Isn’t Customer Relationship Management technology supposed to be dead? 

Apparently it’s getting a lifeline from the Internet of Things.

Gartner predicts “CRM will be at the heart of digital initiatives in coming years as enterprises look to create more targeted interactions in a multichannel environment.” The research firm has now added IoT as the fifth dimension of its Nexus of Forces. And, while estimates vary, we’ve all heard the numerous predictions that anywhere from 26 to 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020.

The bottom line is that IoT is a big paradigm shift that is not only affecting the way people interact with objects and things but also the way customers interact with brands. The advent of connected technology continues to extend people’s expectations, increasing the level of sophistication that is now required to serve the new digitally savvy customer.

All of this is driving remarkable change in the marketing and customer relationship management realm. Terms like “omnichannel” are now the common buzzwords for managing customers through the various sales and service channels (online, mobile, call center, in-store, etc.) that your brand may have.

CRM solutions are now evolving to take customer service to the next level -- enabling enterprises to better understand their customers and offer proactive support by leveraging IoT data to create improved, automated customer support environments.

The New Frontier for CRM

In the IoT era, companies need to change their attitude toward how they manage their customers. Most businesses still view customer service predominantly as a cost center, and they have spent the last couple of decades moving customers to the lowest-cost channel for service. But now companies have an opportunity to use service as a way to enhance the customer experience and differentiate in a world of competitive products. 

The next frontier of CRM will unleash several new opportunities for managing your customers:

Real time marketing promotions: The mobile channel now provides brands with the opportunity to establish location and context for their customers. The opportunity to send real-time promotions to customers has never been greater. But these promotions can no longer be generic and must consider customers’ buying history, preferences and current context. American Express has partnered with several retailers to offer real-time promotions based on a customer’s location and credit card activity. 

On-demand pricing: Once a company has established the ability to do on-the-fly promotions, it can then use live data streams to establish the right pricing at the right time. No longer will price optimization models need to rely on static and statistical assumptions; they can instead be based on real-time behaviors and events. Pricing for products and services can now be personalized to an individual level.

Next-generation customer service: IoT will considerably improve the customer service experience by using IoT-related data to do predictive analysis and enable proactive support. Using customer information on status, location, functionality and preferences enables the prediction of problems. Devices also become self-aware and are now able to fix and maintain themselves. 

In-store experiences: Creating fully immersive, omnichannel experiences requires seamless integration between online and brick-and-mortar experiences. Store associates should know what the customer is looking for when he walks into a store, what his preferences or sizes are. They should know what he takes into the fitting rooms and be able to suggest additional items in real-time. Banks should know exactly what type of offers to present him the minute he walks through the door, with the use of iBeacon technology. 

What Role Will Wearables Play?

The opportunity that IoT and wearables unleash for marketers is tremendous. IHS analysis indicates that roughly 50 million wearable devices were sold in 2014 -- and more than 180 million are predicted to sell in 2018. 

Many CRM vendors are now preparing for this onslaught of wearable devices. Salesforce launched a first-of-its-kind Salesforce Wear ecosystem last year to allow developers to create enterprise applications that use wearable devices as the new mobile endpoints. The platform now supports a range of wearable devices like FitBit, Jawbone, Epson Moverio, Meta Glasses, Oculus Rift and Pebble. Salesforce CEO Benioff envisions that IoT and wearables will change the face of CRM. 

But the real secret lies in the data, not the device. The opportunity is not just about the new screen sizes and form factors that wearables bring; it’s about unlocking the massive insights and connections that exist in the data and linking that data intelligently to drive new marketing opportunities. Wearables certainly create a new delivery mechanism or micro-channel for marketers to use. But the success of the wearables channel will depend on the relevance of the messages being sent. 

The Self-Marketing Product Era

With the IoT, the real disruption comes from the products themselves. In the connected product world, the individual products become their own marketing platforms. For instance, any product in the future that is “smart” can allow consumers to engage directly with the product in a manner similar to how they would engage through traditional channels like their smartphones or online. Are you ready for talking products?

Coca Cola is experimenting with just that. It has been working with IoT cloud provider Jasper to not only connect its vending network but to pilot connected products such as soda cans. 

Companies are now making the shift from product orientation to service orientation. There is real potential in using the cloud to process and link the IoT data that is emerging from wearables and other smart products. 

Jasper is a leading provider of an industry-leading software-as-a-service (SaaS) IoT platform that enables companies to rapidly and cost-effectively launch, manage and monetize IoT services on a global scale. Jasper’s platform is now powering more than 1,000 IoT projects for a wide collection of companies, including Alarm.com, Air Liquide, Boston Scientific, Coca-Cola, Ford, Garmin, General Electric, General Motors, Honeywell, Nissan, Securitas and many more.

In the future, products will operate alongside traditional marketing channels like TV, mobile, magazines and other media. By tapping into consumer behavior, this will create an entirely new form of CRM through physical objects.

The New Tools of CRM

Consumers now expect companies to be available 24/7. They expect answers to questions and resolution of problems to happen immediately. They expect seamless access across all your channels. They expect an integrated experience. Delivering this requires a new set of sophisticated CRM tools.

Tools like Parature are helping organizations create much better customer experiences. Parature is a cloud-based solution that improves the effectiveness and efficiency of customer service representatives through a combination of knowledge management, self-service and multi-channel interactions. 

Solutions like Geotoko are allowing organizations to deliver real-time promotions through easy-to-use marketing campaign wizards that use location-based promotions for Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter.  

Similarly, Aislelabs has an entire platform that uses GPS, WiFi and Beacon technology to collect visitor behavior information and is able to show merchants what their customers are doing inside their stores, right down to the department level.

Even traditional CRM platform vendors are embracing the IoT movement. Microsoft is integrating its Dynamics CRM platform with its Azure IoT Suite to create a “Connected Marketing, Sales and Service” capability to enable Intelligent Customer Engagement.  

Software giants like SAP are also realizing the need to provide more integrated, cloud-based CRM solutions to deliver real-time experiences to customers across all digital channels. SAP has tightly integrated recent acquisitions of e-commerce platform vendor Hybris and behavioral 1:1 marketing platform SeeWhy to better position itself against Salesforce. 

Becoming a Customer-Centric Organization

Traditional CRM systems have focused on automating the sales and service processes, typically in a product-centric setting. Modern CRM companies then greatly improved that experience by managing the entire lifecycle of your relationship with the customer.

In the IoT era, CRM evolves even further as companies move from being product focused to service focused. This creates more customer-centric organizations that will be better equipped to deal with today’s digitally empowered customers and their rising expectations.