By Cassandra Balentine
Part two of two
Customer relationship management (CRM) is a core technology for many businesses. As data collection and management tech-niques continue to improve, artificial intelligence (AI) helps automate processes with a goal of improving the customer experience.
In part one, we discuss the pros and cons of integrating AI technologies into CRMs and highlighted several vendors that have ena-bled AI within their CRMs. In part two we discuss actual implementations, highlighting where AI is being used within CRM today, and what we can expect in the future.
The opportunity for AI within CRM exists today. This week, we look at ways in which AI is currently utilized within CRM.
“AI is delivering specific benefits through CRMs, offering personalization, price optimization, opportunity identification, and opportuni-ty prioritization,” says Valerie Howard, senior product marking manager, PROS, Inc. In many cases, intelligence is weaved into exist-ing workflows and conveyed through virtual assistants (Vas), which are gaining ground as a valuable sales tool. “These VAs deliver data-driven insights to sales users in an accessible, relevant way that enables them to take immediate action and use CRM platforms to drive own performance and positively impact revenue.”
AI manifests itself in many different ways in the various facets of CRM. “In salesforce automation, that means prioritizing leads so that representatives can make less cold calls. In customer service, it means automating the triage of service cases so cases are automati-cally categorized and routed to the appropriate sales representative. In marketing, it’s about targeting communications so that mar-keters send less communications but reach more customers and prospects,” says Marco Casalaina, VP product management, Salesforce Einstein.
Kevin Draggoo, product manager, Infor, adds that AI is generating propensity to buy scores, next likely purchase recommendations, and customer attrition ratings. “We will continue to see the scope of AI expand to uncover new insights that make the engagement cycle more efficient for sales and marketing, and more relevant and personal for the customer.”
AI is commonly used in CRM to make sense of the mounds of data now collected. “At Bullhorn we automatically capture emails, ap-pointments, and text messages, so highlighting past interactions make a difference to users when getting up to speed on a new ac-count. We use a variety of heuristics to suggest to our users when the best time is to call a contact or candidate,” says Jonathan No-vich, VP of product, Bullhorn
Tibor Vass, global solution director for business automation, Genesys, says most AI integrations today focus on sales, marketing, and service use cases. “Additionally it can be used to support intelligent data analysis, routing predictions, selective customer engage-ments, and process automations. AI plays a significant role in helping customers get better service, resolve problems faster, and gain access to multiple data sources. In CRM, a lot of tasks can and need to be automated.”
“We see a lot of practical implementations of self-service portals and virtual assistants. And in a day and age when we can already talk to our cars, speech recognition for voice channels improves call routing and assists in transaction completion,” says Paul White, director of customer engagement solutions, IFS.
“Today’s AI technology is extremely exciting and valuable to sales, marketing, and customer service teams—but it’s also scratching the surface of its potential,” says H. John Oechsle, CEO, Swiftpage. He adds that voice-activation and natural language processing (NLP) technology currently allows users of some CRM systems to access basic customer information simply by articulating the cus-tomer’s name while working in their CRM.
Additionally, popular consumer smart speakers are incorporating some of these CRMs into their platforms, offering increased flexibil-ity in where and when users access the important customer data they need. “Furthermore, predictive analytics AI technology is cur-rently allowing customers to make more informed decisions about existing clients inside the sales pipeline. Today’s AI technology includes the capability for recommendations engines that guide the user to make the most effective use of each customer interaction leading towards a sale. This technology has room for growth as AI capabilities in CRM become more robust but the right tool today can offer tremendous upside for companies both looking to attract new customers and retain clientele,” says Oechsle.
Customer-facing technology is improved by AI with NLP capabilities that better understand aspects as sentiment and intent. “Mean-while, more user friendly conversational interfaces make the technology more accessible and approachable. In this way, customers can engage and continue a conversation across channels, even if it jumps from web chat to phone to voice assistant,” says Jeff Ni-cholson, VP, CRM product marketing, Pegasystems.
Additionally, AI is used to handle routine tasks, playing a supporting role in the customer ecosystem. “AI systems may be deployed for jobs such as work coordination and routing, scheduling, task assignation, quality control, and intelligent escalations. Hand in hand with data collection, analytics, and processing power, business can use AI to anticipate customer needs, discover meaningful in-sights, and suggest the next best actions for customer service agents,” adds Nicholson.
AI is still largely in a developmental phase and we can expect much more from it as it continues to evolve.
