CRM: AI Strategy Should Come First

The customer is perhaps what has changed most during the technology revolution of the last 20 years. Now, when customers enter the buying process, they are equipped with far more perspective and information than ever before. Gone are the days of word-of-mouth reviews, nowadays customers are connected to millions of customer reviews and experiences through social media, including product or service comparisons. Due to this new reality salespeople and marketers are left playing catch-up to develop strategies that will equip their organisations to capitalise on customer experience. CRM is at the forefront.

Organisations are hoping that by injecting a CRM AI strategy into their business the scales will be balanced when interacting with customers. Entering negotiations when knowing less than their counterpart is something no business wants to do; and when looking at the marketing churn of most software companies it’s easy to assume that already a lot of businesses have implemented an AI strategy into their sales and marketing processes.

Forrester Research principal analyst Joe Stanhope said “If the AI-driven environment can learn enough and be trained correctly, it can deliver better customers that are more relevant and timely and on the right device and right promotion.” However, AI in customer experience comes with a caution. “It will play out as a multiyear process, and it’s not necessarily a technology problem,” Stanhope warned. “It is more of a change of management and a cultural issue.”

Business executives know the importance of implementing an AI strategy into the customer experience. Bluewolf’s latest “State of Salesforce” annual report found that 63% of C-level executives are counting on AI to improve the customer experience. A 2017 IBM study also found that 26% of respondent expected AI to have a major impact of customer experience today, while 47% expected the impact to be within the next 2-3 years.

According to a 2017 study undertaken by the IBM Institute for Business Value in the next two to three years, a third of companies plan to implement AI technologies. However, some companies surveyed have already introduced AI technologies and plan to license even more.

Chief marketing officers were divided into three groups of respondents in IBM’s “Cognitive Catalysts: Reinventing Enterprises and Experiences With Artificial Intelligence”: tacticians are AI-enabled with minimal future investment, aspirationals are planning their first AI-enabled investment and reinventors are AI-enabled with significant future investment.

Within the next 2 years, 70 % of aspirationals, 48% of tacticians and 63% of reinventors plan to implement AI technologies to help revamp the customer experience, demonstrating that an AI implementation needs to sprout at executive level and make its way down towards the users.

By that time a considerable increase in use cases for AI customer service should be seen and not just in the product servicing sense, but in the sales and marketing stages of customer experience.

Dana Hamerschlag, chief product officer at Miller Heiman Group said . “Buyers expect something different these days; they come in much more educated.” She added “The trick and challenge around AI is how do you leverage this powerful machine to tell you that process, rather than just give you the outcome data.”

The importance of gaining an edge on the customer reaches marketing as well, with CRM AI strategies that can resolve prospecting concerns. Bluewolf’s annual report found that 33% of marketing companies that are growing their AI capability within the next year expect the technology to have the most impact on their ability to qualify prospects.

Hamerschlag said “You need to enter a conversation with a customer understanding their context.” She continued “You need to be informed and, with AI, not only [of] who they are but what they have looked at, what they are reading on my site, what emails they have opened.”

AI’s potential has been given an outlet due to the emphasis on customer experience. Organisations are beginning to explore ways that a CRM AI strategy and related technologies can improve customer experience and service. According to a recent Forrester survey one of the main obstacle in adopting and implementing AI are employees. Among CRM professionals the survey found that 28% said that one of the biggest challenges to improving CRM last year was gaining user acceptance of new tech, compared to 20% in 2015. But the same professionals thought it was easier working with IT to adopt new technologies last year (19%) than it was in 2015 (31%).

Furthermore, in the same Forrester survey, 64% of CRM professionals said that creating a single view of customer data and information is the largest challenge they face when improving CRM capabilities.

The disruption the introduction of AI causes means that no department is safe from it. Contact and customer service centres have already begun applying use cases. But wile examples such as predictive lead scoring may excite a company looking for a competitive edge, everything still boils down to the CRM AI strategy.

“Traditionally, the sales part of an organization is typically the part that is more art than science,” Hamerschlag said. “Everyone comes at AI a little bit differently, and the technology is a means to an end. It’s secondary,” she explained. “You can pour millions of dollars into experimenting with [AI] technology, but unless you have a clear hypothesis around how this behavior drives change in a sales outcome, then all you’re doing is experimenting in an expensive way.”

This is why when implementing AI capabilities a CRM strategy is so important. Unlike other technologies, AI has to serve a specific need or else it can end up being a very expensive mistake.

According to Harmerschalg “When used well, AI can help sales teams perform better at every stage of the sales and service cycle, but forget technology for a minute. There’s a strategy around how we engage a buying organization.”

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