CXM Interview with Larry Augustin, CEO of SugarCRM

CXM: Larry, you’re in the business that is undoubtedly all about customer relationships. How do you keep taking your customer experience to the next level?

Larry: Every business is all about customer relationships. Whether a potential customer is researching a hotel, a new television or a new CRM for their enterprise, they will be doing a great deal of research into the product and the marketplace. Consumers are more knowledgeable and more empowered than ever before. Our business at SugarCRM is to help our customers better understand how people interact with their brand during the entire customer journey.

Therefore, we’re helping consumers during the research phase – providing them with the right information at the right time. What’s important though, is tracking and organizing all the valuable information consumers provide, and organizing that information to streamline the customer experience. These days, customers won’t stand for anything but an extraordinary experience.

Organized customer data helps companies, cross-sell and upsell, market new services to existing customers, and solve potential issues before they escalate.

“Not everything is digital though. Human touchpoints are just as important in improving the customer experience.”

I believe sales people listen more than talk to get to know customers and their preferences. We get into the mind-set of our customers by asking for their feedback throughout the buyer’sjourney so that at the end of the process, we can evaluate how the experience has been for them.

CXM: How would you describe changes on the market and can you predict what will be the next big CX thing in the following year?

Larry: One of the big changes we’re experiencing is the evolving nature of the customer and the way that people buy products and services. Customers used to get information from controlled channels like magazines with reviews. Now they have access to a wealth of information online – from web forums to social media. Buyers are now able to find information on any product in seconds and can learn all they need to know about it from other buyers before they’ve even become a customer. With so much knowledge at their disposal, customers are now more empowered than ever before and it is up to businesses to make sure they’re meeting their customers’ rising expectations.

What will really matter in 2016 is how businesses are making the customer experience as smooth and streamlined as possible. In today’s digital environment, customers are using a range of different platforms and devices and expect to be able to move between those channels while maintaining a single conversation and transaction with the business.

Customers’ presence across multiple channels will only increase so businesses must make sure they’re prepared to serve the customer at every touchpoint by having access to the right information about each customer, in the right context, at the right time. By having customer data and interactions at their fingertips, companies can make better business decisions in real-time. This is why CRM solutions, which can integrate these channels and provide customer-facing employees with a complete view of the customer, will become even more important in facilitating a frictionless customer journey for each individual.

CXM: Could you compare the global trends to the UK ones? Are they very much different?

Larry: One recent development which has brought the UK more in line with the US and other countries is the introduction of the new Consumer Rights Act on October 1 this year. It has been billed as the biggest shake up of consumer law for a generation and it means that consumers are now much better informed and more protected when buying goods or services. It means the consumer is further empowered, and the potential exists for US-style class action lawsuits coming to the UK. Under the new Act, companies which are found to have broken antitrust laws in Europe may also be liable for millions of pounds in compensation. The law permits collective actions on behalf of large groups, meaning damages can add up quickly. This has an impact on the way that businesses should interact with their customers, especially when handling complaints. Ultimately though, for global companies, customer experience needs to be extraordinary the world over, especially now that we live in a global economy and customers are connected to each other through social media.

CXM: How do you handle touchy issues of data privacy and data security? What are the main challenges to be faced there?

The recent headlines about cyber security breaches and hacking, such as the Sony Hack and the Ashley Madison fiasco, have raised questions for enterprises about just how secure the customer data inside their CRM solution might be. This is unsurprising given that there is so much data at stake when it comes to CRM security.

Customer data is a critical component of any business’ daily operations and it’s essential to ensure the privacy and protection of data regardless of where it resides. SugarCRM takes a holistic, layered and systematic approach to safeguarding that data and is constantly evaluating, evolving and improving the privacy and security measures it has in place. SugarCRM also offers customers the option to deploy Sugar on-premise, as well as in public and private cloud environments. Unlike SaaS only CRM vendors, we give customers the flexibility to choose the deployment that meets their particular security, privacy and regulatory requirements.

For our customers who do choose cloud deployment, we offer multiple layers of protection and security. Our SaaS model is hosted in tier-one data centre facilities around the world which are protected by powerful physical security and data security mechanisms.

