CRM Must Move Forward, Not Back

By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and

As the April issue of CRM magazine was put to bed, America was moving ahead on the COVID-19 front. Tens of millions of vaccines have already been administered and many more are coming. A number of U.S. states have already ended their pandemic-related lockdowns and other restrictions, and many more states are moving in that direction. The numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are going down, and the economy is slowly coming back to life.


All of this is good news, of course, heralding a long-awaited return to normal. But do we really want to go back to normal? And probably as important, if not more so, can we and should we really go back to the way things were before the first coronavirus case was recorded more than a year ago?


We just changed the clocks, and though my circadian rhythms are a little off, the start of Daylight Saving Time is giving me a clear direction for the future: Spring ahead; fall back. We certainly want to look and move forward, not backward.


Opportunity lies ahead, not behind. It lives in the future, not in the past. If we’re too focused on how things used to be instead of how things could be tomorrow, we’re sure to miss out on the opportunities that lie ahead.

I’m not the only one making this observation. It seems to be a common refrain among business leaders, consultants, analysts, and other industry experts. Donna Fluss, president of DMG Consulting, points out in this month’s “Reality Check” column: “While it won’t be necessary to keep on doing some of the things that companies were forced to do during the dark days, returning fully to the way things were before the pandemic doesn’t make sense.”


Companies, Fluss argues further, will “need to find a balance between successes of the past and the needs of the future.”


That will require companies to look at many different parts of their operations, starting with their infrastructures. Certainly, cloud-based technologies enabling agents to work from home were the main structural change brought about by COVID, and a return to full in-office staffing is unlikely. The time is perfect, therefore, for companies to re-examine their physical needs, as our cover story, “It’s Time to Assess Your Contact Center Infrastructure,” points out.


Even before the pandemic, typical contact center technologies were changing. Voice-only channels were giving way to larger platforms capable of also supporting email, chat, text, video, social media, messaging apps, and more. On-premises technologies were giving way to cloud-based deployments. Interactive voice response systems were giving way to chatbots and intelligent virtual agents. Basic speech analytics was being replaced by much more robust interaction and sentiment analysis technologies. And artificial intelligence was completely upending everything.


The pandemic hastened these changes, and there is certainly no going back now. Companies can only go forward from here.


To help, the feature identifies a few technologies and channels that are on the rise and a few that are on the way out as customer interaction modes. It also offers guidance for assessing current and future needs.


It’s also clear that the pandemic caused a huge surge in digital transactions, which has caused a new phenomenon known as the dark funnel to grow. The dark funnel, which includes the parts of the digital customer journey that are not readily visible to marketers and sales leaders, is a real problem that is only getting bigger. And while no technology can ever provide every detail about every customer or prospect, there is hope for forward-thinking companies willing to experiment, as our second feature, “Shining a Light on the Dark Funnel,” points out. It notes that companies cannot keep looking at customer journeys as linear anymore, which they have done for decades.


The pandemic also forced companies to realize that the old ways of customer acquisition would no longer cut it. Artificial intelligence is starting to be used in new ways to identify and target new business, including competitors’ loyal followings, as our third feature, “Marketing’s Turning to AI for Customer Acquisition,” states.


So as you look to getting back to the office, welcoming customers back to your brick-and-mortar outlets, and bringing your corporate balance sheets back in the black, don’t focus too much on going back. It’s spring now, and we need to spring ahead.


Leonard Klie is the editor of CRM magazine. He can be reached at

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