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Smartphones: The Need for ‘Smarter’ CRM

Customizability and Simplicity would be the distinguishing characteristics of smart-phone CRM applications.

“Hi,  I’ll take the iPhone”
“ Sir, Why don’t you try our other smart-phones models like…”
“ I’ll take the iPhone”
“..we have a special offers with monthly bill discounts, for these other models…”
“I’ll take the iPhone”
“ …Sir, we have received numerous service complaints with the iPhone and ..”
“I’ll take the iPhone”

The above exchange was of an anguished, but extremely loyal Apple customer with a New York AT&T store representative last week, after AT&T reportedly ‘halted’ iPhone sales on 28th Dec ‘09. After an ambiguous statement released by AT&T explaining the changes in strategy, iPhone sales were resumed, the very next day.. (source: ABC news)

This was just to underscore the importance, customer loyalty and wide spread adoption of smart-phones. Smart-phones like Blackberries and iPhones are revolutionizing the cell phone market. The smart-phone market is even expected to surpass normal cell phones in sales, in a matter of years, experts predict. Iphones are not even the biggest player in the smart-phone industry, albeit their enviable growth and seemingly recession proof demand. They are the third largest player (17%) in the smart-phone market behind Nokia (39%) and Research in Motion (RIM)/blackberry(20%) [source: BBC news] and Google has just launched their new Nexus One smart-phone , which some believe could be a category killer.

So if smart-phones are proving to be a major Customer trend, how can the CRM practitioner be far behind? – They aren’t!

The smart-phone revolution hasn’t gone unnoticed by marketers and CRM practitioners. They have been creating products to cater to smart-phones. CRM vendors are fast entering in partnerships with mobile service providers or smart-phone manufacturers to develop and distribute CRM products. SAP has joined hands with RIM to run SAP CRM on Blackberrys. Oracle has released Social CRM products for the iPhone. Salesforce.com has their mobile version available. Even many Apple's AppStore and BlackBerry AppWorld products work like simple CRM applications.
Arguably, even the emergence of CRM trends like SaaS and Social CRM are fuelled by the proliferation of smart-phones. Cloud computing/SaaS allows powerful web servers to handle storage and processing requirements, making smart-phones sufficient for most day to day computing needs.

The CRM applications for smart-phones can be broadly categorized into two, based on the target users: applications for end users and for the mobile workers.

The evolution of Social CRM will be closely tied to how end users/the general public will adopt CRM through their smart-phones and I would reserve discussion on this area for a different blog post.

Mobile workers like field salesmen and field service representatives, expect their CRM vendor to provide products that enable seamless transfer of CRM information between different channels and work modes. They demand CRM that works with their smart-phone-class devices, rather than just the laptops. CRM functionalities like creating leads, verifying customer information, entering contact information, creation of tasks, task debriefing and communication with other mobile workers are prime targets for smart-phone CRM applications.

However, adapting an existing CRM application designed for a notebook/desktop to a fit a smart-phone screen, alone won’t help. CRM for smart-phones needs to be smarter! There is a fundamental difference in the objective and method of use of CRM through smart-phones. It closely mirrors the differences between smart-phone and laptops/desktop computers, in terms of functionalities and business applications. The development and design of these applications would be very customer driven too, compared to the management driven traditional CRM/ERP systems. Like many companies have found out, the employees first buy their personal iPhones and then force the IT department to support it.

Customizability and Simplicity would be the distinguishing characteristics of smart-phone CRM applications. Applications heavy on functionality and that are miniature replicas of traditional CRM applications will be rejected by users. They would expect brand new applications that integrate enterprise data  from CRM, SCM, ERP, business intelligence and the internet…and they would expect it fast, frill-less and hassle-free like the other ‘cool’ applications they find at the online Appstores / Appworlds.

Customers would expect CRM to be smarter.


I heard recently that Nokia is planning to launch applications for mobiles that are platform independent.

They are also contacting several outsourcing and software development companies to develop softwares for them.

CRM development for smart phones if targetted for a platform independent view might be helpful.

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