In the past few years the mantra has been revised. Data is now power. Information guides effective decision making in every area of commercial enterprise. Within the human domain the technology at the forefront of this movement is the CRM system. Workers record every aspect of an interaction, from quantitative facts and figures to the important emotional details essential to soft skills like birthdays, children’s names and sports club affiliations.
With the shadow GDPR compliance now looming over UK business, real human contact is likely to undergo something of a renaissance as companies move away from e-contact and digital marketing campaigns. Undoubtedly CRM experts will already be sharpening their systems, ready for business growth across the 12-month period.
The holistic horizon
Working across several business disciplines engenders a comprehensive view of the industry. CRM consultant Nimisha Brahmbhatt has helped direct the implementation of CRM systems for FTSE 100 clients such as Centrica and Accenture as part of an overall customer contact strategy.
We asked her to detail the most significant improvements in the industry over the last six to 12-month period: “It's hard to target what has significantly changed but I would say automation within these systems has excelled in leaps and bounds. Whereas the primary focus in the past has been on communication, now it's centred on empowering users to take reflexive actions when they interact with the messages from these systems. This has significantly changed the way businesses profile audiences, and with the integration of tools such as social media and analytics, these systems are advancing relationships with the customers, powered by the information that is specifically relevant to them.”
What does Brahmbhatt feel are the key implications of these changes? “The largest factor impacting revenues created by CRM systems is the creation of bespoke customer journeys,” she explains. “Constructing the messaging and language to create an experience that is meaningful within the context of the business should be a main objective of CRM usage. Business systems that encompass this ethos will rarely see a hit to their revenues.
“However, businesses that fail to invest in this practice will struggle, with a loss in revenue resulting from dissatisfied customers. The opportunity however is the conversation that can be initiated with customers once their critical needs have been identified, driving improvement and growth.”
Brahmbhatt has high hopes for the industry in the near future. “During the next 12-month period we may see the emergence of customer input into their own meaningful interactions with customers via robotic information gathering applications. Chat bots, live chat facilities with heuristically trained responses and more are set to dominate the industry to ensure that customers are contacted.”
Looking towards industry specialists, one company that is implementing CRM as a core aspect of its business is Student.com. Attracting over $70mn in investment on the global stage, it has become the largest accommodation marketplace for student housing listing over 800,000 rental opportunities in 400 cities. Sukh Sadhra, the company’s CRM Global Lead, is tasked with optimising the CRM strategy for the business. Highlighting some of the ways this business utilises technology, Sadhra says: “At present, the biggest developments within CRM at Student.com are from a customer lifecycle perspective. Our activities are split between welcome campaigns to on-board new customers, re-engaging lost customers, and ad hoc campaigns – which are usually seasonal or around key dates for our business.
“As we’re dealing with such a young target audience, social, SMS and email all form part of our regular communications. Last year we had customers from over 130 different countries, and channels can vary across markets. For instance, in China there’s a huge opportunity for CRM activity through WeChat – a multi-purpose social app that almost every one of our customers in China use. We need to be present and responsive on this platform if we want to continue to be successful in this region.”
As with all digital business, Sadhra has a focus on adapting the strategy to encompass the opportunities presented by emergent technology. “Over the last year or so, a growing number of companies have ramped up their CRM activities to make the most of artificial intelligence (AI) and personalise at a deeper level than ever before. I’ve been most impressed by brands – Adidas is a great example, using automation and AI to optimise funnels as much as possible. Emergent technology allows businesses to become more relevant to their audiences, from automating email communications and social ads based on customer insights to allowing customers to amend orders through chat bots.”
What are the key outcomes defined by the changes in CRM strategy, and is Student.com reaping the rewards? “At present, our business objectives for CRM are very much around boosting conversion and driving more of our acquired traffic successfully through the booking journey. Within that, we have by-products such as increasing our volume of repeat customers and referrals. All of this maps further up to a broader objective for the business: bookings via our platform and revenue.”
Sadhra acknowledges that businesses like Student.com will see their relationships with CRM evolve: “The world of CRM is always changing. I’m confident that there will be a stark contrast between the next five years and the subsequent five. The most important area to look at is people - CRM and marketing specialists. The more businesses invest in automation and AI, the easier it’ll become to scale back on human resources. CRM specialists need to learn to optimise and add value to services, translating hard data into softer customer insights to increase conversions.
“When it comes to Student.com, we have a different set of challenges in 2018 and beyond. For us, CRM is crucial to help our main customers through the funnel. Students are a complex audience when it comes to media and marketing. When you’re dealing with this many markets, localisation becomes even more important. And it’s not just a case of translating messaging into other languages, but really understanding which channels, content and touch points work best for each market. Automation streamlines our approach, allowing us to truly scale up CRM activities globally.”
The impact of new systems
OrderWise has been supplying business management software to UK-based clients for over 25 years. With a focus on creating end to end sales and stock control systems, CRM is a vital aspect of the company’s approach. David Hallam is the Founder and Managing Director of the business. Having recently created a new CRM system for its software, he was keen to share the benefits it has already delivered for customers.
“For us and our customers, the integration offered by our new product is the key advantage. Many of our customers had used OrderWise in the past, but had also been using separate third-party CRM systems to manage customers, creating data transfer challenges, such as time constraints, and inconsistencies within the data. Now, with systems and information in one place, visibility of processes like sales, marketing and lead generation leads to increased management efficiency.
“Having the OrderWise CRM in place also means profitability is increased: if customers are paying for multiple systems when they can have it all under one system, it is not cost efficient. A single system is obviously financially advantageous.” Hallam contrasts the new developments to the legacy systems that were previously supporting its customers. “The new CRM we have created is built to work with a simpler, more user-friendly interface. Drag and drop options mean records can be easily moved along to the necessary milestones, with the cards view meaning clear visibility of how orders are progressing.
“Another key advantage of the new CRM system is that the OrderWise app mirrors the exact functionality and interface of the desktop system. Those selling in the field at face-to-face meetings or at trade shows can track, update and use it in exactly the same way as if they were in the office. With many companies expanding operations and becoming more agile, this is a key feature for a dynamic approach.”
What does the future of OrderWise’s CRM strategy look like? “The main challenge with us today, is keeping up with rapidly changing tech trends and the demands of companies placed on their IT systems. Technology is developing so quickly, simply treading water with the latest innovations is key. We combat this developmental challenge by constantly keeping up a dialogue with customers to remain ahead of the curve.
“Remaining reactive to challenges is crucial to any business. If an emerging technology within logistics looks likely to take over, you can be sure that we’re aware of it and are already planning ahead. Sinking your concentration into one single product can easily see you coming unstuck these days; research and development is therefore one of our priorities, especially when it comes to our CRM system.”
As with all current technology trends, it’s clear an adaptive approach underlines product development strategy within CRM. Perhaps one of the most notable changes that is happening on an industry-wide basis is how systems are now leading and dictating the way business communicates. People are now responding more to the needs of the systems as our relationship with technology grows ever more symbiotic, making this a truly exciting time for business and growth.