simply incentivizing participation, which is a start, but not very meaningful in the long run. When you’re talking about human behavior, there are a lot of psychological and sociological factors at play. Most technologists and even managers likely don’t have the domain knowledge they need to leverage gamification techniques to the extent that they could.
As I laid out in the post you referred to, I believe there’s plenty of opportunity to begin to present the right challenges to the right people and incentivize them to take the proper actions.
Ashley: Finally, are there other innovations we haven’t talked about that you seeing changing CRM as we know it in the next five years?
Brian: I think we’ll see more automation in general. We’re seeing this become more mainstream from a marketing perspective. The ability to track behaviors and create a series of if/then trees that help to to move prospects along the customer journey will likely continue to play a more important role over the next few years. Extending the data set to multiple channels will lead to more discovery about customer behavior, and how to respond in a way that resonates.
At the same time, I expect we’ll likely see continued focus on understanding and improving the customer experience. In a world that quickly races towards commoditization, “experience” becomes more important for customer loyalty, retention, and mindshare.
Ashley: What about the “X” Factor. What’s still unknown that could inhibit any of these developments?
Brian: Security and privacy are big unknowns in all of these things that we’re talking about and may be the single biggest factor in changing the trajectory of how we as a society and as corporate citizens adopt and implement these new emerging technologies.