SugarCRM CTO Clint Oram: Make Every Customer Experience Extraordinary

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Clint Oram cofounded SugarCRM in 2004 and is one of the original architects and developers of the Sugar application.

As the company's chief technology officer, he currently leads SugarCRM's corporate development strategy and alliances teams.

In this exclusive interview, CRM Buyer discusses with Oram some of the latest challenges and trends in CRM.

CRM Buyer: What's the biggest CRM challenge right now?

Clint Oram: Technology is changing the way customers work with companies. I want the company that I do business with to give me answers quickly, and they need to be insightful answers. Technology has driven speed and relevancy expectations through the roof, and companies of all sizes are struggling to keep up with this.

CRM Buyer: How can businesses best respond to these challenges?

Oram: It's a combination of technology and people. My historical roots involve people, process and technology working together to solve a problem. You rely on technology to solve a problem fast.

The part that I spend my time focusing on is how you really help the human, whose job it is to talk to a customer, to have all the right information on hand, and to help them know what to do next. That's where there's a lot of exciting innovation happening right now.

Modern CRM is at the center of the customer experience, and it's CRM technology that powers that customer experience.

CRM Buyer: How do you make sure that the technology enhances human relations?

Oram: That's where the art and science come together. I believe in a progressive future where technology enhances our lives. The next big technology wave ahead of us is artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The thing you can't forget is that humans like talking with humans. To wipe that away is a dead-end scenario, and the companies that succeed in the future are the ones that leverage technology to enhance human contact. This is my personal philosophy. I refuse to believe in a dystopian world where machines will replace humans.

CRM Buyer: What are some common CRM mistakes that you see companies making?

Oram: Technology by itself is not panacea. You can't just turn on technology and expect magical things to happen. People who sell the easy button are selling false promises. This is a cultural change. This is a different way of doing business. You have to get your people and processes aligned. What you need to do is sit down and look at your business through the lens of your customer and figure out how you streamline getting relevant answers to your customers.

The number of companies that are deploying CRM technology is radically larger than when I got started in the industry in 1999. What we're seeing is that more and more companies are employing CRM technology, and often for the first time.

A new generation of salespeople expects technology to guide them through interactions. You've got more and more companies employing CRM technology, and it's a new thing for them. They trip over the misconception that technology by itself drives revenue growth. You have to invest in your people, processes and technology.

CRM Buyer: Why is it important to engage customers across multiple channels?

Oram: As a business owner, you have to be where your customers are. One of the most significant trends in CRM is clienteling, which means having a seamless experience in the act of selling in online channels down to traditional retail channels. That's the reality of the future.

In the first wave of e-commerce, we declared the end of brick and mortar. What we've learned is that people enjoy the act of shopping and getting out of their house and going to stores. I want the company or the retailer to know me consistently across platforms, and I want a seamless experience.

CRM Buyer: What are some other CRM trends?

Oram: CRM for enterprise is shifting away from systems of transaction to systems of engagement. You need to have the right tools and the right data. What that ultimately means is that companies are investing in a variety of clouds. What they need is a CRM solution that can work in all of these cloud strategies.

Customers want to be in charge of their customer data. They don't want to feel that they're being charged exorbitant fees. They don't want to be boxed into one way of doing business. What is business? We have a person with a problem and a person with a solution, and you want to connect the two of them together.

With so much of our economy moving towards services, it's the quality of this customer service that differentiates one company from another. I want something that allows me to be unique and different. I want something that lets me get to my customer data. We live in a world of massive data information. Legacy CRM providers have outdated technologies, and they're having to move to new ones.

CRM Buyer: What's in the future for CRM? How is it evolving and changing? And how can companies adapt?

Oram: Modern CRM is about empowering the individual to get their job done better. The way you do that is to make every customer experience extraordinary. All of that together makes your people smarter.

The way that I simplify this is to step away from the technology for a moment. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. Understand what your customer is looking for. Make your customer's life easier. That strips away all of the complexity. It gives you a laser focus. It lets you align all of your technology and people on a very simple mission.

Freelance writer Vivian Wagner has wide-ranging interests, from technology and business to music and motorcycles. She writes features regularly for ECT News Network, and her work has also appeared in American Profile, Bluegrass Unlimited, and many other publications. For more about her, visit her website. You can also connect with Vivian on Google+.

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