Many companies rely on Customer Relationship Management (CRM) to better serve their business customers – because this consistent customer-centric focus will make a company more successful. At least, that’s the theory. Salesforce expert Oliver Oursin explains in an interview how software solutions and artificial intelligence can help.
Oliver Oursin, customers already feature prominently in the term “Customer Relationship Management“ (CRM). What do customers expect from companies today?
Oursin: Quite simply, they want to be the center of attention. This used to apply only to the consumer market. Now, business customers also want this all-round attentiveness. This trend has also found its way into
Customer Relationship Management, but it’s not so easy to enact in business-to-business relationships. Why not?
Scaling is difficult. If account managers are responsible for ten major customers, they can still write their mail by hand. But what if they’re looking after many more customers? Each of them wants to be addressed individually. Ideally, they’d also like to be able to contact your company at any time. But if the account manager only works a 9-to-5 day, that’s another problem right there.
Many people are pinning their hopes on artificial intelligence (AI) in CRM. Rightly so?
artificial intelligence helps to resolve exactly the challenges we can no longer manage ourselves. CRM used to be just a classic sales tool; today, it’s an overarching concept that takes in marketing, service and sales. AI can help us at all these interaction points. Can you give us an example?
Many people have limited ideas of what AI can do – and stop at the idea of, say, AI-assisted reminders that a customer is due a call. AI can do much more. For example, it can evaluate the quality of an inquiry and use this data to calculate sales opportunities. This gives account managers the opportunity to prioritize how they deal with inquiries. AI not only helps by telling us we could lose the deal because we have a competitor. It also tells us exactly what to do. A good CRM system will be a complete history of all the company’s actions. This enables AI to learn which processes are effective, and which are not – and which processes are right for a specific customer group.
Is it possible to achieve significantly higher sales revenues by using AI in CRM?
It is indeed. Online shops where customers use our AI-enabled solution Einstein, for example, have an average 26 percent higher sales volume than shops without. AI bots are getting smarter all the time. If they are unable to resolve a problem, a human service agent can intervene. The more advanced we develop these bots, the greater the advantage they bring. They lighten the workload of call center staff, who then only have to handle the more complex tasks. A case in point: a bot can easily change a flight booking without human intervention.
A bot can easily change a flight booking without human intervention. (Image: iStock/dima_sidelnikov) But not everyone wants to chat with a bot. You said yourself that you want a personalized, ideally personal contact.
In our experience, people are generally very willing to interact with bots, and acceptance will certainly continue to grow. Just because you’re chatting with a bot, that doesn’t mean there are no more customer advisors. I am convinced that many more companies will work with bots in the future. Take Adidas: the company has set up a chatbot that already answers many standard questions – like where is my order? Or how can I change my delivery address? But bots can also be valuable for other areas of business, such as insurance: bots can be trained for certain scenarios, such as when a customer requests liability insurance. The bot then goes through all the key points, and the end customer can take out the insurance.
You recently cited the ability to integrate AI directly into CRM systems as a major step forward. What is so special about this?
Well, the classic approach used to be to get all the data, download it, shoot algorithms over it, then derive all the great insights and feed these insights back into the system. But this takes an absurdly long time. It’s also expensive, and the system does not adapt to changing circumstances. If AI is directly part of the CRM, there is no need to work with multiple systems. It can also respond directly to any changes in customer behavior – precisely because it is already part of the system. The importance of this step should not be underrated.
Let’s try some predictions: what will an AI-supported CRM system look like in ten years’ time?
We can hardly predict the future. If I had talked to you ten years ago, we would probably have spoken about something completely different. There are so many factors that play a role. When it comes to AI, we’re still at the beginning. We don’t even have a goal in view yet.
But you already have a rough idea what the next big thing will be?
Voice analysis is coming up on a huge scale. For example, if someone speaks or dictates a text into the system, AI will be able to recognize content from it, and calculate the sales opportunity. The technology can automatically send this information to the account manager. About five years ago, it was difficult to convert spoken sentences into text. Voice will play an increasingly important role in IT as a whole. We all used to laugh when actors on Star Trek worked with a touchscreen, but that’s no problem today. The same goes for the wireless communicator of the movies of that era. It won’t be long before we can control computers by voice. Just consider what Siri has already learned from Apple.
You have just unerringly picked a US product with Siri, and work for a company that is headquartered in the USA. Should we be worried that Germany will sleep through this development?
I believe we Germans are always late to engage with new technologies. We like to look where AI can have a negative impact. Think of the use of robots in the automotive industry. More people now work there than before – despite the new technology. We should get on board with AI. It is a huge opportunity to make up for the late start on digital transformation.
Aren’t other countries already too far ahead of us?
Admittedly, other countries have progressed further, particularly the Americans. They’ve also pulled their AI experts from other countries to drive development at home. But we can still catch up.
But we don’t have companies like Amazon, Facebook or Google.
That’s true. When I say “catch up”, I’m thinking chiefly of the B2B sector. US companies have not yet moved into this market. We have some outstanding industrial experience in Germany, which we can use to our advantage. The large American companies are less focused on B2B business. I see a gap in the market here, and we Germans can definitely become leaders in this AI segment.
Header image: iStock/yuuji