Over the past decade, customer success has evolved from a standalone business unit focused on helping companies avoid churn and down-sell to its role today as a key business strategy for driving more efficient revenue growth.
As we enter the new year, the integration of artificial intelligence is rapidly enhancing the capabilities of CRM platforms, revolutionizing how businesses interact with and retain their customers.
According to Scott Salkin, CMO at Gainsight, this growing expansion of CRM platforms in business is a crucial item to watch as 2024 rolls along.
“As more companies adopt digital tools to help reduce costs, automate key workflows, and deliver a more personalized customer experience at scale, the importance of technologies such as customer relationship management and customer success management platforms will increase in both business-to-business and business-to-commerce models in the coming year,” he told CRM Buyer.
Meanwhile, many customer experience (CX) leaders see expanding into new technologies as a way to mitigate the threat of lost customers and falling sales. The Annual CX Landscape Report that CallMiner released in September suggests that macroeconomic challenges will persist.
The report referenced details of inflation and a global cost-of-living crisis affecting individuals and organizations alike into 2024. The study found that nearly half (45%) of surveyed senior CX and contact center leaders strongly agreed that they want their organization to do more with fewer resources in 2024, given the current economy.
“In a year where most industries faced evolving economic pressures and rapid technology adoption, organizations have had to adapt their CX strategies accordingly,” said CallMiner CEO Paul Bernard.
CRM Expansion Pushed by Key Factors
Two factors are driving the expansion of CRM, noted Salkin.
First is the growing demand of customers for self-sufficiency. In today’s digital age, consumers expect streamlined and user-friendly interactions, reflecting their advanced digital literacy. The second factor is the need for businesses to become more efficient by adapting their go-to-market models to provide an improved experience at scale.
“Digital tools and experiences help customers become more self-sufficient across their buying journeys,” he offered. “This allows them to more proactively act or react to buyer needs and preferences, drive improved alignment, communication, relationship-building, and ultimately deliver better results for the customers.”
Digital Customer Success: The New Advancing Element
After exploring the key drivers behind CRM expansion, we moved on to digital customer success.
CRM platforms manage and optimize a company’s interactions with current and potential customers through contact management and automating key sales and marketing activities. Salkin clarified that customer success (CS) platforms, in contrast, focus more on post-sales activities.
“They are designed to ensure that customers derive maximum value from the products or services they have purchased,” he said.
Digital customer success takes this even further by blending human touch points with digital engagements. These encounters can occur via email, in-app engagements, digital communities, customer education or learning management systems, and other tools supporting retention, adoption, and expansion.
Digital-First Approach Drives Customer Success
According to Salkin, a digital-first approach to customer success is driven by several factors that reflect the changing landscape of business and customer expectations in the digital era. A few examples include:
Scalability and efficiency. Digital tools enable CS teams to scale their efforts more efficiently while maintaining a personalized approach to delivering value. With digital CS, they can reach a larger customer base, provide more consistent support and experiences, and manage relationships at scale at lower costs.
Changing customer behavior. Customers today are increasingly digital-savvy and prefer to interact with businesses through online channels with seamless and convenient digital experiences.
Data-driven decision-making and AI-powered automation. These elements are key to the digital transformation that many businesses are undergoing to remain competitive. They enable more informed and effective strategies, enhancing customer experiences and operational efficiencies.
“Today’s always-on customers expect real-time answers and immediate responses to their queries. A digital-first approach allows for quick and efficient communication through various digital channels, such as in-app engagements, chatbots, email, communities, and digital training/education,” added Salkin to round up other driving examples of what the digital-first approach does.
Boosting Standard CRM Performance
Digital CS tools complement and enhance the impact of standard CRM systems. They provide specialized features and capabilities focused on the post-sales phase of the customer lifecycle.
“Features for automated communication, in-app messaging, and personalized outreach help businesses deliver and maintain continuous customer engagements,” Salkin noted.
These methods facilitate the provision of important information, training, and updates while also enabling the collection of feedback in a less labor-intensive way, as they do not require direct human interaction.
Furthermore, digital CS tools utilize advanced analytics and machine learning to monitor the status and quality of customer relationships, often referred to as “customer health.” This evaluation process involves tracking usage patterns, product adoption, and other relevant metrics to ensure a positive and healthy customer-business relationship.
“This allows them to predict potential issues and identify opportunities for upselling or cross-selling,” he added.
Managing CX Without Advanced Tools Now Risky Business
Even without AI improvements, businesses can still leverage CRM and CS platforms successfully, Salkin insisted. But they will miss out on the speed of automation and the advanced use of high-level data analytics that get better personalization results.
New AI models are already playing a transformative role in enhancing the effectiveness of both types of platforms in several essential ways. One such new AI-powered tool is sentiment analysis, which provides a new way to obtain better customer insights.
It can analyze customer interactions via surveys, social media channels, emails, support tickets, communities, and other tools. According to Salkin, this data can provide valuable insights into customer satisfaction, identify potential issues, and guide appropriate responses.
“We expect to see AI play an increasingly significant role in disrupting and evolving CRM and CS technology in the coming years,” he predicted.
Advancements in AI, such as natural language processing, machine learning, and predictive analytics, will bring more sophisticated features and functionalities, provide better performance, and get more useful results.
Worry, Not Budget, Will Challenge More Massive Adoption
In record time, AI and CRM have become inseparable. Generative AI dominated 2023 for good reason, according to Eric Williamson, CMO at CallMiner.
AI adoption is moving from fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) to fear of missing out (FOMO).
“It’s one of the most transformative technological innovations of our time, with the potential to upend entire industries and how we work,” he told CRMBuyer.
Williamson described the adoption movement as a mad dash for organizations to adopt generative AI at all costs, shifting to adopting more strategic technology. He expects that to continue into 2024.
Gamble With AI or Play It Safe?
Budgetary concerns aside, adopters often feel forced to decide between impressive business results and legal entanglements as laws struggle to deal with the new technologies. That dilemma may well be one of the biggest challenges facing CRM and CSA platform integration with AI in 2024.
According to CallMiner’s 2023 CX Landscape Report, 45% of CX and contact center leaders said they are concerned about AI exposing their company to security risks. A similar number (43%) are worried about the technology spreading misinformation.
A slightly lower number (41%) are fearful of AI giving biased or inappropriate responses in CX and customer service use cases. Only 6% said they do not have any fears, said Williamson.
“I don’t expect AI adoption to slow in 2024. In fact, I expect it to continue to accelerate, particularly for CX use cases,” he predicted.
However, more business leaders will come around to the idea that generative AI is not a silver bullet, he added. They will come to see it for what it really is — most powerful when used for specific use cases, often along with other AI techniques, to meet specific business needs.
He also predicted that the organizations that “get it right” will be the ones that effectively balance AI velocity and agility with responsibility and security.
“Those that do this will find themselves in the position to deliver the most value to their customers and improve the bottom line,” Williamson concluded.