Mastering AI-Powered CRM Puts Onus on Vendors To Get It Right


The growing intersection of artificial intelligence and CRM platforms is helping companies automate processes, accelerate decision-making, and predict future trends, thereby driving real-time customer engagement.

At the core of this transformation, AI is becoming the backbone of CRM systems, integrating analytics, predictive, and generative AI to furnish businesses with actionable insights and foresight into customer behaviors.

Today’s challenge for CRM vendors lies in simplifying the adoption of sophisticated, out-of-the-box AI models over the complexities of DIY projects, which can be daunting. Simplification is crucial, as AI-powered CRM platforms are revolutionizing how businesses deliver customer experiences.

By providing businesses with a holistic view of their customers, these platforms enable automation and personalized interactions at every touchpoint, significantly reducing the workload on customer-facing employees by automating data acquisition.

This approach allows companies to keep the most up-to-date view of the customer. It helps them break down silos between marketing, sales, and customer service. It also makes it easier for companies to anticipate customer needs, tailor their approaches, and deliver exceptional experiences that foster loyalty and growth in a world where speed and accuracy matter, according to Zac Sprackett, chief product and technology officer at SugarCRM.

Gen AI for Enhanced CRM Efficiency

Historically, achieving a 360-degree view of the customer was impractical due to the manual effort required to sift through a plethora of interaction records. Generative AI now addresses this challenge by enabling businesses to distill and analyze this information quickly, providing a clear understanding of current customer relationships and guiding future actions.

This streamlined approach significantly enhances CRM platforms’ efficiency, Sprackett explained, by reducing redundancy and speeding up data processing.

Companies have built comprehensive data about their customers and target markets. Many have struggled to leverage all of this data effectively. Whether because of organizational silos, data complexity, data quality concerns, or challenges with tools, turning data into business value is time-consuming and relies on skills that are in short supply.

“Businesses are under extreme pressure to deliver an enhanced customer experience while also controlling costs and operating more efficiently,” Sprackett told CRM Buyer.

AI is an essential tool for reducing data entry, bringing structure to unstructured information, performing analysis and segmentation, and personalizing engagement. All of these help to improve outcomes for a business, he added.

AI-Driven vs. Traditional CRM

People sometimes think of traditional CRM technology as data management tools for organizing contacts, interactions, and transactions. This model of CRM is quite reactive as it is essentially a ledger of past occurrences, Sprackett offered.

Typically, gaining business insight requires manual analysis, specialized skill sets, and time-consuming human interpretation. The new wave of AI-driven capabilities enhances CRM systems beyond just being the system of record into the system of customer insight and engagement.

“Applied effectively, AI unlocks a deeper understanding of your customers, foresight into their behavior, and personalized engagement strategies that improve and evolve over time. It democratizes that insight, putting it directly into the hands of those closest to the customer who can benefit from it the most,” Sprackett said.

AI integration also improves the usage prospects for CRM platforms that are not now possible for companies. It opens up vast possibilities for businesses to enhance their operations.

AI-Enhanced CX for No-Touch Data Management

Two new CRM features only AI can provide bring high-end innovation. Time-aware customer experience (CX) platforms and no-touch information management represent advanced features in the CRM landscape. They are significantly intertwined with AI, according to Sprackett.

Being time-aware means meticulously collecting all of the interactions and changes occurring over time. In many ways, this is an enabler for getting the best results from AI. No-touch is about requiring as little data entry as possible.

“It’s about gathering information from all the different places it exists, like email, calendar, chat, mobile phones, and ERP [enterprise resource planning] systems. It’s also about augmenting that information with firmographic data and relevant news articles and then structuring the end result,” explained Sprackett, emphasizing AI’s critical role in no-touch data management.

Making Gen AI the CRM Industry’s ‘Golden Boy’ Component

Organizations need large volumes of well-curated and classified historical data to benefit from predictive AI. This requirement has historically excluded many small businesses due to insufficient data volume and has posed challenges for larger organizations.

The difficulties for larger businesses stem from the need to curate and maintain a data set amidst decaying data over time and shifting business processes and priorities.

According to Sprackett, this is where generative AI has gained prominence, offering seemingly lower barriers for users to experience value by mitigating these challenges.

Generative AI allows an end user with little or no prior experience to interact with much of the knowledge that exists today. The large language model, or LLM, is pre-trained on a large and diverse collection of text from the internet, encompassing a wide range of topics, sources, and formats.

“Users immediately experience compelling results with comparatively little investment from the first time they try it out, which inspires them to keep coming back,” he added.

Diverse AI Tech for CRM

Other AI derivatives have a place in upgrading CRM platforms that contribute to improving CRM performance and customer experience. AI, in general, brings a wide range of new tools.

For instance, predictive analytics can make predictions based on historical data. Speech recognition and natural language processing unlock new interaction models for workers and customers.

Computer vision can help classify and identify pictures, which can be helpful in use cases like product support. Sentiment analysis helps companies detect rifts as they form and can also be used to provide both real-time and after-the-fact coaching.

“It is a long list today, and it continues to expand. Large action models are also likely to offer significant benefits to CRM in the near future,” suggested Sprackett.

AI Integration Comes With Challenges

Businesses face some challenges in implementing AI-powered CRM platforms. Among these, a fundamental necessity is educating employees on the responsible and beneficial use of this new technology.

“Most of us have seen examples where AI has come across as creepy, so how do we ensure that we are enhancing the customer experience rather than detracting from it? Finding the right balance between automation and human touch will be a growing challenge going forward,” Sprackett warned.

An equally high hurdle is the governance angle. Organizations must establish guidelines for ethical and compliant use of AI within the business, and these guidelines must be flexible and nimble as data privacy regulations emerge and evolve.

“Our job as a vendor is to help businesses navigate these challenges effectively so they can reap the benefits,” he said.

3 Steps To Mastering AI-CRM Integration

An important first step is to show people the art of the possible. Things are changing at an increasing rate, and businesses need education and support to evolve, Sprackett offered.

Second, it is the CRM platform vendor’s job to connect technology to data in a way that helps people do their jobs effectively. Therefore, vendor offerings must be intuitive and simple but flexible enough to cater to the unique needs of their business.

Third, CRM vendors must integrate technology in a way that safeguards business data. This data contains your special sauce. It encodes what differentiates you from your competition and needs to be kept private, secure, and used in compliant ways.

By focusing on these areas, vendors will significantly lower the barriers to AI adoption for businesses, which is SugarCRM’s goal in what features its AI-powered platform offers, he concluded.

Jack M. Germain

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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