Written by Pritha Basu – Select Hub
CRM is a competitive, growing space. Everyone talks about providing best-in-class customer experiences, about CRM strategies and solutions, and about the vital role CRM plays in catapulting companies forward as marketplace demands intensify.
So how can your organization know which shiny new objects are worth pursuing?
We’ve pulled in research and asked industry experts for their take to provide insights you can apply at your own company.
Let’s see what new trends will shape CRM in the coming year.
- The number of digital voice assistants will reach 8.4 billion units by 2024.
- A study by Research and Markets shows the global explainable artificial intelligence (XAI) market will likely reach $21.03 billion by 2030.
- The number of connected IoT devices will expectedly reach more than 25.4 billion in 2030.
- In 2021, 44.5% of organizations across the globe revealed that they perceive CX as a primary competitive factor.
- Customer self-service CRM (CSS) will be an important customer service strategy in 2023.
- Based on a report by Twilio Segment, 86% of customers are likely to spend more with organizations that personalize their customer services.
Why Should You Learn CRM Trends?
As we all know, change is inevitable! Even something as massive as a pandemic can’t stop it. Like everything else under the sun, the CRM industry, too, has evolved in the past year and how!
David H. Deans, Senior Partner of David H. Deans & Associates, mentioned in his tech sales effectiveness article, “When we consider the shift to a flexible working model, the disruptive trend of self-directed buyer enablement, and demands for better sales enablement, the post-pandemic reality should motivate us to embrace change and resist thoughts of mediocre normality.”
He also added, from 2022 onwards, the enablement benefits from CRM will evolve rapidly as more organizations utilize the platform to elevate their narrative further up the value chain where a customer’s senior decision-makers seek guidance on how to accelerate digital business outcomes. Customers seek meaningful and substantive information tailored to their specific business situation.
Keeping these thoughts in mind, let’s take a closer look at the top trends.
1. Voice and Conversational UI
Customer service expert and speaker Shep Hyken said, “The future is now!” According to Hyken, we’re starting to see IVA (intelligent virtual agents) that are almost indistinguishable from live agents. We’ll see chatbots moving from text to voice. They will look at the customer’s CRM record and communicate relevant information.
So, what can we expect?
- Future CRM strategies will include tracking comments, likes and shares in a central place, offering insights into long-term social media trends and behavioral patterns of customers for future marketing campaigns.
- Machines will recognize when customers don’t get the answers they’re looking for and move them seamlessly to a live agent or salesperson.
- CRM platforms must also offer voice technology with AI and machine learning to provide both data and insights.
John Chan, Software Lab Director at ISM, pointed out that chatbots mainly aid customer service efforts. This ranges from helping users find answers to directing prospects or customers to the correct location in their search.
Looking forward, he thinks AI has significant potential to move beyond basic inquiries. “In the coming years, it may be possible for chatbots to use natural language processing, deep neural networks and conversational capabilities to comprehend consumer inquiries, while automatically providing an appropriate response,” Chan said.
This feature enables computers to effectively converse with customers by understanding human language. Several ways NLP can play a role in customer service are:
- Determining which requests are the highest priority.
- Classifying those requests so agents know what’s most urgent or important and can respond accordingly.
- Analyzing customer emails to better understand their sentiment.
Thanks to products like Alexa, voice assistants aren’t really new, and none can deny their popularity. Forecasts suggest that by 2024, the number of digital voice assistants will reach 8.4 billion units, a number higher than the world’s population. Moreover, the industry leaders are optimistic about voice AI evolving as a key trend.
What we’re seeing is that trend overlapping into the CRM world. A number of products, such as Zoho CRM, already have voice assistant functionality in place, and according to Chan, advanced tools coming in the future will allow “CRM users to dictate their commands rather than manually typing in the requested information.” AI will also enable actions like recording voice meetings, creating transcripts and identifying topics or words that have a specific meaning, Chan said.
2. Artificial Intelligence
The possibilities are nearly endless when it comes to applying AI in CRM, and the market is huge. A study by Research and Markets shows the global explainable artificial intelligence (XAI) market was valued at $3.50 billion in 2020 and will reach $21.03 billion by 2030.
