It always happens this way. A market erupts or transitions to something new or it goes the way of the dodo and you miss the key turning point. Looking back, though, you can spot the telltale signs of disruption. People like me, who try to forecast these great events, have the reliability of a dartboard. Nonetheless, I feel like doing it again.
I think, and am declaring, that CRM is in the early phases of a major transition because business is making that transition and CRM has to keep up. The change I am watching moves CRM from supporting transactions to supporting business processes. Now, reasonable people can disagree on this, and many will ask "what about the sales process or the marketing process and the service process we already have? Transaction, transaction, transaction, I say.
Process Will Be Paramount
Vendor-supported processes all focus on the transactions at the end of the real processes that can involve many steps and require interaction between vendor and customer. My rule of thumb is, not surprisingly, that vendors think about transactions but customers think about processes. True! Nobody woke up this morning saying, "I have to buy this or that today" unless they woke up yesterday or last month thinking, "I have this problem or this need - how am I going to solve it?"
We've been up and down the customer experience tree for more than a decade now, figuring it was going to be the answer to how we get along with customers, but we still have a hard time defining it. I think that's because too often, we imagine the experience ending in a transaction for goods, services, money or information. And why not? That's the way CRM has always worked.
There's a crucial point we have ignored: An experience orientation implies something customer-driven. As I said last time, vendors have had no problem interrupting customers with offers for a very long time. However, the era ahead will be all about customers interrupting vendors, with the consequence that process will be paramount.
CRM was born at an unusual time, when markets were exploding and everybody needed to get their first -- you can fill in the blank here -- mobile phone, computer, personal electronic gadget, software system, and on and on. You and I know those times as exponential growth, and they are times when vendors take orders and engage in transactions as fast as possible; hence CRM's transactional bias. Exponential growth is rare, though, and short in duration.
Take a look at the exponential growth curves of the last few decades, and you see that many have long since keeled over from their vertical rises and look suspiciously S-shaped today. Some, for instance PCs, look like ballistic missiles returning to Earth. In this environment, vendors chase very picky customers who need to be courted in processes.
Lines Will Blur
So look at the marketplace right now. Amazon really nailed the transition, probably unintentionally, when it introduced the Mayday button for Kindle Fire help. The Mayday button is the tacit admission that -- for now, at least -- we've made our products as simple and intuitive as we can, and that henceforth there will be a growing need for good old hands-on, in the moment, no-waiting-around customer service.
As the Amazon site says,
"When you tap the Mayday button from Quick Settings, you can connect to an Amazon Tech advisor who can guide you through any feature on your Kindle Fire by drawing on your screen, walking you through how to do something for yourself, or doing it for you -- whatever works best.That, my friends, is a blooming process. It also is not unique.
Not to be outdone, Salesforce.com this week announced a private beta for its SOS button/functionality for its mobile product. Now, through functionality built into the Salesforce1 Platform, developers can embed service into -- wait for it -- business processes mediated by tablets and smartphones.
Interestingly, these business processes will be primarily business-to-business in orientation and not Amazon's B2C approach. Look for lines to blur quickly, though. This is by far not the first example of embedding service. I wrote a story a few years ago about EA Games embedding service into their massive online games so that people could get assistance without getting out of the game experience, for instance.
The Mayday and SOS buttons are something different, though. If you begin assembling all of the parts and pieces of modern CRM, you quickly realize that well beyond data integration within the traditional silos, there are capabilities (like content management, analytics, workflow, collaboration and social) that add up to a facility for updating CRM to support almost any business process -- as a process and not a transaction -- that you can name.
So, from my observation point, customers are demanding more process orientation in their vendor relationships, and the CRM vendors like Salesforce are providing the tools to make all this happen. It's now up to the business community to accurately interpret the writing on the wall and move briskly into a new era.
Will it happen? Yup. Will it be brisk? Hard to say.
More Like a Concierge
For many businesses, this change might require a significant CRM replacement at a time when ERP systems are looking a bit dowdy and competent cloud-based replacements are showing they have significant chops.
The good news is that platform-based ERP and CRM solutions offer tremendous flexibility to enable businesses to stage a rolling replacement using best-of-breed solutions for the front and back office all plugged together through the platform. The idea of a major rip-and-replace, a la 1999, is not in the cards this time.
Instead, market share is up for grabs, and the winners will be the businesses that can best deploy customer focused business processes that are customer-interrupt driven. The old notion of a vendor-driven transaction process is sunsetting.
I like everything about Mayday and SOS buttons but their names. The monikers imply a panicked reaction to a disaster -- after all, SOS was coined as an abbreviation for "Save Our Ship," as in, "We're going swimming with extreme prejudice. Help!"
That's not the case here, and if I were a software vendor I would prefer to accentuate the positive, using the word "concierge" to describe the button. That's more like what this functionality is all about.
A concierge is someone who steps in to provide expert assistance only when asked, leaving the customer with an elevated feeling of success and gratitude. If you are building customer-centered business process support, that seems like the goal -- to me, at least. Let's wait a year and see if I'm right.