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Shutterstock PHOTO: Is customer relationship management software a necessity for marketers?

Instead of customer relationship management maybe it is time to start calling it customer experience relationship management or contextual experience relationship management. Not customer intelligence though because that is a separate best of breed category that is getting some traction.

CRM, in short, is undergoing an evolution that may finally deliver on its original promise and on marketers’ needs. So said Sheryl Kingstone, who leads 451 Research's coverage for Customer Experience & Commerce.

The latest CRM iterations, she told CMSWire, “are embedding intelligence. Some of the newer cloud native applications are much easier to use. They’re putting context onto the information, and the user interface is becoming much more humanistic... Five years ago we were talking about task-driven processes. Now, those processes aren’t as hard coded -- they’re more dynamic. And that’s why I talk about CRM being more humanistic.”

What is CRM?

Salesforce.com, a vendor synonymous with CRM defines this brand of software as  “a technology for managing all your company’s relationships and interactions with customers and potential customers.” Implicit in that definition was a promise that the three main components of what makes up a standard CRM suite -- customer service, marketing and sales -- would deliver a 360 degree view of the customer.

It never did, of course. What it did do, however, it did very well. CRM was, and still is, for many companies a foundational core of operations — a system of record. It excelled at operationalizating business processes. It was your master data file.

The Customers Catch Up

Part of the problem five or ten years ago was the customers themselves. While they were cloud enabled, few were cloud natives. Dynamic, machine-learning algorithms, if they had existed in commercial applications, wouldn’t have done much for these companies. Also the data didn’t have the intensity and value that it does today.

Why Is Customer Intelligence Important?

Both of those situations have changed, according to Kingstone, leading to a shift to focus on the customer experience and the rise of a new type of provider in the customer intelligence space. Not that the companies in this space are all new names; existing vendors — we can cite Salesforce’s Einstein as one example — are excelling in this space. Another example is Oracle’s Infinity application, which has not yet launched, but is being written from the ground up based on streaming analytics.

Another variation is the customer data platform with AI — a category that Gartner introduced last year into its hype cycle series.  The category arose, Gartner said in it's Hype Cycle for Digital marketing report, “from the need for a solution that could be controlled and deployed by marketers to unify customer identity in a privacy-compliant way, manage first-party data and connect execution across multiple point solutions.” 

Alytics, BlueConic, BlueShift and Ensighten are among the vendors in this space, which is further organizing itself with the creation of a classification scheme for CDP vendors, according to a blog post by the Customer Data Platform Institute. “Since the ultimate goal of this exercise is to help marketers find CDPs that meet their particular needs, breaking the features into categories related to those needs seems reasonable,” founder David Raab writes.

We Still Need CRM

For all the developments in these categories, Kingstone maintains we still need CRM. “We still need an intelligence platform that enables marketing — which we have — but also customer service. We still have not achieved that true unified view of the customer profile.”

If the industry could talk it would probably say that it has developed such a profile — but these capabilities are already antiquated based on customer expectations of marketing and service. “The customer profile bar, or field goal, is constantly moving,” Kingstone says. In the end, even with these new applications, new functionalities, she said, “we still need CRM because it’s the customer record.”