With So Much Commoditization In The CRM Landscape, How Do You Choose The Right CRM?

I have been working on evaluating a range of vendors for the CRM Wave which will be published in March. What I am seeing is that core CRM capabilities are very, very commoditized. Just about every vendor can check the box on core SFA and marketing automation features. There's a bit more difference if you look at customer service capabilities over social, digital and self service channels but all evaluated vendors handle core case management adequately. So what does this mean to the buyer who is looking for a CRM?

  • Choose a solution that is right-sized for your business. Some CRM vendors target the complex, global enterprise. These solutions are typically heavyweight and replete with features that are often customized to meet specific business requirements. Other CRM vendors target small to midsize organizations with a breath, but not necessarily a depth of capabilties. For smaller organizations too many features are often an overkill for organizations with lightweight needs, so make sure you understand the target user of the CRMs under evaluation.
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Forrester's Top CRM Trends For 2015

CRM is the foundational building block that allows empowered consumers and connected employees to do business in ways we could not imagine just a few years ago. Historically, CRM strategies have focused around operational efficiency gains like reduced marketing costs, increased revenues from salespeople, shorter sales cycles, or better customer service productivity. Its no wonder that CRM is widely deployed in all companies – both big and small.

 

Today CRM is evolving, and companies are using it to support their customers in their end-to-end journeys. This customer obsession delivers business results that far exceed productivity and efficiency measures.CRM, used the right way, delivers higher levels of revenue and company profitability through winning, serving, and retaining customers.

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Customer Service Channel Usage Highlights The Importance Of Good Self-Service

Customers are using more communication channels for customer service than ever before. They are also contacting customer service organizations more frequently. Companies are rising to this challenge as overall satisfaction with the quality of service over all communication channels is trending upwards.

Moreover, customers have little appetite for long or difficult service interactions, including navigating arduous interactive voice response (IVR) menus to connect with an agent or waiting in queues to be connected to a phone agent; and are increasingly turning to self-service as the easiest path to service resolution. Here are some key takeaways from our latest consumer survey about channel  usage for customer service.

  • For the first time in the history of our survey, respondents reported using the FAQ pages on a company's website more often than speaking with an agent over the phone. Use of the help/FAQ pages on a company's website for customer service increased from 67% in 2012 to 76% in 2014, while phone interactions have remained constant at a 73% usage rate.
  • Other self-service channels also see increased usage since 2012. For example, use of communities and virtual agents jumped by over 10 percentage points each. We also see robust uptake of speech and mobile self-service channels.  
  • Self-service adoption increased across all generations from 2012 to 2014, with the largest increases attributable to older boomers (ages 59-69)  and the golden generation (ages 70+).
  • Online chat adoption continues to rise – from 38% in 2009 to 43% in 2012 to 58% in 2014. Screensharing, cobrowsing and SMS are other channels that are increasing in popularity among the young and old alike.
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Forrester's Top Trends For Customer Service In 2015

As 2014 winds down, I have taken the time to pause, and look ahead to what top customer service trends are surfacing for 2015 and beyond. Good service — whether it's to answer a customer's question prior to purchase, or help a customer resolve an issue post-purchase should be pain-free, proactive at a minimum and preemptive at best, deeply personalized, and delivered with maximum productivity. Here are 6 top trends - out of a total of 10 - that I am keeping my eye on. My full report highlighting all trends can be found here:

Trend 1: Customers Embrace Emerging Channels To Reduce Friction. In our recent survey, we found that web self-service was the most widely used communication channel for customer service, surpassing use of the voice channel for the first time. In 2015, we predict that customers will continue to demand  effortless interactions over web and mobile self-service channels. They will also explore new communication channels such as video chat with screen sharing and annotation.

Trend 2: Companies Will Explore Proactive Engagement. Proactive engagements anticipate the what, when, where, and how for customers, and prioritize information and functionality to speed customer time-to-completion. In 2015, we expect organizations to explore proactive engagement - whether it's proactive chat, proactive offers, or proactive content  - delivered at the right time in a customer's pre-purchase journey to help answer customer questions. They will use learnings from these proactive engagements to improve operational performance and to predict future customer behavior.

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Customer Success: A Hot New Software Category That Helps You Manage Your Customers

We live in a subscription economy, thanks to the internet and cloud-based computing. Industries like media, entertainment, and telecommunications have fully embraced a subscription software model, while others, such as publishing, computer storage, financial services, healthcare services, transportation, and business-to-business (B2B) software, are moving in this direction.