“Currently, AI is helping drive behaviors by creating a more relevant and personalized context for customer engagement. In the future, we will see AI mimic the personalized behaviors that humans naturally engage in,” says Draggoo. For example, soon an AI engine will recognize the tone of a conversation and adapt to a person’s communication preferences. “If a person uses complete sentences and formal grammar to interact with a chatbot, an AI engine will recognize that and respond in kind. If a person uses a more informal and conversational style, the AI engine adapts accordingly in real time. We see this in both text- and voice-based communications. It is a subtle change, but it is certainly the kind of capability that makes an experience more compelling and satisfying for the customer.”
In the future, Novich says we can expect better suggestions about the types of interactions to invest in. “When managing a relation-ship, every interaction is an investment—whether it’s an email, text, a phone call, or a tweet. “The CRM of the future will help prioritize where to invest, in part, with a rich understanding of both contacts in the user’s CRM, as well as the campaigns in which a salesper-son is involved in.”
Geoff McQueen, CEO, Accelo, sees more personalization and better quality service delivered at a lower cost in the future, leading to reduced waste and less stress.
“Consumers and business buyers continue to move towards increasing purchasing through digital buying channels. There are in-creasing the dollar amount they are willing to purchase through these channels and entrusting complex needs to digital assistance. We can expect this trend to continue,” says Howard.
What’s increasingly important to customers is that personalized experiences and offers consider their historical loyalty, potential pur-chasing power, and their unique needs. “They want the same experience regardless of the channels they purchase through and they want to move fluidly from one channel to another without having to restart the process,” says Howard.
She offers an example of a buyer that may begin a reorder through a vendor’s ecommerce portal and then realizes he might have interest in some higher-grade services. “At that point in the process, he may decide he wants to connect with a salesperson by phone that recognizes who he is, his purchasing, and what’s already in his cart without having to repeat his name, phone number, and ad-dress multiple times.”
“A vendor’s ability to predict the unique needs of their customers will increasingly drive a competitive edge. These products and ser-vice recommendations become part of the value delivery that increases customer satisfaction and loyalty. When it comes to identify-ing purchase gaps, these recommendations help vendors to defend against a competitive entry—and it may also unseat competitors that are providing the ancillary goods or service,” says Howard.
Vass points out that as companies become more digitally enabled the potential for AI increases and becomes a primary interface for all types of customer interactions. “AI will understand and anticipate what we are up to, perceive our sentiments, and solve most of our problems without human help. However, there will be many services that still need human intervention. Some of this work may even be assigned to humans by AI, which means some of us have digital bosses.”
Oechsle says that a lot of possibilities exist for voice activation with future CRM systems. “Right now, voice is a burgeoning technolo-gy in CRM, but moving forward its uses will accelerate significantly.” Consider being able to look up a contact and access previous customer interactions by voice command. “Users will be able to request situational analyses and potential customer sales figures based on different scenarios, product packages, customer interaction methods, timing, and more. The possibilities are virtually limit-less, but sales and customer service teams will certainly have the ability to make faster, more informed decisions as it relates to new customer acquisition and retention through voice-activated CRM technologies.”
He adds that increased CRM speeds directly benefits customers as well. As chatbots become smarter and more adept at handling complex customer inquiries, customers will be able to receive detailed responses to their questions in real time—no more waiting on hold over the phone, checking for an email response, or waiting in queue for online assistance.
“The best AI is the kind that does not feel artificial,” suggests Casalaina. “It feels like a natural extension of the application you’re us-ing. As AI matures as a component of CRM, more executives will use it to understand and predict where the company is headed and they’ll interact with CRM using natural language. “Users will come to expect their CRM to prioritize tasks for them and make their days easier, and we won’t even call it out as AI for CRM anymore—the term CRM will be redefined in such a way that intelligence is a key part of how the system works.”
“Empathy in digital systems may still be a few years away. But even now, in some cases people may be interacting with a chatbot and have no idea that they are actually communicating with AI,” shares White. He says in the future, the tables will turn and we will see AI engines on the customer side, generated by smart devices, catting via Internet of Things with our complex CRM AI. “The fridge may re-order the milk, or the printer may re-order the ink.”
Nicholson points out that AI is evolving fast. In fact, according to a survey Pegasystems conducted last year, AI is driving more interac-tions than customers realize. “The proliferation will only accelerate as AI gets smarter and delivers more helpful and personalized experiences. Soon AI will be ubiquitous on any engagement channel, whether that be in person, on the phone, on a company web-site, mobile app, or interacting with a chatbot. The use of standardized and integrated AI throughout a business enables customers to speak with the same context they have throughout their company interaction.”
AI in CRM
Several software providers offer AI within their CRM solutions. Here, we provide several examples of AI integration with CRM tools on the market today.