AI integration with CRM is the most prominent advancement poised to influence the industry, according to Hyken. “AI will be able to summarize the most important attributes to a customer’s relationship with the company. A salesperson or customer support agent will be able to see a summary of the customer’s buying patterns, interactions, and more.” AI should make suggestions on how to improve customer service as well as cross-sell or upsell products and services that the customer actually needs, he added.
Let’s take a look at the key AI applications in CRM:
- Lead Qualification: AI-powered CRM tools can automate need analysis. Chatbots and email bots help understand the exact requirement of leads and inform sales teams to improve performance and optimize sales processes.
- Sentiment Analysis: Analyze customer conversations during calls and assess their emotional state. You can increase revenue per customer by following user sentiments.
- Forecasting: Receive accurate sales forecasts with AI-powered CRMs. Detect patterns in customer data and get valuable insights about sales predictions, based on which your team can make plans and optimize processes.
- Customer Churn Reduction: By analyzing specific patterns in customer data, AI can identify the reasons for customer churn, helping you take concrete actions to reduce the churn rate.
- Cleaning: Customer data includes irregularities such as anomalies, duplicates and more, causing inaccurate predictions. AI-integrated CRM systems can detect potential issues, clean duplicates, search for incomplete data and suggest actions to update old data to help you make improved decisions.
- Entry: You can automate repetitive tasks like data entry that automatically capture data from calls, messages, emails and images and enter customer data in the desired format. This allows your employees to focus on high-value tasks.
With that in mind, here are the top AI trends worth paying attention to:
Deans sees AI as a tool companies can use to more effectively manage their relationships with customers. AI will be able to “create ‘personalized agents’ that, via machine learning, discover the primary needs and wants of sellers for automated assistance,” he explained. One of the biggest benefits of AI is its capacity to take over tedious, time-consuming manual tasks. The ultimate goal, Deans said, is to use robotic automation to enhance productivity.
AI brings predictive analytics capabilities and data intelligence to the table. It enhances forecasts and helps leverage the data stored in a CRM, improving business outcomes. This includes popular product revelations and customer segmentation, Hyken said.
AI also identifies patterns in user behavior to enhance selling opportunities. “AI-powered analytics help sales reps readily respond to market dynamics by providing them with real-time insights into customer preferences, sentiments and a host of other buying triggers,” Chan explained. “These insights can empower sales reps to shift from solution-related selling to insight-related selling.”
The AI Reality
Like any trend, AI has shortcomings. Hyken points out one of the potential downfalls: AI can negatively impact customer experience. “Companies are becoming enamored with technology, and as a result, they get excited about it and think it’s the answer,” he said. “What actually ends up happening is technology puts distance between the customer and the company as far as the connection that would cause a customer to want to come back again.”
However, if used properly, Hyken said that AI has a lot to offer:
AI will help make our employees smarter. Integration with our CRM solution will help us answer our customers’ questions better, make better recommendations, proactively answer questions they haven’t yet thought of and more. The ability to support our customers and personalize their experience will be better and more powerful than ever.”
Business consultant and IT specialist David Dozer said AI and RPA are becoming a major focus of software developers and poised to be the dominant trend in the industry over the next few years. However, widespread use is still on the horizon.
A lot of vendors have started to talk about them and use the acronyms as buzzwords in marketing materials. Right now, there aren’t very many solutions that are using either to their full potential, but that will absolutely change in the near future. In the coming years, we should start to really see these concepts utilized.”
While a lot of hype surrounds AI, companies need to temper their enthusiasm over new technology with an understanding of its impact internally and externally, as well as realistic expectations of what software is capable of today. This will allow technology to become the catalyst for achieving the ultimate goal: serving the customer.
3. Internet of Things
There were 8.74 billion connected IoT devices in 2020, and the number will reach more than 25.4 billion in 2030. According to experts, IoT will continue to make significant improvements in customer relationship management.
There’s no doubt that advanced CRM systems will take advantage of this trend by connecting to IoT feeds — right from smart home devices to wearable health monitors and cybersecurity scanners. IoT-integrated CRMs can provide insights into customer behavior that you can leverage to improve customer service and create more personalized marketing campaigns. Companies can also proactively detect product performance issues and identify potential problems with customer satisfaction.