What has also happened in parallel is the arrival of the "age of the customer." Customers have become more demanding, staying loyal to companies only when they deliver value. If you offer your products as services, you must manage customer relationships to make sure that your customers are satisfied and will stay loyal to your brand. You must do this to:  

  • Preserve revenue. Managing customer churn becomes increasingly important as you move out of an early-stage, high-growth mode. This is because focus shifts to more steady growth, and customer retention becomes a significant metric for financial success.
  • Expand revenue. If a customer is obtaining value from their purchase, renewal and upsell conversations become easier. For example, you can collect data on how a customer is using a product to realize their business goals and use it to present the appropriate cross-sell and upsell to the customer.
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Right Size Your CRM To Your Needs

CRM solutions have been on the market for a long time. The first products were introduced over two decades ago, and many features are commoditized. New vendors are continually pushing the envelope on CRM capabilities and exploring the “white space” of capabilities that are not necessarily core to CRM. Old stalwarts are working on capabilities that differentiate them from others - like verticalized offerings, offerings tuned to to mobile user, offerings tuned to a certain size or complexity of organization.

CRM buyers need to remember that more capabilities these days is not better; more is simply more. In fact, when you don't need — or perhaps can't use — extra functionality, more is sometimes worse. Small businesses — and small customer-facing teams in larger enterprises — need to carefully evaluate vendors that they are evaluating in order to pick a solution that is right-sized for their needs. Categories and criteria that should be closely evaluated include:

  • Ease of use. Our research finds that 58% of employees interface directly or indirectly with customers. Small customer-facing teams don't have the luxury of deeply configuring or customizing CRM user experiences. Make sure the user experiences that come "out-of'the-box" from your CRM vendor are highly intuitive; that they work on the devices and platforms that your team use; and that they don't impede your productivity in any way.  
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Oracle Open World 2014: Focus on Cloud CRM

This is my fifth time attending Oracle OpenWorld in as many years. The show, held on September 28-October 2 in San Francisco, drew a large crowd this year, topping 60,000 attendees from over 145 countries. I spent my time at the CX Central conference-within-a-conference, dedicated to Oracle's Sales, Service and Marketing cloud. I went to high-level vision sessions, road map sessions, and customer testimonials. I also spent a lot of time talking to systems integrators that have recently deployed these solutions. My impressions of this year are mixed. Here is why:

  • Oracle has deeply solidified its customer experience messaging. The vendor explains the importance on being focused on customer experiences that are in-line with customer expectations through the entire customer engagement journey, from researching to buying to using, and how few companies are doing a good job at delivering on expectations — a point that Forrester backs with a tremendous amount of research and data. Each session I attended led with a quick recap on the importance and value of delivering good CX, and this consistency was much appreciated.
  • There was an over-emphasis on technology as opposed to the business value that Oracle’s CRM solutions deliver. The banners and posters were about infrastructure, platform, cloud. Customer case studies were about “30% less customization; “20% greater efficiency; 40% faster.” What I found missing was the business value for the customer, articulated in better experiences that impacted top-line revenue.
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Leverage the Power Of Proactive Chat For Predictive Engagement

Chat as a customer engagement channel is being used more widely today than ever before. All demographics use it widely, even the Older Boomers (ages 57 to 67) and the Golden Generation (ages 68+). Users are satisfied with chat interactions as they can be less painful than a phone call or a self-service session gone awry. Proactive chat  — triggering of chat invitations based on a predefined set of visitor behaviors - is also on the rise, with 44% of  US online consumers saying that they like having a chat invitation appear to help answer questions during an online research or purchase, up from 33% in 2012 and 27% in 2009.

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Realizing The Joint KANA-Verint Value Proposition Is A Work In Progress

KANA Software (a Verint Company) was kind enough to invite me to their user conference on September 19-20. The event was packed with product, strategy, and customer information. A good number of industry- and independent analysts attended, including Forrester's Ian Jacobs. Here are my thoughts:

  • Software categories are ripe for consolidation, and the KANA-Verint combination is well positioned: There are three main technology categories that comprise a contact center: queueing and routing technologies; CRM, or agent desktop technologies and workforce optimization technologies. We have predicted that these technology categories will converge because (1) these are mature markets and vendors will move into adjacent spaces to increase market share and (2) companies are looking to simplify their technology ecosystem in order to improve the quality of service. The user conference did a good job at articulating the value of consolidating these spaces. 
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Lose The RFP Mindset When Selecting A CRM Solution

The traditional RFP-driven vendor selection process is heavyweight and often has undesirable outcomes:

  • The RFP process it time- and resource-consuming. Forrester estimates that CRM vendor selection projects take six to 12 months to complete. The effort involved to compile detailed requirements often produces something resembling a programming specification rather than a concise statement of business process needs.
  • Outcomes are often undesirable. The more onerous the RFP process, the more likely it is that some of the more viable candidate vendors will opt out  after determining sales considerations costs and reading the tea leaves of the competitive situation. When this occurs, mediocre or unqualified vendors may be the only ones left to choose from.
  • Failure to differentiate among mature products or identify innovators. RFPs only include requirements that buyers can envision now and generally look quite similar to capabilities that vendors can deliver in current releases rather than more visionary features that don't exist in many products today.
  • Vendors gain the upper hand. Vendors often have much more experience with RFPs than the buyer. A cagey vendor will look to circumvent the formal process by influencing executive decision-makers informally or disrupting the process if it is not going its way. Slick sales presentations and RFP responses often gloss over product weaknesses.
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