AI-driven CRM a business game-changer

Johannesburg, 21 Sep 2023
Philip Coetzee, Head of Delivery, Mint Group.
Philip Coetzee, Head of Delivery, Mint Group.

Over the past 40-plus years since CRM – customer relationship management – became a business focus, the concept and the technology driving it has evolved from a purely sales tool to a critical component of overall business operations.

At the same time, CRM has itself become big business. The global CRM market had an estimated value of US$58.82 billion in 2022. This is expected to grow at an annual compound rate of 13.9% between 2023 to 2030, according to Grand Research View’s CRM Market Analysis Report.

That’s hardly surprising, says Philip Coetzee, Head of Delivery at Mint Group, who notes that the humble Filofax or simple database that enabled salespeople to keep track of their customers’ purchase history and preferences has morphed into an AI-backed system that accommodates and enables such ongoing trends as hyper-personalisation of customer service, AI-led automation, the roll-out of sturdy social media-based customer service that is helping to reduce costs and response times while improving overall customer experience.

And customer experience is important. One survey – the Genesys Global Survey – estimated that the annual cost to businesses of poor customer service and experience was around $338.5 billion.

“Not only do today’s CRM systems deliver an integrated view of your customers, incorporating intelligence drawn from across all interaction channels from social media, voice and chat, but they deliver an unprecedented level of functionality across a range of business operations including, but not necessarily limited to, sales, service and marketing,” Coetzee explains.

“The goal is to know everything about your customer from every possible angle with the aim of being better placed to know and understand each customer. This will enable better decisions to be made.”

The most important aspect of effective CRM is that all information about a customer is consolidated in a single technology stack, eliminating disparate information silos. When enhanced by AI, sales agents, marketing teams and customer service agents are able to make those smart decisions quickly and easily.

For example, once AI has scrutinised the customer’s data – or even disparate customer data – from across all channels, it makes it easier to determine whether a customer is likely to buy a particular product; which leads to pursue – which are likely to deliver and which would be a waste of time; which marketing campaigns are probably going to be more successful with a specific target group in terms of message and delivery channel and so on.

All this will free sales, service and marketing teams to be more productive. Instead of spending time interrogating disparate data from a range of sources, they can focus on, for example, deepening customer relationships; developing more creative and effective marketing campaigns; refining identified service delivery process anomalies; or following up on leads with the product and approach that is most likely to turn a prospect into a successful sale.

In addition, says Coetzee, although CRM is still most closely associated with all things directly customer-related, CRM systems are increasingly being integrated with other major business systems such as ERP, supply chain management and even financial systems.

“Let’s face it, everything a business does touches on customer service and the overall customer experience either directly or indirectly,” he points out.

All of this means that CRM is extremely complex to implement and use, right?

“Wrong,” Coetzee says. "Most modern CRM platforms offer a huge amount of functionality right out of the box – and it’s seamless. This has ameliorated the need for high levels of customisation or development. Nevertheless, CRM implementations are not cheap. They require significant investment in time and money to deliver the bottom-line value-add today’s businesses expect from their technology.

“However, today’s CRM implementations are not just about the technology either. There also needs to be a broader focus on digital enablement and change management to enable end-users to extract the maximum benefit from the system,” he adds.

The key to a successful CRM implementation, Coetzee believes, is for organisations to stay away from massive customisation. “Keep to a more native view and don’t over-complicate the system. By following this route, even sophisticated CRM platforms are becoming an increasingly feasible option for smaller companies,” he says.

Looking ahead, Coetzee believes the AI trend in CRM will become even more pronounced, leading to more holistic and seamless customer experience while simultaneously enabling businesses to make more insightful and effective decisions.

“Most larger companies today have some form of CRM system. Many have had their systems for years. These organisations would do well to re-evaluate their systems and determine whether or how much of a difference the latest advances in AI could make not only to their systems but also to their business. Properly implemented and utilised, it is a business game-changer,” Coetzee concludes.