CRM systems are beginning to incorporate connections to IoT feeds, Chan said. IoT will be a significant advancement in the CRM market, as it will improve system performance and increase sales. He predicted, “IoT devices can send data about product issues, maintenance needs and improper usage to an organization’s CRM platform.”
Chan said it will also facilitate fast, efficient customer service:
For example, there are hospital refrigeration units that store medications. If a detection device determines the coolant is low, or the temperature is problematic, the refrigeration unit will send out a critical message to the refrigerator manufacturer via an IoT platform. Afterward, the manufacturer will receive the message and relay it to the hospital’s CRM/IoT system. The CRM system will then issue a case to notify the hospital staff of this problem.”
4. Mobile and Social CRM
Mobility has long been a central component of sales activities. More than a decade ago, several experts and reports were already highlighting the importance of extending CRM systems beyond the confines of the office.
But that doesn’t mean mobility is a bygone trend. Advancements in mobile technology and customers’ increasing need for constant connectivity show why CRM platforms must provide more mobile functionalities.
The COVID-19 pandemic also emphasized the increased need to adopt mobility, according to Dozer. He explained:
As workforces became distributed and remote almost overnight, many companies struggled to get people access to the basic systems they needed to effectively work. This means accessibility from anywhere, anyplace and anytime is going to be very important.”
Mobile CRM solutions have a lot to offer:
- Strong security features
- Intuitive interfaces
- Apps that work across platforms
- The transition between online and offline environments with ease
With the prevalence of social media, social CRM, too, has become a necessity. Customers can share their experience about a particular brand anytime with anybody. Hence, being a big name in the industry is not enough; it’s important to build a personal and authentic connection with your customers. And this is exactly why CRM software with behavior tracking capabilities is in demand. Incorporating social media channels within platforms allows sales teams to be in touch with customers and share real-time brand updates.
Many CRM systems today integrate with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, but future platforms may offer integrations with other platforms as well. The importance of incorporating social networks into CRM tools and strategies is indisputable. Right from offering significant insights to performing as listening mediums, social media has become integral to CRM activities.
Taken a step further, social CRM also facilitates better customer service. Seems like social CRM is to customer service agents what mobile CRM is to sales reps.
To illustrate, say a customer needs a problem solved. They can hop onto their preferred social media site and connect with the company via messaging or by @tagging a handle dedicated to customer service issues.
As you evaluate your current CRM — or look at implementing your first CRM — don’t underplay the value mobility or social CRM can bring to your operations, especially in a post-pandemic world where remote work and distributed teams are more common than ever before.
5. Customer Experience
Today, businesses revolve around their customers more than ever, making customer experience (CX) a vital brand differentiator. In 2021, 44.5% of organizations across the globe revealed that they perceive CX as a primary competitive factor.
People go where the best experience takes them. 38% of consumers say they will again shop with a brand they’ve had a good experience with.
Shep Hyken identified two drivers of an exceptional experience: convenience and competition.
Hyken said that when it comes to CX, convenience is king. “The company that’s easiest to do business with is ultimately going to win.” Hence, the most successful CRM systems of the future will have an interface that focuses on ease of use, making data easier to access and analyze.
We may also see the use of CRM features for convenient communication between sales and customer service agents and customers. These systems will provide content that meets customer needs, ensuring focused targeting and intelligent segmentation.
Companies also need to realize their direct competition isn’t the only competition. In the world of CX, Hyken explained, people don’t have different buckets for different companies — e.g., their experience with a B2B manufacturer vs. a luxury retailer.
The service a customer has is being compared to the best service they received from anyone,” Hyken said. “Customers know what a good experience is like because they learned it from Nordstrom, Amazon and any other company that provided a rockstar experience.”
Personalization is another CRM trend worth noting. “Personalization will continue to trend in the positive direction of importance. The more data we put into a CRM about the customer, the better we’ll be able to automate the personalization. Customers will get the feeling the company knows them better than ever,” said Hyken.
CRM platforms built with intelligent, real-time capabilities allow companies to move towards a more connected, customer-centric approach. The data accrued in CRMs offers actionable insights into customer behavior, needs and preferences. With this knowledge at a company’s disposal, they can put things into perspective and dig into the “whys” and “hows” to deliver relevant customer experiences.
Personalization has been a cornerstone in recent CRM developments and is here to stay. 86% of customers said they would spend more with companies that personalize their customer service.
