We’re firmly in the age of the customer, where customers – not executives – decide how customer-centric their companies are. And while good customer experiences can help control costs, executives are more interested in their potential to fuel sustainable top-line growth.

Forrester defines CRM as:

The business processes and supporting technologies that support the key activities of targeting, acquiring, retaining, understanding, and collaborating with customers.

CRM is the foundational building block of a company's customer experience strategy to win, serve, and retain customers. It enables new business strategies, integrates to many technologies and is constantly rejuvenated by new trends. Here are 4 of the 10 trends that we see in CRM in 2017.

Customers want to easily connect with, interact with, make purchases from, or get service from a company.  For example, 72% of customers say that valuing their time is the most important thing that a company can do to provide them with good service. Companies must offer customers ways to easily engage with them to foster an ongoing omnichannel dialogue and relationship that strengthen loyalty and retention. And they will reap the rewards: Omnichannel customers are more active, spend more, and are less expensive to support than single-channel customers.

  • Trend 1: Companies are increasingly supporting digital customer journeys. They will look to automate product configuration, personalized product recommendations, price negotiations, and order taking. For post-purchase support, they will offer online issue submission, tracking, and scheduling for service technicians. And they will explore the value of offering automated conversational interactions via chatbots and virtual agents.

Companies must support differentiated, effective experiences for broad customer segments. But they need to go further, supporting the right customer experience for the right customer at the right time in his or her customer journey.

  • Trend 2: Companies leverage lightweight vertical solutions for agility. Historically, enterprise CRM solutions have fallen into two categories: horizontal solutions that apply to a large swath of industries or deeply verticalized solutions that support end-to-end industry-specific process flows, data models, and regulations. We predict that in  2017 enterprise and midsize CRM vendors will increasingly offer lightweight vertical solutions. They include templates, common process flows, data model extensions, and UI labels but do not script the end-to-end process. Companies will leverage these vertical editions for the CRM vendor's domain knowledge. It will allow them to focus on capabilities that differentiate them in the marketplace instead of core industry capabilities that should be table stakes. 
  • Trend 3: Intelligence powers prescriptive advice. Decisioning — determining a customer's or system's next action — is pervasive in customer-facing organizations. Rules pinpoint the right prospects, route leads to appropriate resources, and recommend issue resolution. Many companies use a combination of rules and analytics to personalize offers to customers but fall short in leveraging the true power of analytics for customer intelligence. In 2017, organizations will continue to use analytics to prescribe the right action for customer-facing employees in the context of CRM applications. For example, sales teams will use prescriptive advice to identify high-quality leads, the most useful relationships within firms, the right contacts, and the most relevant sales collateral for buyers' role. Sales will also use it for product bundling and discounting to maximize revenue per contract. 

Negative experiences skew a customer's impression of a company. For example, the pain that we feel from getting hit with a $20 fee is two to five times worse than the pleasure we derive from a $20 reward. Companies must form an emotional bond with their customers by looking out for their best interests, identifying points of friction in a customer journey, and empowering customer-facing personnel. 

  • Trend 4: Customer success processes increase customer retention. Companies have started actively managing their customers after the initial sale to ensure proper onboarding and ongoing customer satisfaction. They use CRM data in conjunction with finance and product usage data to gauge a customer's health and intervene when surfacing signs of distress. Actively managing customer relationships affects a company's revenue by reducing churn and increasing customer lifetime value and advocacy. In 2017 companies are becoming increasingly cognizant of the economic value of managing customer relationships. Forward-thinking companies invest in customer success by articulating a customer success strategy and high-level measures of success as well as forming customer success teams that have clear retention metrics and revenue goals for accounts under management. 

For the other CRM trends, see the Forrester report: Navigate The Future Of CRM In 2017.