CRM Tops Planned Spending List for 2014–2015

Earlier this year, I conducted my eighth annual Global Technology Survey, tracking adoption, satisfaction, and planned spending across 24 categories of tools and services used by high-tech B2B support operations. Over 300 responses were received. The results have now been published, and I wanted to share some highlights with Smart Customer Service readers.

Several areas of technology saw increased adoption over the last year, particularly customer relationship management (CRM) and knowledge management. Planned spending is high for 2014 to 2015, with double-digit percentages of companies planning additional purchases in every category covered by the survey.

The three categories with the highest increase in adoption over the last year are the following:

Knowledge management

Always a popular technology category for support services, adoption of knowledge management technology grew to 85 percent in 2014, up 7 percent from last year. While practically all support operations have some approach to capturing and sharing knowledge, this adoption increase indicates some of the less formal approaches are being improved with investments in processes, knowledge base tools, and search technology. Additionally, rapid adoption of mobility by employees and customers has been forcing technology providers to up their game for knowledge management, allowing corporate content to be accessed from anywhere, on any device.

Customer relationship management

CRM software, which automates the customer life cycle through marketing, sales, and service, had seen waning satisfaction in the past few years, as legacy CRM systems grew outdated and cumbersome, and support executives opted for a lightweight incident tracking tool, usually from a cloud product, separate from the aging CRM platform. That trend seems to be reversing as IT begins to migrate core CRM and enterprise resource planning systems to the cloud, pressuring business users to use the new provider's incident management module. Adoption of enterprise CRM platforms increased 6 percent to 90 percent, in 2014. Adoption of CRM in Europe was 100 percent—the first category to achieve 100 percent adoption in the eight years I've conducted this survey.

Learning content development systems

Though education services is usually the group that comes to mind when you mention LCDS, support services is also a heavy user of this technology, which is used to create online training modules and deliver training in bite-size chunks to employees at their desks, eliminating the need to pull the team off the floor for classroom training. With more remote workers, investing in the infrastructure for e-learning makes sense, and, as a result, adoption of LCDS by support services grew to 53 percent in 2014, up 3 percent from last year.

The survey also asks respondents in which areas they have budget for additional purchases in the next one to two years. All areas of the survey saw fairly aggressive planned spending, including emerging technology areas such as recurring revenue recognition (40 percent of respondents have planned spending for 2014–2015) and consumption analytics (39 percent planned spending).

Following are the areas with the highest planned spending for 2014–2015:

Enterprise CRM

In the on-premises days, CRM was a one-time purchase. In a cloud world, it seems that spending on CRM is never over, as new features and modules often require an additional subscription instead of the "all you can eat" pricing reminiscent of on-premises tools. As more companies migrate to cloud solutions for CRM, they tend to start with basic capabilities, and find they are missing some of the more sophisticated capabilities from their legacy platforms. Cloud vendors are always beefing up solutions to fill this void, but the new features often require another monthly subscription fee per user.

A total of 83 percent of support services respondents are planning additional investments in CRM in the next one to two years. Not everyone is happy about this spending, with multiple companies commenting they felt "nickel and dimed to death" by vendors.

Online communities

Spending on online communities remains high for another year, with 75 percent of B2B support organizations planning an investment in communities in 2014–2015, down slightly from 77 percent last year. With the high adoption numbers for communities, this spending indicates companies are beefing up existing community efforts, hopefully allocating funds for expanding customer communities to employees and partners, and for creating stronger integrations between communities and CRM and knowledge management.

Knowledge and content management

Knowledge management (KM) has been one of the top spending areas in years past, and it made the list again, with 69 percent of companies planning further KM investments in 2014–2015. Several trends are driving this spending, including the expansion of mobile capabilities for content access and introducing new self-service tools to aid customers in finding an answer without assistance. Also, there is growing interest in automating problem diagnostics and knowledge management to boost employee productivity without more product training.

Reporting and analytics

Proactive dashboards, powered by analytics, are one of the "must have" features for 2014, helping supervisors identify when customer issues are getting close to missing SLAs so intervention can occur. Scheduling dashboards and analytics are helping companies get smarter about scheduling for peaks, often taking advantage of remote workforces available for volume peaks. Sixty-nine percent of tech companies have budget for new or additional analytics in 2014–2015.

The good news is that the majority of support technology areas have reached some level of maturity, and most solutions on the market have plenty of happy customer references you can speak with. Just make sure the vendor has expertise in your particular vertical, and offers packaged integrations to your existing internal systems. Nothing drives up a project budget like custom development.