In the midst of all the buzz in the CRM space about “social” and “mobile” CRM spotlighted in my recent reports, I am observing another important trend. There is a convergence of customer relationship management (CRM) and business process management suite (BPMS) solutions to support better customer experiences and deeper customer engagement.  

Our research shows that only 10% of companies deliver outstanding customer experiences. The laggards have a choice: They can either continue to whistle while passing the graveyard, or make a bold, sweeping stroke by focusing on deeper engagement with their customers. How? By taking a hard look at business processes that traverse organizational silos, bringing the back office closer to the front office while transforming strategic cross-functional processes.

Customer service managers in particular struggle to balance customer experience and cost: siloed communication channels, impersonal service, and an inability to enforce company processes or meet regulatory compliance negatively affect satisfaction and increase costs.

To resolve this dilemma, there is continued interest in traditional “record-centric” CRM solutions, but I also see more adoption of “process-centric” BPMS solutions. In fact, the characteristics of these two are converging in the latest releases from the respective vendors.

  • Record-centric. Record-centric applications are centered on customer records. While many customer record-centric products have tools for knowledge management, self-service, email response management, and other interaction channels, their strength lies in managing the overall customer relationship rather than individual interactions. These products evolved from traditional CRM suites. A robust customer data repository resides at the center of the solution and results in simplified data sharing with other CRM functions, such as marketing automation, sales automation, and business analytics, when needed.
  • Process-centric. Process-centric applications focus on delivering repeatable processes efficiently. Business process-centric platforms allow the deployment and management of applications that automate decisions using rules-based processing algorithms and tools. Their value lies in the workflow engines and automation. The result is speedier and more flexible decision-making and information processing and compliance with corporate policies. By extending business process management best practices and technology to the front office, customer service organizations are finding that they improve the consistency of service delivered, elevate agent efficiency, personalize service, and meet compliance goals.

Consider traditional, record-centric CRM solutions when you:

  • Need to automate routine and standardized activities at scale
  • Need to achieve quick improvement in baseline competencies to match the competition
  • Are not required to change business  processes often
  • Require little integration with back-end systems
  • Need strong data management capabilities
  • Have a preference toward “buying” vs. “building” required capabilities

Consider business process-centric BPMS solutions when you are:

  • Coping with a high velocity of change
  • Require tailored interactions down to the customer-specific level
  • Need to orchestrate back-end process challenges/integration challenges, across multiple platforms
  • Need to empower those that own the business logic
  • Have a preference toward “building” vs. “buying” required capabilities

We will explore this topic at Forrester’s IT Forum 2011 (ITF), May 25-27 in Las Vegas and Forrester’s IT Forum EMEA 2011, June 8-10 in Barcelona, Spain. I am leading a series of analyst presentations organized around the theme “Transform Processes That Touch Customers!”, and I will be exploring the pros and cons of each approach during my presentation “CRM Meets BPM.” I hope to see you there.

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