We also have entered into a strategic global partnership with Deutsche Telekom to deliver enterprise-ready CRM for security-conscious companies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland who have such stringent standards for Internet ​​security and data privacy. Hence we wanted to ensure that enterprises within these countries could quickly implement large Sugar deployments, while complying with regulations for data security and privacy.

CXM: What will, in your opinion, be the key points of quality customer experience for your customers in the future?

Larry: Humanising the somewhat anonymous world of digital customer service is what we will endeavour to do to continue delivering a great experience for our customers. While eCommerce technology for example can automate processes and help businesses to maximise sales by accelerating the lead-to-cash cycle, customers still want that personal touch. 

This is where data on customers’ previous access to our business and interactions with us via social media, emails and our website can be a key asset. Information like this not only gives us an insight into what customers buy or browse but also what they like, how they like to communicate and even how they live. It can help us understand how to best target our customers with useful, personalised information that’s relevant and of interest to them. Ultimately, we want to build on their knowledge, not replicate it.

The key to customer satisfaction in the future is retaining the human interaction, combining that with digital interaction and delivering a personalised experience to each individual. Personalisation combined is what each customer needs in order to truly feel valued and demonstrates that we truly understand how to meet their needs.

CXM: What are your competitive advantages compared to Salesforce or Microsoft?

Larry: We compete with a number of large vendors, including Salesforce, Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM, SAP CRM or Oracle Siebel. However, none of our competitors focus purely on CRM. For Microsoft, it’s a very small part of a much bigger business and Salesforce, as a cloud company, started out doing CRM, but is adding all these other products horizontally. As a result, they focus less on the customer relationship management piece, which is our sole mission.
We differ from others in three ways: value, flexibility and ease-of-use.
Sugar offers the most innovative and intuitive user experience on the market –SugarUX™. SugarUX gives users the seamless, easy-to-use experience of a consumer-focused app combined with robust functionality for the enterprise. Advanced workflows and collaboration tools operationalise complex interactions across departments, devices and systems. Users can view real-time intelligence frominternal and external data sources within a single dashboard – based on their role or individual needs.
Another advantage is that Sugar provides the broadest range of options in the industry with on-premises, private and public cloud deployment options. Sugar easily and cost effectively integrates with hundreds of global enterprise applications and data sources. Sugar’s platform is highly adaptable and based on open source technologies, giving customers full source code access and a single code base across all environments.
Finally, Sugar offers predictable pricing with no hidden fees. Customers can customise and build on the platform without penalties or forced upgrades. The solution encompasses features for sales, marketing and support teams in one offering so there are no “separate” clouds for each department. As a result, departments work more collaboratively which means lower long-term TCO, lower data storage-based fees and no upcharges for API calls. Sugar is priced the same, regardless of deployment option and users can choose the environment that is right for them without penalty.

CXM: How do you see the future of CRM?

Larry: Like everything else, the mobile experience users will be crucial in the CRM space.The technology is getting more adept at taking data of multiple types, from multiple sources – and presenting that to the user in a manner that gives them all the relevant information they need, in the right context, at the right time. It means that customer facing employees can do more with their customers as theyhave all the information they need in one place to help them deliver a relevant, personalised and frictionless customer experience.

CRM analytics is also becoming more sophisticated to help enterprises deal with deluges of customer information and get the most out of Big Data.With prediction and sentiment analytics, customer-facing employees can better manage the full customer life cycle and focus on individual customer needs, wants and productivity. They’ll have a better understanding about what relevant data they need and what they should be doing with that data at each point of the customer journey.

The rise of big data, mobile and social is driving customer adoption of new products, and will continue to play a large part in how customer-centric enterprises are. While CRM investment will undoubtedly increase, competition for customer satisfaction will too. Companies will be looking for the most affordable solutions on the market so the cost of innovation for businesses is only going to decrease.

CXM: Feel free to share some music that motivates you as well.

Larry: I would say that rock music is my genre of choice for motivation. Rock music is energetic, powerful, pure and authentic. These attributes besides others embody SugarCRM to me.

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