The rise of AI-enabled CRM

Salesforce and IDC have released new research into the impact of AI and related technology on CRM activities, which includes business functions like marketing, customer support and logistics. What they found is unsurprising given the trend we’ve been seeing in the market: AI is growing in popularity in customer-facing applications. Businesses are looking for ways to connect more personally with customers, as well as to introduce efficiencies into their operations. AI and its kin (what IDC calls ‘a constellation of cognitive system technologies’ that includes machine learning, NLP, voice recognition and virtual assistants) are enabling this in a growing number of companies, and IDC forecasts spending on cognitive technology will grow from $13.7b this year to $46b by 2020.

AI-powered CRM activities will drive new efficiencies in how companies sell, service, and market, ultimately expected to create more than $1.1 trillion in new GDP impact worldwide and 800,000 net-new jobs by 2021—surpassing those lost to automation.

We’ve already seen the dramatic impact machine learning has on delivering better customer experiences, so it’s no surprise to hear that the companies IDC surveyed generally agreed that the rise of AI is a positive if ultimately disruptive development, with most highly rating the statements “Implementing AI could change our organization's culture, workforce, and operations entirely” and “AI is a positive technological advancement”.

Those already using AI to enable their CRMs are also increasingly likely to use cloud-based systems, and IDC predicts the growing importance of vendors in the proliferation of AI, as they integrate AI (and machine learning, and NLP, etc etc) into their offerings and expose the tech to a wider range of customers. Which makes sense: for most companies choosing software and systems with these capabilities baked will be a far simpler – and less costly - proposition than adding the functionality after the fact.

From a retail point of view, it’s interesting to see that 51% of respondents are using AI-enabled CRM for cross- and up-selling – like companies are using Plexure’s machine learning capability to personalize offers to their customers. 68% of respondents plan to use this function in the future, so this continues the steady rise of technology as a retail enabler. In comparison though, email is still the main use of AI in CRM: with 74% using the tech and 87% planning to do so. Using marketing automation to control email flows is a well-established and understood practice however, so we’d expect to see emerging tech take off as it proves its value (interestingly chatbots are used by 47% with 75% planning to use them, so this may be the start).

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