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Emerging CRM technologies took center stage in 2015

New CRM technologies such as the Internet of Things and native analytics apps piqued interest in 2015. But adoption of these technologies has yet to reach critical mass.

The past year was one in which businesses showed interest in new CRM technologies that aim to bring them closer to their customers but, ultimately, hold back on a full commitment to those technologies. The hype surrounding such technology buzzwords as the Internet of Things grew to high levels, but the volume of the conversation still outpaced adoption by companies.

In 2015, companies struggled with long-standing challenges with CRM technologies, including connecting disparate sources of customer data, how best to engage their customer bases, appealing to an ever-growing mobile populace and technology that promotes business efficiency and gives key stakeholders visibility and insight into key processes.

Throughout 2015, we saw a number of trends and developments that changed the face of CRM technologies. Here's a look back at some of the most important topics.

IoT more hype than reality?

As interest in the Internet of Things, or IoT, gathered steam, Salesforce announced its new product, the IoT Cloud, at Dreamforce 2015. IoT refers to an environment that features data transfers between interconnected devices. Experts warn that committing to IoT requires a healthy understanding of the data management requirements involved and the philosophy behind such an investment.

As the IoT Cloud took center stage at Dreamforce 2015, Salesforce touted it as another avenue to personalize CRM technologies, which will take shape even further next year with greater integration between the Marketing Cloud and the IoT Cloud.

A Microsoft-Salesforce partnership focused on interoperability between the two companies' products signals the push to make device data available and actionable. But the key to the IoT Cloud's success will depend on Salesforce's partner ecosystem and the initial pilots will also test its mettle. Further, IoT adoption is still quite incremental given user wariness about data governance issues, complex implementation and cost.

Mobile CRM still not perfected

In 2015, companies tried to home in on the preferences of mobile customers and how to best serve them. With mobile devices becoming more ubiquitous in our everyday lives, businesses are catering to the mobile customer by providing tailored service through mobile apps and mobile payments. Still, companies struggle to make the mobile experience frictionless, especially in e-commerce, and some mobile CRM initiatives aren't designed with efficiency and productivity at the center.

This year saw companies strive to craft a mobile CRM strategy while also being aware of security concerns attached to mobile payments and the trust that must be fostered once location-based services (LBS) enter the discussion. There is potential for customer engagement through LBS, but companies still have a long way to go to realize full value from these practices. Retail companies also explored how mobile initiatives can drive more in-store traffic in 2015 and the decline of traditional, indoor malls further signaled the rise of an increasingly mobile economy.

Personalization has its moment

Companies are always trying to better understand customer preferences to serve them better. Two related initiatives that gained momentum in 2015 were personalizing the customer experience and, oftentimes, this meant utilizing geolocation technology to support these efforts. LBS aim to offer customers unique experiences, whether in the form of discounts, perks or other capabilities, on their mobile devices when they are physically inside a company's store, stadium and so on.  Sports teams, movie theater chains, retailers and other businesses have experimented with LBS to enhance the customer experience.

But it's still early days for LBS and personalization. While customers demand more tailored offers and experiences, there must be a solid exchange of trust and value between the company and the customer when the company focuses on crafting experiences based on customer data. In 2015, companies learned that they need to be gatekeepers of customer information or risk having their reputations damaged, either by improperly using the data or suffering a data breach.

Democratization of analytics gets tepid response

One year after it was unveiled at Dreamforce 2014, adoption of the Salesforce Analytics Cloud, also known as Wave, is still lagging. Wave can be embedded natively in other applications within Salesforce1, Salesforce's CRM platform, enabling users to view analytics information and then take action directly from dashboards.

Salesforce has touted Wave's ability to make analytics more user-friendly and mobile-ready as well as the application's interoperability with offerings such as the Salesforce Sales Cloud, but foundational data issues need to be resolved before it can yield insight.

As a result, the tool hasn't been adopted as rapidly as was expected. Initially, adoption remained incremental because of Wave's high price tag, but other factors may have slowed Wave adoption. Issues like the fact that admins have to prepare non-Salesforce data to be brought into Wave, which is time-consuming and may require help, gave companies pause. In addition, companies seem to be interested in using Wave in tandem with other business intelligence tools rather than fully committing to the application for their analytics needs.

Taking steps to go from multichannel to omnichannel

Companies know by now that they have to be present on the communication channels that their customers use the most in order to do business. Whether their customers prefer to interact using traditional channels such as phone or email or new and emerging ones like social media, SMS text, video or live chat, companies need to have a firm multichannel strategy in place to serve customers.

But, in 2015, companies looked beyond multichannel in favor of omnichannel customer service, or the act of melding together multiple sources of customer data on the back end so as to provide a seamless customer experience regardless of the customer's device, channel or location. But achieving this goal is challenging given multiple data silos that can complicate data integration efforts. Contact centers struggle with new technologies that link various applications and data to provide timely and relevant service, especially when customers switch communication channels.

This past year also saw terms gather steam. The term customer journey mapping gained more relevance as companies explored how a practice such as customer profiling could help diagnose problem areas in the customer lifecycle and boost customer retention. Another practice like moving to the cloud helped companies inch toward omnichannel. However, challenges still remain, especially with multimedia-based CRM technologies.

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