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If customer experience is the center of digital transformation, customer relationship management (CRM) must be central to managing that experience. But mentioning the term “CRM” in your meeting room often leads to groans of disgust rather than coos of excitement. Indeed, most companies have a love/hate relationship with their customer management software. It allows them to keep in touch with the people keeping them in business. But in most cases, it’s sluggish, time-sucking, and confusing—not words you’d like to describe the tech most central to your company’s success.
Enter, AI. Yes, AI has obviously played a role in past CRM iterations. But new developments in natural language processing and machine learning could help make customer management easier than ever before. The following are a few ways companies are using AI with their CRM platforms to improve customer management and how software companies like Salesforce are creating solutions to meet the needs of their customers.
It Can Help Save Time
None of us have the patience to click through multiple screens to do mind-numbing work. That includes your sales team. In a recent survey regarding the top challenges of CRM tools, the highest complaint was the time it takes to enter data and keep it up today. In fact, 46.5 percent of those surveyed named this as a problem—higher than CRM platforms being expensive (30 percent), hard to learn (28 percent), or difficult to configure (15 percent.) Why is that important? Because when software is too clunky, time-consuming, and difficult to use, it—wait for it—won’t get used. This leads to outdated data and unusable data—which is, ultimately, pointless.
Salesforce must have read the survey. Its newest iteration of AI, Einstein Search for Sales and Service, says it will reduce clicks and page loads by 50 to 80 percent for frequently used tasks. That’s the type of change that turns CRM from a necessary investment into a profitable one.
Taking a Cue from Everyday People
Google had a search satisfaction level of 82 percent in 2018. Customer management platforms? Not so much. Though CRM Magazine says more than 90 percent of companies with 10+ employees utilize CRM platforms, the jury is still out on how effective they are in terms of finding the right lead or even simply accurate information. AI could help keep data clean, centralized, and easy to find.
Again, platforms like Salesforce’s Einstein hope to improve this by using AI to make their customer searches fast and accurate. Using NLP, for instance, users can search phrases like “open opportunities in Los Angeles” rather than using challenging search terms like +Lead +Open +Nonconverted +Los Angeles + California +Myname. Imagine how many more employees will be willing to use the software just because it’s easy to use.
We all know personalization is driving sales in the marketing world, but how about sales and customer service? Customer management requires the same type of personal touch, if not more so, as huge deals—tempers—personalities—often collide. Using AI, customer management is incorporating personalized intel. For instance, it’s now possible that contextual data will show up on a call screen before a sales person answers the phone, allowing them to prioritize calls—talk more personally to those calling—and even divert calls to voicemail if they know the caller is a notoriously cold fish. Less wasted time is more potential money in customer management.
But personalization isn’t just about knowing customers, it’s about knowing the preferences of the company and salespeople overall. Einstein’s newest search capabilities also make it possible for users (at the company and individual level) to tailor their preferences for search—and the AI will improve its ability to return those preferences over time.
Build a Predictive Pipeline
Obviously, one of the most important roles of customer management is converting leads to sales—potential customers to long-term loyalists. Using vast amounts of data, AI can help determine which leaders are the strongest. It helps you determine the types of data that indicate a solid lead (both inside your database and outside of it), what actions you should take to convert that person based on their past actions, and which leads you can kick to the curb.
Globally, CRM spending is expected to hit more than $55.2 billion this year. Salesforce has nearly 20 percent of that market share, follow (far behind) by SAP at least than 10 percent. Clearly, most of us know the value of customer management—the problem is that we’re using less-than-stellar tools or using them in a way that is less-than optimal. At the end of the day, customer management is about knowing what data to gather about your leads, keeping it up to date, and gaining insights from it in the fastest way possible. AI is a clear partner for CRMs and companies looking to build a more loving relationship with customer management and their customers both.
Futurum Research provides industry research and analysis. These columns are for educational purposes only and should not be considered in any way investment advice.
The original version of this article was first published on Forbes.