Customers now expect companies to know their preferences, provide relevant and timely offers and recommendations, and remember their past interactions. This requires companies to have a deep understanding of their customers, which is only possible when customer data is collected, stored, and analyzed in a CRM system. Additionally, customers expect faster response times and more efficient customer service, which means CRM systems must be able to quickly access and process customer data.

Our guest John Heald, Global Vice President, Customer Experience Core CRM at SAP, and the host of the podcast Sergey Jermakov, Senior Partner at CLARITY, discussed how changing customer expectations are affecting businesses, raising the bar for CRM systems, and impacting the technology landscape. Keep reading to get insightful information about it.

Our guest John Heald, Global Vice President, Customer Experience Core CRM at SAP, and the host of the podcast Sergey Jermakov, Senior Partner at CLARITY.

Changing customer expectations

How do you see these changes are happening in the B2B space?

The days of being out of the office and offline are gone. People expect you to always be available and engage quickly via any channel they are using. We are shifting more towards virtual engagements, however I am a strong believer that people still buy from people, particularly in B2B organizations.

It is difficult to build relationships virtually, but you can foster and enhance existing ones with video interactions, so customers can see you and have genuine conversations with them. Many organizations are using tools like Teams or Zoom as the main platform for communication. There is generosity from those who turn on their cameras or not. Even so, e-commerce is still not widely used for large B2B investments; it definitely has its place, but it is best used alongside building relationships through face-to-face interactions. A balance of both physical and digital forms of engagement is critical here.

Transition to work from home

How systems like CRM have supported the transition to work from home?

Everyone started migrating to the cloud around seven or eight years ago, which has helped people have access to what they need remotely. It is hard to imagine how we would have managed if a lockdown had happened before the internet. We were fortunate that these technologies were already in existence, meaning information was at our fingertips.

One thing enabled by remote working that we have really seen in technology is the evolution of machine learning. Traditionally, sales meetings involved discussing ideas, like trying different tactics or looking into something else. With machine learning, though, this conversational process is automated, as it can determine which opportunity is the most promising and also outline what steps should be taken for optimal conversion; this includes things like data requirements or a presentation for reference. It is all about taking the input from the best people in the organization plus other sources and feeding it into an automated system for analysis. This has been widely used from a sales perspective as well as customer service when it comes to predictive abilities – you don’t have someone by your side to ask for advice anymore.

Now the expectation from customers is not just knowing what price they will be charged, but also solving the problem with the right product, the right solution.

Currently, people are working longer than they used to work before as they are not traveling to a customer. What we are seeing is that the actual sales engagements are actually getting deeper. I am seeing more and more of salespeople trying to understand beyond the contract, as the customer is happy to pay X percent more for better service.

Engagement of employees

How do you see this backend tools like CRM could help in terms of engagement?

We all know sales and customer service roles have long dealt with high turnover. That is why businesses must think strategically about how to retain their trained professionals and avoid the costly expense of having to continually onboard new employees.

1. To ensure they stay on top of potential trends, many organizations are now surveying both their customers and employees. It is difficult to get a sense of the “pulse” in virtual offices, so it’s important to ask people how they really feel – surveys are often more effective than face-to-face conversations for this purpose.

2. Moreover, some companies have seen benefits from allowing more flexible work from home opportunities, which can save employees time spent commuting and result in less rigid nine-to-five requirements.

3. Having this as one of the demographics to consider, businesses have realized the value of using employees effectively regardless of location.

For example, I have a customer in the US who has five call centers located around the US. In Chicago, they had an excellent manager and underneath them five superb supervisors. When I wanted to promote one of those supervisors, the other four were unhappy with the idea. With virtual working now being more popular, I was able to promote all five supervisors to managing teams in different call centers. This allowed me to use these 5 people more effectively, such as having them manage people in Arizona, Florida, and Georgia – rather than all in one office.

4. Many organizations are trying their best to combat these employee engagement issues by giving employees days off or even closing down for a day or week in an attempt to create employee engagement. In SAP, we have a day off, closing for a day in order to give everybody a day back to spend time with their SAP peers, do things together as an organization, and foster better relationships.

For professional services companies like CLARITY, we have been pushing this idea of remote delivery and building the teams just based on their competence rather than on their geographical location for many years. The customers are supporting us and have finally accepted this change. Now we have the brilliant opportunity to hire the people no matter where they are located.

Innovation approaches success story

Could you share some customers success cases who have introduced innovations in this environment in the space?

I am currently working with a high-end retailer that needed to generate revenue when UK retail stores were closed. As a result, they developed a virtual boutique where they can engage with customers and demonstrate product use in a virtual setting. Video technology has certainly come a long way in the last few years, which helped them create this virtual shop quickly. Customers can see all the options, decide, and if they don’t like it, they can simply swap it. This innovative approach helped them keep their business running, as well as allowed to extend their market share due to the differentiation of the services. It was something that was pushed because of the urgency, but actually, it has been very successful for them, and they are continuing to grow this as a key part of their business strategy.

Better customer experience for better results

In the existing state of the markets, we are expecting the next wave of the global crisis to come up our way. What the businesses should get ready for?

When I think about customers that have been successful, I have noticed one thing from a technology standpoint: the commerce platforms are not just for selling, they provide support and engagement. It is not just a “yes” or “no” – customers want insight and guidance. Therefore, customer service teams have moved from being reactive to proactive; they engage customers before they even make a purchase. I have also seen this “click stream analysis” which gives salespeople an idea of what the customer has been doing on the website. This is more effective than just showing up to a B2B customer and asking what they’d like to buy.

On a personal level, remote working is here to stay due to its cost-effectiveness and time efficiency. We can still engage with customers using video conferencing apps like Teams or Zoom, and although face-to-face meetings will return at some point, everything will never be as before.

The Bottom Line

CRM is becoming another layer of productivity tools for salespeople and the single source of truth in this changing environment. Customers are now more likely to use multiple communication channels and devices, and CRM systems integrate with these channels and provide a unified customer experience. The needed speed and agility come from the system. It’s true that human intuition and human interaction will never be replaced, but CRM can make the work environment for sales teams and for the entire company more efficient.