Accelo focuses on automation, which McQueen says is a critical precursor to successfully leverage AI. “Unlike traditional CRMs, we’ve innovated in the automation capture—and understanding of—key client data in a professional service business. By seeing, indexing, and understanding every client email in and out of the organization, all meetings and even geo-location data from staff go-ing on site with clients automatically, we’ll be adding AI to this incredible, real-time data set to recognize patterns and predict prob-lems before they occur since in service businesses. There’s no such thing as a pleasant surprise.”
Over the past few years, Bullhorn has invested in integrating various AI technologies into its CRM platform to help make its customers more efficient and productive so they can grow their businesses. Bullhorn also fosters a marketplace of companies that helps identify technologies that have been either developing iteratively over the years or recently emerging as innovative newcomers.
Genesys offers AI-supported solutions in customer interaction management. The company’s current focus is to automate use cases where it can provide quick wins to customers without massive investments. “We use AI to make better routing decisions, develop clever applications and bots, provide predictive analytics, and effective workload distribution as well as workforce management,” says Vass. The company’s predictive routing and journey analytics use CRM data along with customer engagement and workforce infor-mation to better map, visualize, and distribute interactions. “At the same time we are extending our scope towards AI-supported case management and process automation. Our aim is to place AI into the core of the interactive management platform. We believe in the power of our blended AI concept, where machines and humans work together in harmony.”
IFS offers its Digital Customer Engagement Digital Self-Service solution, which delivers AI-driven chatbots driven by a dynamic knowledge base. In this case, dynamic means it has machine learning capabilities and can expand its ability to answer questions based on experience. IFS Customer Engagement Voice Self-Service performs similar functions, but through speech recognition and advanced interactive voice response techniques.
Draggoo says AI tools are central to the innovations that Infor is pioneering with CRM. With Infor Coleman, the company has created an AI engine designed specifically for business users. It augments the salesperson’s skills by executing rote tasks and recommend-ing next best sales offers. “We are also exploring the addition of natural language processing to make Siri- and Alexa-like voice re-sponse a seamless extension of our CRM capabilities.”
Further, Infor’s dedicated data science team, Dynamic Science Labs, uses advanced algorithms such as collaborative filtering, asso-ciation rule mining, and sequential pattern mining to create innovative products. One example is Infor Sales Intelligence, which iden-tifies the customers most likely to make a purchase, what the purchase will likely be, as well as customers who may be in the early stages of looking for a new provider. The system continually learns and automatically adjusts its methods to help provide a competi-tive edge,” says Draggoo.
The AI-powered Pega Customer Decision Hub drives engagement across all of the company’s CRM tools, including Pega Customer Experience, Pega Sales Automation, and Pega Marketing. “It enables businesses to dynamically adapt the brand experience to meet customers’ needs in real time across the customer journey—from marketing to sales to service. This means customers receive the most contextually relevant service, offers, and recommendations with speed, efficiency, and accuracy on any channel,” says Nichol-son.
Pegasystems has a single, proven AI-driven brain that orchestrates every customer interaction, delivering a consistent and seamless experience from end to end on a global scale.
PROS offers several AI-powered solutions that are easily integrated with CRMs. Opportunity Detection helps vendors drive growth with existing customers by using machine learning to analyze transaction activity and identify new opportunities, all with the support of Monet, its AI-powered analyst. PROS Smart CPQ arms sales teams with guided offer recommendations and one-click configura-tions that accelerate the quoting process while eliminating human error and increasing revenue. PROS Guidance uses AI to seam-lessly deliver optimized prices for every unique buying interaction; it eliminates the friction in pricing negotiated deals and maximizes the potential for every sale.
Salesforce Einstein is a comprehensive AI for CRM. It democratizes the power of AI for every Salesforce user, empowering everyone to deliver smarter, more personalized and predictive customer experiences. Einstein automatically discovers relevant insights, pre-dicts future behavior, proactively recommends best next actions, and even automate tasks. With Einstein, sales representatives focus on the right opportunities, service agents deliver proactive service, marketers create more personalized, targeted campaigns, and developers build AI-powered applications.
Swiftpage built predictive analytics technology in the Act! CRM software solution to help guide users to maximize the value of each customer interaction throughout the sales process. Furthermore, Swiftpage recently incorporated voice activated technology into the Act! solution, providing user with unprecedented ability to access and utilize important customer contact information by simply voicing the command. The company continues to pursue every avenue to provide value to its customers and invests in the development of pioneering AI technology is a part of its future plans.
As AI continues to make technologies smarter, businesses and their customers benefit as a result.
Click here to read part one of this exclusive online series, Intelligent Systems.
May2018, Software Magazine