CIOs and other IT leaders have their work cut out for them—it’s not easy to strike a balance between maximizing the value of existing technology, minimizing costs, and investing in strategic tools for the future of the business. As companies compete for brand loyalty and invest more in providing better customer experiences, there’s a greater emphasis on IT leaders to manage the customer data siloed across numerous applications, systems, and engagement channels.
Currently, over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day and it’s expected that 1.7MB of data will be created every second for every person on the planet by 2020. That data contains valuable insights about your customers – who they are, what they like, what their goals are, and how they engage with your business.
Creating real business value from your customer data puts a lot of pressure on your CRM platform. Not only does it need to connect all your customer data to deliver insights about the entire customer experience, but it also needs to fit the specific needs of your industry and unique business.
When IT leaders are deciding what they need out of a CRM platform, there are five important questions they need to ask:
1) Data management – “How easy is it to bring all of our customer data together?”
Capturing the entire customer experience means connecting all the channels and applications that customers use to engage with your brand—that means any interaction involving support, sales, marketing, social media, and so on. It can be difficult bringing all that data together when it’s stored in different formats or siloed in various cloud environments.
The burden of connecting customer data falls upon developers who are often forced to learn new proprietary programming languages and APIs. To get a 360-degree view of the customer, a CRM platform needs to be open enough to connect to any application or data source a company uses. The most flexible platforms leverage open standards so developers can use the skills and technologies they’re already familiar with.
A CRM platform that can easily bring customer data together should:
- Be open and capable of connecting to any application or external system
- Give developers the flexibility to store and share data in any format and leverage open standards
- Fit in seamlessly with the rest of your enterprise architecture
2) Agility – “Does our platform allow the organization to scale while remaining agile?”
As businesses grow, IT leaders need to think strategically about internal processes and business rules that accommodate new customer-facing teams, products, and services. That requires introducing new business applications to handle specific needs (like those that handle expense management or subscription services) and are often outgrown within 12-24 months.
Many CRM platforms are inflexible to constant changes in business requirements—they often require hiring expensive consultants and developer resources, and the changes can take weeks or months to implement.
For a CRM platform to keep a company agile while it scales, it needs to be:
- Future-proof to the point where developers can easily test out new, innovative point solutions without extensive disruption
- Easy and inexpensive to scale alongside the business’s growth
- Able to accommodate the existing technical knowledge within the organization without forcing employees to learn something new
3) Customization – “How can we customize the platform to the unique specifics of our business?”
Beyond accommodating the inevitable changes that come with growth, introducing new business models and ways of engaging customers will often require customizing the way your technology works.
Unfortunately, many CRM platforms force organizations to model customer relationships according to traditional models of engagement (such as “direct”, “in-person”, “account-based”, etc.), which aren’t always suitable for particular companies or industries. Part of creating a great customer experience is building relationships that fit your entire ecosystem of employees, partners, suppliers, vendors, and all your products and services.
A customizable CRM platform should be able to:
- Easily expand to support additional use cases and new operations
- Keep the focus on customer experience by delivering frictionless, personalized experiences for employees and customers alike
- Support all of the channels, applications, data, and rules unique to the company and its industry
4) Innovation – “Is our platform designed to leverage the latest and greatest technologies?”
In order to take advantage of the latest trends and innovations like AI/ML, bots, and advanced analytics, IT leaders need a wealth of customer data and the capability to easily experiment and iterate on new technologies.
That can be difficult with a CRM platform that locks data in and can’t easily leverage open-source and public cloud services. It’s a substantial problem for businesses that want to modernize—a digital transformation requires a platform that can handle hybrid cloud initiatives, such as bringing an older tech stack to the public cloud.
Leveraging the latest and greatest tech means a CRM platform must be:
- Modern enough to support strategic AI/data/analytics initiatives that are both within and outside the scope of CRM
- Aligned with the business’s cloud and data management strategy
- Capable of easily sharing data between on-premise, public, and private cloud infrastructures
- Able to maintain efficiency as the scope of the business grows
5) Measurement & analytics – “How do we measure the impact of our technology on the customer experience?”
The technology that IT leaders choose to invest in should enable thoughtful support, intelligent selling, and engagement that your customers expect. Gauging the success of that technology will involve looking at ROI and the level detail provided in the CX metrics, and how that data can be shared within the company.
A CRM platform that relies on legacy analytics tools can be a risk—many of them don’t support insights for operational efficiency or initiatives like self-service. Businesses that aren’t able to measure and compare the details of the customer experience may fall behind in their respective industries.
Understanding how your technology impacts the customer experience means a CRM platform should be able to:
- Bring data together for the most optimal customer insights across all major functions
- Support modern, UI-driven analytics related to initiatives like self-service and AI
- Compete with industry best practices and benchmarks for an objective look at how the organization is performing