(This article originally appeared in Forbes)
Another year, another CRM buzz-phrase.
Every few years the customer relationship management industry seems to come up with buzz phrases to try and generate enthusiasm. Back in the day it was “Sales Force Automation.” Then “Social CRM,” “Collaborative CRM,” “Operational CRM” and “Analytical CRM.”
Just this month CRM and service desk platform Zendesk announced that it is unveiling new solutions “that put conversations at the center of customer relationship management.” The company’s new tools promise to better roll-in communication and collaboration services into its core CRM offerings as part of its push to be better at “Conversational CRM.”
Conversational CRM? Is this just a gimmick? Should you care? You should. Because Conversational CRM isn’t a complicated thing. But of all the buzz-phrases, it’s actually — at least to me — the most meaningful. Why? Because it’s lacking in most CRM applications.
Conversational CRM is easily defined. It’s basically just the bringing together of all conversations into a CRM system. So if you or your customers are using text messaging, Slack, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or any number of messaging platforms, all of these messages would theoretically arrive in the same place and then get connected to the people or accounts involved. Ask any CRM user and they’ll tell you that this isn’t happening right now.
Right now most CRM systems just integrate email systems out of the box. That’s fine, but this is 2022, not 2012. People use many other ways to communicate other than email. We text, we chat, we message. But unfortunately, those conversations aren’t making it into our CRM systems. Can you go to a contact in your CRM system and communicate using the platform they prefer, other than email?
Sure, there are some third-party integrations that connect messaging, text and chat platforms to CRM systems. But they come with the headaches that any 3rd party software brings: spotty support, broken connections and lack of resources. Plus, to really communicate over multiple platforms you’ll likely need multiple third-party applications and that becomes a mess.
Shouldn’t this be included as a core feature of your CRM? Of course it should. All of my client conversations should come directly into my CRM system, regardless of the messaging platform they’re using. I should be able to initiate those conversations right from my CRM too. And I should have the ability to mass communicate with groups of clients and prospects on their preferred messaging system right from my CRM platform, assuming they give me permission of course. Right now I can’t. Neither can you.
Zendesk is starting to do something about this. Right now the company seems to be focusing on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger and is providing other tools for developers to bring in more apps on their Sunshine developer platform. The company wants to help its customers create custom bots to handle common issues, route relevant conversations to the right people, and analyze these conversations better.
All of this is great. But for the vast majority of my clients — who are mostly small and midsized companies — it’s kind of putting the cart before the horse.
That’s because all these companies really need is to be able to simply have conversations with their customers and not worry about whether it’s email, text, chat or from some other messaging system. Out of the box, without integrations, customizations, development or third-party apps. But right now this isn’t reality. These conversations are all over the place and not in the one place they need to be: your CRM system.
Seamlessly unifying all conversations into a CRM system would push my clients a thousand miles ahead of what they’re doing now. Once that objective has been achieved, I’m sure many of them would love the automation functionality that companies like Zendesk are offering.
Conversational CRM is a big feature that’s missing from most CRM systems. They may argue that their system can do it but I’m betting it’s through third parties or requires development that is likely more complex for most small companies to handle. That’s not a good answer.