The Next 25 Years: Customer-Centric Business Strategy

The Next 25 Years: Customer-Centric Business Strategy

By: Barton Goldenberg

July 2010

While this month’s “25 years in the CRM Industry” feature story is filled with interesting lessons learned from several best-in-class companies, let’s now journey down the next 25 years as the CRM industry shifts towards ‘customer-centric’ business strategies that incorporate increasingly sophisticated yet easy-to-use CRM, Social CRM and Social Media tools and techniques.

The key thrust over the next 25 years will be on creating and sustaining lifetime customers.  Needless to say, there are no successful companies without successful customers and understanding what customers need, and the best way to satisfy those needs, is critical for any organization’s success. Gaining, managing, and leveraging customer knowledge over the next 25 years will depend on ensuring that your people understand what it means to become customer-centric and providing them with business processes and technology tools to achieve this direction. Designing customer-centric strategies that capture and sustain lifetime customers (when customer needs keep changing) will be a difficult balancing act that takes commitment, expertise, and innovation.

To successfully implement your customer-centric strategy, here are the three essential CRM developments that you’ll need to master.

1) From Customer Relationship ‘Management’ to Customer ‘Engagement’

The move from customer relationship ‘management’ to customer ‘engagement’ will have profound implications as you move from a one-way to a two-way dialog with your customers.  This transformation has already begun to take hold, in large part because of highly interactive technology tools that leverage the fundamental human desire to interact with others (view this “must” video http://vimeo.com/11551721).  Online ‘communities’ increasingly allow people to get information, opinions, solutions and ratings directly from each other rather than from organizations.

Consider this recent finding: “Over 80% of Internet consumers search online for health information, trusting peer-generated social media content more than pharmaceutical company websites and what their physicians say.”  What’s already happened in the pharmaceutical industry will inevitably happen to your industry during the next 25 years.  Your mission: become an active participant in this two-way dialog, where the baton has passed to the consumer who now controls the dialog.  As John Chambers (CEO of Cisco) concludes several years ago, “this collaboration that kids got through social networking is the future of business.”

One of the key tools that will help with the transition to customer engagement will be dynamic customer profiles.  Unlike today’s customer profile that I began writing about in 1986 and that have just taken hold as a core component of every successful CRM system, tomorrow’s customer profiles will seamlessly integrate static profile information with dynamic customer information generated from customers interacting with one another (and hopefully you too).

2) Mobilizing CRM

Here are some thoughts that industry guru Tim Bajarin (www.creativestrategies.com) and I shared during a recent discussion regarding the next 25 years.  Over the last five years, portable computers have become the workhorse of mainstream business users.  In the past, laptops were mostly used by what we called road warriors.  Today laptops are used by what we now call hallway warriors; management executives and administrative staff who take them with them to meetings all over their campus.

During that same period cell phones became smarter. Smart phones like RIM’s Blackberry and Apple’s iPhone have become personal computers that fit in your pocket. They have become the lifeblood of enterprise communications and continue to be one of the most important tools for enterprise productivity.

While laptops and smart phones are powerful hardware devices for use within the enterprise, it is the innovative software that is really making mobile computing a vital part of any enterprise solution.  Applications like Salesforce.com that can be used on desktops, laptops and smart phones now make it possible to have CRM data and customer information at your fingertips, anytime and anywhere you happen to be.  And with more and more apps moving to the cloud and wireless services providing ubiquitous access to custom applications and information, mobile computing technology is transforming the way that we conduct business in the age of digital information and communications.

Recently a new portable computing platform has been announced that has the potential of adding a new dimension to the mobile computing experience.  Apple’s iPad, and subsequent competing products are on track to make the portable computer even more portable and deliver new ways of accessing information as well as working with mobile and cloud-based applications.  This is especially true if you use the iPad 3G version or other tablets with the cellular modem built-in that gives users ubiquitous connectivity to information and applications any time and any place you happen to be.  This new form factor masks the fact that it is a computer and with its multi-touch interface, it will usher in the era of touch computing.  And for business users, it could become one of the most indispensible computing tools given its lightweight design and the fact that it can go everywhere with you.

Mobile computing is the future of enterprise computing.  And with the rapid advances in mobile technology and broadband wireless networks, these mobile devices coupled to cloud based apps will drive the next generation of CRM and enterprise solutions.

3) A New People, Process, Technology Paradigm

Successful CRM, Social CRM and Social Media initiatives will continue to depend on getting the people/process/technology mix right – with 50% of success depending on people, 30% on process and 20% on technology.

New technologies including mobile computing will change the landscape of how people interact with one another and will increasingly push real-time information and business analytics to mobile devices.  Interconnections within the web cloud will bring about new ways to collaborate with employees and customers.  We’ll also see many new software vendors entering the fray, especially from the analytical side.

There will also be new customer engagement business processes to ensure that two-way customer dialogs are in place and that what happens in the blogosphere finds its way into your customer profile.  Multi-channel processes will become a necessity, not a luxury.  Even the most conservative organizations will gravitate towards utilizing a concentric-circle approach to incorporate Social CRM and Social Media tools and techniques, beginning with internal communities and expanding through invitation-only communities to fully open communities.

But most importantly, those organizations that survive the next 25 years will focus on achieving high user adoption rates associated with their customer-centric strategies; this means spending sufficient time, money and effort to put into place meaningful training, incentives and executive coaching programs.  It will be a big mistake to think that making the transition to a two-way customer dialog is “a part of an employee’s job” and that customers will easily adapt to your new way of conducting business.

The CRM industry’s past 25 years has delivered an abundance of meaningful people, process and technology accomplishments to deepen meaningful customer relationships.   But to survive the next 25 years, buckle your seatbelts and prepare to move at an even faster pace as organizations, en route to achieving customer-centric strategies, master how to achieve meaningful two-way dialogues with their increasingly mobile customers.