CRM Impacts on the Technology Industry : Vertical Markets Spotlight

April 4, 2023

By Paul Korzeniowski, technology writer

Technology companies understand the CRM landscape better than most other businesses. Consequently, they are often on the front lines testing new capabilities and pushing vendors to extend product features. Sometimes, this outlook leads to situations where they overextend themselves, so they need to tighten their focus, align themselves with the right partners, and simplify their deployments to reap CRM’s potential benefits.

There is no doubt that technology advances have come fast and furious lately. The cloud supports simpler deployments and enhancements. Containers streamline application development. The Internet of Things (IoT) pushes intelligence down into small form factors. Artificial intelligence empowers companies to rewrite legacy business processes.

Often leading the charge—and reaping the potential business benefits—are technology advocates. “Companies like Uber and Grubhub have used technology to disrupt established markets,” explains Jon Aniano, senior vice president of product for CRM applications at Zendesk. “They relied on mobile apps, cloud, and subscription services to create new, more efficient business models.”

One common theme is that technology entities move quickly whenever they see a new market opportunity. “Technology evolves much differently than traditional industries,” says Prashanth Krishnaswam, a CX strategist at a leading CRM publisher. “It is a dynamic, volatile, rapid-growth environment, one where change is constant. To keep up, these companies regularly add new lines of business and acquire other companies. Consequently, they need CRM platforms that are flexible and composable.”

These enterprises live on technology’s leading edge, and currently, improving the customer experience (CX) is at the top of their wish lists. According to Zendesk, 83 percent of tech leaders say that CX is key to staying competitive, and the same number plan to increase their CX budgets over the next 12 months. Customers want more personalized and less cookie-cutter service. Therefore, close to four out of five (77 percent) tech leaders are rethinking the entire customer journey and trying to build more fluid experiences. They want to be able to assist customers in any way, at any time, and from any channel.

While the focus to date has been on personalizing the buyer journey, a broader expanse looms on the horizon. “We strongly believe that personalization can be applied to every stakeholder involved in the relationship: the supplier, the retailer, the ecosystem partner,” Krishnaswam says. “AI has the potential to empower them all, just not in the same way.”

AI advances have been central to new CRM capabilities. Next-generation AI tools are making their way from research labs to market. These solutions rely on more intelligent data models based on larger datasets than their predecessors. Consequently, they can do so much more than traditional systems. For instance, some AI tools can produce a blog post in about 60 seconds.

Therefore, organizations are bullish on AI solutions. In fact, 67 percent of CRM leaders responding to the Zendesk survey expect to boost their AI spending in the next year, and nearly half committed to budget increases of at least 25 percent.

CRM’S MANY CHALLENGES

The CRM market’s dynamic nature does create hurdles for tech companies, which can have grandiose expectations. “When tech companies are exposed to new tools, they sometimes bite off more than they can chew,” Krishnaswam observes.

Purchasing a CRM solution is only the first step in leveraging the software for business improvements. Tech companies need to connect the capabilities to their operations, and sometimes, technology companies lack a clear focus and act impulsively. “Many technology companies are like a kid in a candy store,” Krishnaswam continues.

And then, their planning tends to be ad hoc rather than strategic. Such decision making creates system complexity. “Technology companies tend to select best-of-breed solutions, so they can end up with 20 or more different apps for sales, marketing, and service,” he adds.

Also problematic is the fact that frequently their approach is disorganized and scattershot, according to Krishnaswam, who notes that many tech firms have to grapple with simplifying an exceedingly complex environment and spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to normalize and integrate the various solutions. Such challenges have become more pronounced with data privacy regulations becoming stricter and cybersecurity a bigger concern. “In some cases, technology company implementations become a nightmare,” he says.

So what can tech businesses do to maximize CRM technology’s potential without losing control of their implementations? Self-awareness is a good place to start—and many of these companies seem to have it. Nearly half (45 percent) of technology companies say that a steep learning curve is their biggest worry when it comes to adopting new technology, according to Gartner.

Finding an appropriate partner improves the chances for success. “Technology companies need to pick a vendor whose approach is aligned to their cultures,” Krishnaswam says. “If a vendor built a CRM for companies with 10,000 employees and you have 300, the system probably will not be aligned with your business.”

A change in viewpoints also helps. “Technology companies need to think about CX from the customer’s perspective and find ways to make their lives better,” says Zendesk’s Aniano. “They need to help agents work more efficiently rather than simply focusing on potential cost savings.”

These businesses also need to modernize parts of the application development process. Technology companies are deploying more software, which means they potentially have more information at their fingertips. However, how they collect information needs to change. In the past, they would build a large, legacy central master database, but it would take two years to assemble. The world is changing fast, so they need to respond quickly and need an approach that will be quick, simple, and effective.

Corporations can then use the customer information in an unlimited number of ways. “Businesses should be willing to experiment and think outside of the box,” Aniano says. However, taking that position involves risk, and with that occasionally comes failure. Corporations need to understand the gamble they are taking and be flexible and willing to not only make changes if needed but also fix problems if they arise, even when it means backing out of the latest enhancement and reinstalling the previous one.

While there are many potential pitfalls, deploying technology properly can have a significant positive impact on tech businesses. CRMs can increase efficiency. Humans repeat the same actions day after day, over and over, which leads to fatigue and error. Such areas are ripe for automation.

The move to digital technology led to dramatic growth in self-service processes where users and bots take over functions that company personnel had previously performed. One common application is enrollment, which now often occurs via smartphones.

What else can tech companies automate? Customers want more information about their orders. Tools that enable them to check their order status without having to engage an agent are helpful. Likewise, refunds and return shipments are areas of keen interest. These procedures are complex and involve multiple steps. Any modifications that automate and simplify processes, making them faster, easier, and more efficient, will interest technology companies.

Cloud systems have sufficiently massive processing power and can complete complex tasks at high speeds. “With AI, customer support systems translate customer input in different languages, say Spanish or French, in real time, which enables support personnel to converse with customers in their native tongues,” Krishnaswam notes.

The eventual benefit is more efficient use of companies’ most expensive service resource: personnel. “Automation means that agents spend less time on simple issues and have more time to spend on complex customer interactions,” Aniano says.

The next generation of AI solutions has the potential to push CRM automation capabilities much further. “The new AI tools have the potential to empower companies to intelligently triage customer interactions,” Aniano adds.

These complex solutions could understand caller sentiment and mind-sets, which could lead to more intelligent, more automated, more effective routing. Now, CRM systems largely have users determine how to route calls: “Press #1 for billing,” “click here to enter your query,” etc. Next-generation systems examine word choice and tone to understand how the customer is feeling. “If a grumpy person calls, then the interaction will be routed to an agent who knows how to turn on the charm and take the steps necessary to mitigate the problem,” Aniano says.

However, such advances come with a caveat. “In terms of automation, corporations need to know where to draw the line between what the technology could do and what humans should do,” says Clint Oram, cofounder and chief strategy officer of SugarCRM. “The idea is not to automate everything but to automate the easy things so agents have more time to work on complex issues.”

Technology companies have been at the forefront on new product developments. Sometimes, they take on more work than they should and become bogged down in coding quagmires. Narrowing their focus, selecting appropriate partners, and using automation judiciously can help them avoid the possible pitfalls so their CRM systems improve customer engagement, reduce costs, and boost productivity.

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