Think about companies like Netflix or Amazon. One of the reasons they’re successful, Hyken said, is their ability to serve up personalized content, whether it’s suggested products based on a recent purchase or TV show recommendations similar to the one you just watched.
Dozer believes the coming few years will bring about a “renaissance of simplicity, where the focus shifts back to making things easy and simple to use.”
CRM systems have grown and evolved so much over the last decade that in some cases they now mimic ERP systems in some areas. This is great on the surface, but for a salesperson who’s on the road and needs to focus on selling, or a customer service rep who’s trying to find the right information quickly, the systems have become somewhat cumbersome.”
Addressing 2023 expectations in particular, Dozer had this to say:
The change in the business system and CRM industry is less about the applications, and more about the effective utilization of those applications. This will inherently drive more features around areas such as UI/UX and ease of use, and will also drive tighter integrations with other systems such as ERP and CPQ for example.”
Deans also expects usability to play a critical role. “Everyone has access to the same basic capabilities. Therefore, vendors must enable more application customization to address this value-add requirement.”
Deans believes that people will adopt the intuitive capabilities and ignore the rest.
From a vendor standpoint, this means to “never under-estimate the power of a superior user experience,” he said.
And from a buyer standpoint, it means to seek out the solutions setting themselves apart by offering that next-level experience. After all, “In order to be truly effective, CRM systems must be easy to use,” Dozer said.
With the rise of sophisticated CRMs and niche tech tools, sales and marketing teams can have the freedom to use fewer tools than before. Businesses will create more integrations to ensure better results from the tech stack.
Hyken listed CRM integration as the top trend buyers should pay attention to right now.
Look for a solution that integrates other important software solutions. They must act ‘in concert’ with each other, as if they are one. We must have a solution that gives us what has been referred to as a ‘single pane of glass,’ meaning our team members don’t have to keep bouncing around from one program to the next.”
Integration is something Dozer sees major potential for as well:
Most current-generation CRM systems do a good job of tracking internal sales activities. But there’s still a huge amount of external interactions that happen outside of the CRM system. There’s a wealth of information available outside the walls of the CRM application, and it will be up to the manufacturers of these apps to leverage that data so that businesses can tap into that and better serve existing customers while expanding their reach to new customers.”
As a CRM buyer or user, it’s important to consider which integrations will best support your operations. You’ll also gain value by determining how to pull in data from outside your CRM — using capabilities such as data import, APIs and SDKs, and integration tools like Zapier — and put it to work.
8. Self-service CRM
With automation becoming synonymous with CRM, bots are completing more contact management tasks and saving time for team members. Chatbots available on platforms automatically guide prospects through marketing and sales pipelines. With self-service, customers can set up accounts, pay bills, troubleshoot problems and get answers to their queries faster without the help of a service rep.
Hence, customer self-service CRM (CSS) is something you should include in your 2023 customer service strategy and even more so because it’s straightforward to implement.
According to Dozer:
From a business perspective, CRM is starting to evolve and that means less about just capturing interactions and customer touches, or logging support calls. More and more customers want to be able to find the things they need without the assistance of an actual person. This means that companies are investing more in self-service customer portals and systems that give clients the tools they need to do things like look up and pay outstanding invoices, find documentation about products and log support issues.”
How does this growing expectation affect the CRM solution you may be considering? Dozer offered some insight that can help:
In order to support [self-service], it’s important that the CRM system be tightly coupled to (or a part of) the back-office ERP system. This level of self-service requires data from multiple functional areas to be available to the CRM.”
9. Industry-specific CRM for SMBs
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced us to WFH culture, lockdowns and massive layoffs across industries, leading to the birth of solopreneurs. These are people who want to market their ideas on their own, and interestingly enough, the new-age CRMs pretty well cater to small businesses like these.
Industry-oriented CRMs are designed with specific business needs in mind, offering specialized features. Since SMBs can enjoy CRM benefits just as companies aiming for mass market success, it’s a given that there will be CRMs for niche markets. Insurance, real estate, banking, healthcare, hospitality, call centers, construction and mortgage are some industries that have seen tailor-made CRM tools, and the trend will continue to grow in the next few years.
