(This article originally appeared in Forbes)
Are you a salesperson, a customer service rep or a marketing professional? Are you still not coming back to work? Are you still fighting to keep working from home? Here’s some advice: be careful. Because by the time you decide to return to the workforce that job you had may no longer be there. And for that, you can probably blame customer relationship management systems.
There are more than 10 million unfilled jobs, according to the Labor Department, which is close to an all-time high. Why? There are lots of reasons. Many people continue to stay at home due to a lingering fear of the pandemic. Others are living off their savings built up over time thanks to added federal unemployment benefits, rent abatements, stimulus checks and a rise in the stock market. Parents, struggling with uncertain school schedules, are concerned about committing to an employer.
Meanwhile, demand is up, the economy has recovered from COVID and businesses are finding themselves actually able to — for the most part — still deliver. Why? Because they’re learning that they can replace the workers that are demanding more pay, more time off, more benefits and more workplace rules with technologies that don’t make those demands. And show up to work.
I’ve written recently both here and here about how companies of all sizes are replacing workers in the warehouse, in their restaurants, in their offices and behind the counters with robots that do the work just as well and don’t require health insurance or complain about being bullied in the workplace.
But it’s not just robots. It’s also bots. Particularly bots in CRM software.
That’s because today’s most innovative CRM players are offering their customers AI and workflow tools that are helping them automate their processes…and in turn eliminate employees. These vendors are making good products but they are very sensitive to the idea that the automation tools that they’re rolling out on an almost weekly basis will cut back on headcount. You can understand why. It’s not exactly great PR.
But their customers — like my clients — know the deal. And they’re embracing this new technology to do just that: eliminate workers.
Top CRM providers like Salesforce, Zoho and Microsoft are helping to reduce the number of salespeople at their customers by generating automatic quotes, sending out automated follow-ups and alerting lower-skilled order entry staff when orders are falling behind prior activity. These platforms leverage AI to mechanize sales routines, chain together rules and analyze salesperson performance based on quotas and goals. These systems are sending alerts and reminders — without a human involved — that prompts customers to buy. Their built-in intelligence even identifies processes that can be automated and suggests how to do it! A lot of sales work is repetitive work that can be done by software. CRM systems are proving this.
So bye-bye salespeople!
CRM systems that focus on customer service such as ServiceNow, Zendeskand Freshworks are also helping to eliminate service staff. Their software bots are responding to customer requests where once a human was needed to be involved. Their analytics are looking behind the scenes at potential problems, issues and complaints — a task once done by lower level personnel — and escalating these concerns to more skilled customer service agents for follow-up. Their machine learned robots are chatting, texting and emailing customers without those customers knowing (or caring) that they’re corresponding with a machine learned robot because their questions are getting answered quicker and with more intelligence than a human.
So…see ‘ya later customer service reps!
Marketing platforms like Marketo, Adobe and HubSpot are offering pre-made templates, AI-generated blogs and professional materials all produced by their software. Their email services can be programmed to automatically send out recurring messages. They’re measuring ROI, analyzing behavior, processing responses to campaigns, and building WYSIWYG web pages without any web developers involved. They’re distributing leads, qualifying prospects and adding new opportunities to outreach lists without anyone touching a keyboard. They’re quietly tracking the online behavior of website visitors and sending chats and messages based on that visitor’s interests.
IT people that work at companies are challenged to justify their value. That’s because yesterday’s CRM systems lived on networks that needed security, upgrades, backups, integrations and maintenance. But not anymore. Today’s CRM systems live on the cloud so the employees that are still employed can access their information from wherever they are and do not have to worry that this data is secured, backed up and reliable to use. Take a look around any smaller company and you won’t find as many IT employees overseeing CRM systems like yesterday. The good news for them is that there’s so much work to be done in the tech field that they’ve probably found their usefulness somewhere else.
This technology isn’t eliminating everyone of course. It’s just paring down the payrolls of the unskilled, unmotivated and uninspired workers that cost too much and suck up too many resources and who can be easily replaced by software. Are you one of those workers? If you are, then you better wake up to this reality and make some changes.
The world is changing and you need skills. You need to be expert with the CRM systems you’re using. You should be digging into the data, learning how to create reports, design workflows and leverage this technology to make you a great and valued salesperson, customer service rep or marketing resource. Embrace the technology. Or it will eat you up.
Make no mistake: employers do care for their employees. But that love only goes so far. If a person is not coming to work and it’s discovered that he or she can be replaced by a machine — or a CRM platform — at a lower cost and with the ability to get the work done faster, more accurately and at a fraction of the cost then even an employer’s love for their workers will have its limits.
Those limits are quickly approaching.