William Band By William Band

As 2009 draws to a close, what are the key trends that customer management business process professionals need to pay attention to as you finalize your plans for next year?

Trend 1: Companies Return To Investing In Their Most Important Asset – Customers

Beginning in mid-2009, I have seen a strong up-tick in investment dollars being released by organizations intent on improving their customer management capabilities to capitalize on the economic up-turn. What are their key priorities? My most recent research shows that both B2B and B2C enterprises spotlight improved customer loyalty as their top goal. But, B2B companies are also intent on capturing new customers, while B2C companies obsess about improving the customer experience.

Trend 2: Social CRM Hype Reaches A Crescendo

Three in four US online adults now use social tools to connect with each other compared with just 56% in 2007. As a consequence, technology vendors and self-styled experts have jumped on this bandwagon promising an easy path to the promised-land of more deeply engaged customers using Social Computing solutions. Yes, business process professionals should be advocating and launching experiments to prove-out Social CRM strategies and learn about best practices. But, if you don’t have sound customer management process fundamentals in place – don’t expect social media to compensate for this deficiency.

Trend 3: CRM Evolves To Become The Customer Management Ecosystem

Mature organizations understand that optimizing end-to-end customer-facing business processes means integrating solutions that extend beyond “traditional CRM.” In addition to marketing, sales, and service functionalities you need to incorporate closely-related capabilities like billing, order management, or contract management. My TechRadar report for CRM solutions profiles 19 customer management technology domains around which business process professionals should design their future plans.

Trend 4: Price/Value Trumps Functionality In Purchase Decisions

Battered by two years of recession, buyers of customer management solutions have become extremely value conscious. CRM software-as-a-service solutions (SaaS) software solutions continue to gain market share as even large enterprises balk at investing more in the traditional complex and costly on-premises solutions. In 2010, first-time buyers will be in strong position to push vendors to demonstrate value through pilot demonstrations and more flexible contract arrangements than in the past. And, price wars are breaking out in the SaaS CRM segment.

Trend 5: Customer Service Moves Back Into The Spotlight

We see a rising number of inquiries from clients about how to improve their customer service capabilities. Contact center customer support needs to evolve to better serve customers who no longer rely on one venue for receiving information but instead engage multiple sources. In addition to checking a company's Web site and its brochures, many customers research information on products and services from social networking sources, such as blogs, and online user ratings With customers now requiring more real-time support, it's essential to keep pace with their expectations and to respond to them in new ways.

Trend 6: The Struggle To Integrate Customer Data Continues

The volume of inquires that Forrester receives about customer data integration (CDI) continues to increase. Customer management professionals tell us that poor data management is one of the biggest barriers to getting value from their CRM systems. But, the right approach to customer data management is elusive.

Trend 7: Scrutiny Of Business Cases Remains Intense

The need to build a sound business case to prove value before investing in CRM process and technology changes – what Forrester calls Total Economic Impact (TEI) – is a perennial topic of inquires from our clients. They want to know how to pinpoint the best opportunities for creating business value, and how to put in place the right metrics to track their success.

Trend 8: Following Best Practices Separates Winners From Losers

Business process professionals cannot afford failed customer management projects, particularly in tough economic times when business survival may be at stake. You need to pin-point the opportunities for quick wins and execute flawlessly. Successful companies focus on five CRM fundamentals: promoting user adoption, focusing on business processes, establishing executive sponsorship, practicing sound customer data management, and defining the right metrics. Attention to discipline in execution is what sets winners apart from the well-publicized failures.