Vertical-specific CRMs will offer more advanced features. In fact, popular industries may soon choose from a variety of customized CRM platforms. For instance, real-estate CRMs catering to brokers and firms help manage property transactions, generate leads and monitor listings. Whereas HIPAA-compliant healthcare CRMs offer functionalities such as patient record management and patient service support while adhering to regulations.
10. Reliance on Data
Another outcome of the pandemic and the fragmented nature of work is the need for data unity, according to Dozer. He predicted:
[companies will have] a deeper reliance on CRM and business systems capturing everything that is happening to provide one source of truth. When you can’t get up from your desk and go ask someone in purchasing if they have a copy of a PO on their desk, everything being in the system becomes that much more critical.”
With sophisticated analytics, your business can identify problems, solutions and opportunities. Hence, the preference for powerful analytics tools that help improve the process and access real-time data will continue to increase. These should include advanced analytics such as sales pipeline performance, customer happiness and factors that contribute to churn rate.
11. Fewer Adoption Barriers
Common barriers to adopting a CRM include pricing and lack of resources and implementation knowledge. However, with CRMs getting cheaper, easier to use and simpler to implement, the adoption rate is expected to increase. Research shows around 91% of organizations with more than 10 employees in their workforce use CRM systems, and it’s anticipated to grow consistently.
12. XaaS: Everything as a Service
XaaS or Everything as a Service seems to be the next big thing, which can transform any IT function into service for enterprise consumption. These include any computing service — right from the platform as a service (PaaS) to infrastructure as a service (IaaS) — delivered through the internet with subscription charges instead of an upfront cost.
As a tech trend for 2023, we predict more organizations will seek cloud solutions for new corners of their business, whether as part of their CRM, a stand-alone system or a connected tool.
13. Market Movement
CRM’s explosion is one for the history books. And it’s predicted to continue strong, with the market growing from $58.04 billion in 2021 to $128.97 billion in 2028, achieving a 12.1% CAGR.
Dozer is among those that see a sustainable market expansion. The reason, he explained, is that CRMs have become such a central part of a business’s tech stack, showing other companies the gains that are possible.
Now that CRM has become a ubiquitous term,” he said, “a lot of smaller sales departments are starting to see the value in having structured data and are beginning to utilize true CRM systems to manage their data.”
The industry growth has brought changes at the vendor level as companies seek to strengthen their offerings. Dozer believes the popularity of CRM is a good thing for vendors and the future of CRM is quite promising. “Even though the landscape is getting more crowded,” he said, “there will be room for everyone.”
However, he added a caveat:
CRM providers need to be specific in who they’re trying to serve with their product. Is it the business that has two salespeople and the sales manager is also the CEO or General Manager? Or the business with 20 outside reps, 10 inside reps and a whole customer service department? It’s important to distinguish that because those solutions look very different.”
14. Inter-departmental Alignment
A CRM that solely focuses on customer-facing teams? That’s so 2020! While it’s true that primarily only sales and customer-service teams interact with buyers, the notion that they are the only ones influencing customer experience is a false one. For example, while the marketing team doesn’t directly interact with customers, the campaign strategies they come up with are essential for lead conversion.
A business needs to be a well-oiled machine, working in tandem to meet customer expectations. Market leaders have started understanding the importance of every department being in complete sync to meet long-term and short-term goals. Taking note, CRMs vendors have attempted to evade this disconnect and unify all teams under one roof.
CRM as a single source of truth is the next big thing to look out for in 2023. By allowing sales, marketing and even finance or accounting teams to use a unified CRM, businesses can centralize touchpoints and optimize customer experiences in the long run.
CRM trends are like ocean breezes — the companies that stay aware of which way the wind is blowing can maneuver so they’re better positioned to sail toward success.
That doesn’t mean putting so much stock in each trend that your business ends up choosing different end goals to accommodate every wave of new development. The destination should always be the same. But tracking effectively will get you there in a faster, more efficient manner.
If these trends have made you aware of shortcomings in your organization’s CRM, or if you’re looking to upgrade so you don’t get left in the wake of more savvy companies, our CRM comparison guide is a good starting point. It will help orient you to the features available across a range of vendors.
What CRM trends do you expect to play out in 2023 and beyond? Did we miss any? Share your insights in the comments!
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