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Chatbots, IoT implementation drive SAP next-generation CRM

As CRM chatbots improve, as well as IoT implementations to support customer service, SAP users find new uses for the tech, thanks to tighter integration to S/4HANA.

Good enough isn't good enough anymore when it comes to arming sales staff with information about customer visits,...

as John Heald, global vice president for SAP Hybris Service, likes to put it.

That's shorthand for saying -- before CRM systems could offer insights into customer interests, searches, past records and interaction with an enterprise -- good enough meant salespeople could close sales simply by using their own wits, charisma and a few data points about a customer's needs.

Now, next-generation CRM systems have the potential to give salespeople in-depth, custom information about what individual customers are searching for on their websites, as well as what they've discussed with customer service staff and within web communities. In some cases, a sale might be halfway closed before sales staff walk in the door, Heald said. When CRM staff can be supported with the right advanced data set, salespeople can more easily finish the job. This insight gives a sales staff an edge over competitors who don't have access to such granular information on a prospective customer's activity.

SAP shops using Hybris CRM tools can access such information, which can be used in other ways, too -- such as making call centers more proactive in building relationships with customers instead of just assisting after something's gone wrong.

"Call centers have been historically [managed] post-sale events for customers calling up when something's broken or as a complaint desk," said Heald, who will be presenting on next-generation CRM, as well as SAP's internet of things and machine learning tools, at the Customer Engagement & Commerce (CEC) 2017 conference March 6 to 8 in Orlando, Fla. "Call centers are now more heavily involved in prospect management. The sort of person you have on the phone to engage with someone phoning in a complaint is a totally different mindset from someone trying to guide a customer through a purchasing decision."

The same intel that helps sales representatives ink their deals can also help customer service and field service representatives enable sales when opportunities arise, Heald said.

Mobile-first marketing not always simple

Other trending topics at this year's CEC conference include the logistics of retooling marketing strategies from traditional approaches to mobile-first, said Ahmed Hezzah, senior manager and CRM expert at Accenture.

Call centers are now more heavily involved in prospect management.
John Healdglobal vice president, SAP Hybris Service

Accenture customers on SAP now integrate specialized partner tools for marketing automation and campaign execution with SAP CRM, Hezzah said in an email. While that approach is still popular, he said he sees an expanding interest in SAP customers using Hybris marketing tools. As SAP continues to add functionality to its offerings and develops deeper integration between Hybris marketing analytics with the S/4HANA database platform, he said he sees Hybris SAP tools eventually covering the entire marketing process.

Hezzah, who will be presenting at the conference on SAP CRM 7.0's account management features, said many organizations aren't taking advantage of the system's deep capabilities for lead generation because they do not have a common marketing automation system in place and use either manual processes or very basic individual tools. That often means they are burning more budget relying on external agencies for campaign execution and lead generation.

"In sales, key account managers often struggle when trying to manage their key accounts and end up adapting standard sales functionality of SAP CRM to efficiently support their very individual needs for navigation, authorization and reporting of their key account hierarchy," Hezzah said. His session will catalog his experience with clients to better utilize SAP CRM's built-in capabilities to meet their business goals.

"By understanding those challenges and following a comprehensive step-by-step approach, I'm trying to help other customers who are facing similar challenges."

Usefulness grows for chatbots, IoT, automation

Chatbots are still emerging as an effective customer-service automation tool in 2017, Heald said, as organizations decide which tasks or facets of the customer relationship can by served by them.

For now, he added, chatbots will have to be customized by an organization to its unique customer needs. Some will feel more inclined to trust a chatbot; others will be more conservative, especially those with more complex B2B relationships. But as these automatons evolve with machine learning to better resolve customer issues and get smarter over time, Heald said he sees more potential for their use in the coming years for more than just the basic, "mundane" tasks they handle with ease now, such as password resets.

He also stressed, though, that next-generation CRM tools must help determine when chatbots aren't appropriate. Companies need to learn how to use CRM intel to recognize sophisticated customers more quickly and move them away from the chatbots and lowest-level service reps to keep their business.

Internet-of-things (IoT) devices, too, coupled with CRM, are helping companies become more proactive in their service as they discover ways to use the technology. One example of this, he said, would be a manufacturer understanding when a machine might be due for a failure by watching a sensor keeping track of the number of cycles the machine performs -- and proactively alerting that a replacement part may be needed before it shuts down, causes downtime and precipitates a complaint.

It takes more than technology to effect these changes, however. It takes a company rethinking its processes to accommodate an IoT implementation's potential and also to justify the cost of the hardware and support thereof.

"They're actually using this as a justification for putting through the IoT [projects]," Heald said. "Some are still using IoT for diagnostics, but some are changing their business model because it's giving them better insight and information than historically they've ever had."

Hezzah also said managing customer engagement with analytics will be on his watchlist for the year, as more SAP CRM customers find business uses for tapping into more detailed data sets. His clients have more choices for CRM systems than ever in 2017; SAP, however, is keeping its customers by more closely integrating Hybris capabilities with S/4HANA, as well as offering modular tools that can be implemented either in the cloud or on premises, depending on the scale and need of an enterprise.

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