It’s prediction season. The time of year when industry experts mark the shift from one year to the next by speculating about the trends and technologies that will come to the fore over the next twelve months. What’s going to change? What will remain the same? Who will be the heroes? Who will be the villains?

I’m often a little sceptical of these predictions (and it’s always fun to look back twelve months later and see who was in any way close to being correct) but there’s no doubt that in the fast-moving world of digital marketing and customer experience, it’s helpful to spend a few minutes to move away from our daily preoccupations and ponder what might be on the horizon.

Maybe unusually for a blog predicting the future, I’m going to kick off with something I’m sure is not going to happen. Whatever you may have heard, 2017 is not going to be the year when AI (Artificial Intelligence) completely revolutionises customer experience and management. There I’ve said it.

While some tech companies have been loudly talking up the AI capabilities within their CRM platforms, there’s a danger that people are getting ahead of themselves. That’s not to say that AI isn’t coming; it is and soon, maybe even as a little as a year down the line, AI within CRM is going to be something to get very excited about. At Sugar, we’re investing big in AI technology and you can bet that when we launch this new offering we’re going to be shouting as loudly as anybody about the huge leap forward that it will be.

I do wonder though that in the rush to adopt new technologies, some companies are in danger of forgetting an important truth: these things are tools. Clever tools yes, potentially game-changing yes, but still only a tool. As everyone knows, tools are only as good as the people using them for all the talk of AI, it’s still going to be the case that people are the most important part of any customer management experience. This will be true in 2017 and I am convinced it will be true in 2067.

The rise of predictive analytics

What we will see increasingly coming to the fore in 2017 will be predictive analytics. It will give sophistication to systems that will feel both innovative and entirely logical. CRM will no longer be about data entry and simple deal tracking; instead, companies will be able to anticipate customer trends with increased accuracy by finding patterns in the vast sea of customer data they are now collecting. As a result, this will, in turn, give a huge opportunity for businesses to give better service.

Imagine a CRM system that tracks communication patterns between a company and its customers, segmenting those customers by personality types, and suggests the time of day and the tone of message to send to each individual customer. Even better, imagine a customer sending a complaint to your company’s billing department and the system alerts the appropriate sales rep with the right email already written and staged for sending out. These are some of the very practical examples of predictive analytics coming in CRM in the future.

The mobile office

What we can predict with certainty is that next year mobile will continue to assert its place as an entirely feasible alternative to office-based working. Certainly from a technological point of view, the tools exist to mean that you could spend your entire working day on the road visiting clients or meeting up with other remote members of your team. Whether this is preferable is a question that individual companies will have to answer for themselves but I’d expect that most business professionals will be dividing more of their time over a wider range of multiple locations; a flexibility that, deployed intelligently, could have significant benefits for the customers they serve.

Mobile in the CRM space is of course nothing new but in 2017 organisations will need to employ full mobile platforms that are linked to the core system, rather than relying on offline access or ‘lite’ versions of software.

The image of empty offices as remote workers sit in cafes with their laptops, matched with intelligent software that learns and decides without the need for intervention, could suggest that next year will be the year in which the human dimension of business becomes extinct. However, I’d make the point that at a time when business methods and processes are changing beyond recognition, then the personal touch is more necessary than ever.

So if 2017 is going to be the year of anything in the marketing world, then let it be the year of the human.


By Clint Oram, co-founder and CMO at SugarCRM

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