The road to a user-friendly CRM is paved with good intentions. Unfortunately, it’s also strewn with the UI disasters of a thousand CRMs that didn’t make it to the software stage. Salesforce reigns supreme in this space, and it even recently rebuilt its user experience from the ground-up with Lightning. Here are our predictions for the next generation of CRMs.
We’re in the bloating phase
Like many software product categories, CRM functionality has grown over time, to the point of becoming unwieldy. New capabilities are bolted on, complexity skyrockets, and users find themselves wandering through menus, tables, and endless forms, bedeviled by incomprehensible pop-ups. The user experience sours. Rather than easing people’s jobs, the system gets in the way. Users must fight or cajole the system to accomplish necessary tasks, and conclude they could work faster without it.
CRM, in particular, depends on thorough up-to-date information about customers — a key to this is logging all interactions with them. Thus, CRM systems came to require more and more data entry from their users. Sales reps found themselves spending a sizeable fraction of the day feeding the ravenous customer database, instead of doing the productive work of actually engaging with customers.
Onerous, error-prone data entry contributed to the pathological result of a database swelling with low-quality data, discouraging users from trusting the system’s results. The poor user experience and low-quality results contributed to the trend of de-personalizing the relationship with the customer, treating the customers as numbers.
When the complexity of a software product becomes unwieldy, some of its providers – established and upstart – begin to refactor the product in new ways, and reinvent its user experience. CRM is undergoing this transformation.
The next generation of CRM is appearing; what does it look like? Multiple technology trends are contributing: Mobile and Cloud. Social media. Big Data. AI. And especially, User Experience (UX).
A productive and enjoyable user experience
Next-generation CRM must be user-friendly and built for humans. When a system provides an excellent user experience, people are enthusiastic about using it. The CRM user experience must be enjoyable and productive for the company’s workers, and, critically, also for the customers.
People enjoy using such a system, and they find they are more productive using it. The system streamlines workflows and improves their results, for employees and customers both. It’s intuitive and unobtrusive, but always helpful for the current task. The right information and options are at hand at the right moment. For customer-facing employees and customers, this means their interactions are beneficial to both.
Next-generation CRM will promote greater efficiency but also greater effectiveness. The data collection task will be further automated, freeing up employees’ time and enhancing the accuracy of the customer database. The system will do a better job of turning data into actionable knowledge that supports marketing, sales, and customer support.
Leveraging AI may be the decisive advantage here. AI technologies can contribute to analytics and reporting; they can support interactions by providing intelligence at the right moment, predicting trends, improving decisions, and making targeting more precise. They can help automate workflows, and make new workflows possible. AI offers the possibility of augmenting human performance in interactions and replacing humans in interactions – where it is really appropriate.
Built for the entire customer journey
Next-generation CRM will be built for the full customer journey. The goal is not just a sale but a long-term relationship. A gimlet-eyed focus on conversions and revenue that neglects customer satisfaction and retention is bad news in the long term.
In contrast, by tracking the customer’s progress through the entire customer journey – from their first awareness of their need and of the company, through first purchase, to customer support, upgrading and/or replacing, and referring friends to the company – the CRM system can empower deep understanding and help build and nurture relationships.
When customer-facing employees know exactly where the customer is in their journey, and have the insight to anticipate and cater to the customer’s needs, they can perform at their best and provide a delightful customer experience, promoting loyalty.
A not-to-be-neglected aspect of excellent user experience is security. Customers must be safe and feel that they can trust the company and its systems if they are to stay for the long term. Data security relies on human factors. It must be as effortless as possible; the system must make it easier for employees and customers to do the safer activities and harder to do the unsafe options.
CRM for humans
The next generation of CRM, built for humans, will be enjoyable and productive both for employees and for customers, leveraging deep knowledge of the customer journey to promote a long-term relationship. This will be an exciting technology to watch.