Whither CRM?

We talk to companies, thought leaders and analysts in the Social Business/Customer Experience/CRM space and learn from them on a daily basis – one of the key things that strikes me is that while we are currently focusing on how to enable companies to incorporate Social Media channels into their current customer-centric strategies, there is a significant opportunity to rethink the entire customer-centric strategies that most of these companies have put in place. We forget quite easily that the R in CRM stands for relationships and not records.

In most cases, these strategies are constrained by the limitations of the CRM systems that are currently available in the market. There have been many gallons of ink spent over the last few years on how ‘traditional’ CRM systems have promised so much and delivered so little, how so much of innovation is still lying on the table etc. I am not going to bore you by repeating all of the details.

A couple of months ago, Mike Boysen wrote an interesting guest post on Paul Greenberg’s ZDNet blog. He expounded on some of the above points in great detail and his fundamental hypothesis is that the next generation CRM systems should focus on helping people within companies get their jobs done through their desired business outcomes. We also had the opportunity to speak with Peter Ostrow from the Aberdeen Group a few days ago. He had some very useful insights on the future direction of CRM. This is bang on target with our thinking here at NextPrinciples.

There are a number of interesting lessons that we are all learning as a community through the paradigms introduced by social channels such as Facebook and Twitter. Companies such as IBM, Jive, Lithium and GetSatisfaction are focused on helping their customers take some of these learnings ‘in-house’ through the community platforms they provide. Can’t we do the same with CRM?

It is a tired chestnut that today’s CRM systems are about the ‘M’ and not the ‘R’. We are seeing similar issues with the first generation of social media tools where the fact that these tools are meant to help their customers understand and serve their own customers much better across social and traditional channels is mostly forgotten. So, how about if we truly rethink what a CRM system should be like?

How do you actively involve the end-customer in the business processes instead of treating him/her/it as an ‘entity’ that somehow needs to be ‘managed’? Maybe elements of the VRM movement can play an important role here. How do you ensure that business users can use the CRM system to do much more than enter ‘transactions’ and as Mike says, seamlessly do things that need to be done before and after the interaction with the customer? As Peter puts it, how do you ensure that a CRM system truly becomes a ‘system of engagement’ instead of just being the ultimate destination for transactional records? How do you ensure that the use of a CRM system is not restricted to Marketing, Sales and Customer Service teams but is ‘democratized’ across all customer-facing functions?

These are tough questions and I don’t pretend that we have all the answers available today. But these same questions are key drivers of the thought processes here at NextPrinciples, as we figure out how we can expand our footprint from helping a company bridge the gap between ‘social’ and ‘traditional’ channels to helping them enable a ‘consistent cross-channel customer experience’ through a next-generation CRM system.

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