How Top Services Firms Use AI to Strengthen Human Relationships

In today’s world, a broad set of industries are finding ways to automate business processes with Artificial Intelligence. Can services firms take the same approach with their relationship management?

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In today’s world, a broad set of industries are finding ways to automate business processes with Artificial Intelligence. Can services firms take the same approach with their relationship management?

Services firms operate on a fundamental premise: that opportunity flows from human relationships.  As a services professional, you must continually invest in your people relationships.  For example: you listen carefully and understand your clients’ challenges, remaining focused on their success.  You cultivate a network of trusted referral sources.  Leaders motivate a talented workforce.  All of this takes time, and there are no shortcuts in the process of building trust.  But a new breed of technology solutions, supported by cloud computing and AI, are proving that analytics can help services firms leverage data to better understand the opportunities that are embedded in employee big data.

How CRM Falls Short

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software supports sales organizations across a broad spectrum of industries.  In professional services, the “C” in CRM stands for “Client.”  Beyond that, most services firms do not tailor client data to their unique business, and consequently underutilize their CRM.  Instead, they dump contact information into it.  Partners and sales professionals track their service opportunities.  After conceptualizing marketing content, they track response rates to email.  They track standard client interactions in CRM with workflow.

This creates significant administrative overhead.  Clara Shih diagnosed the problem in her article for the Harvard Business Review in 2016:  “… for all its good intentions to provide sales managers with a way to monitor pipeline and sales activity, we all know that CRM is still hugely inefficient.  Reps are required to spend time manually entering data, and then spend more time searching through it.  While senior management clearly values the ability to monitor reps through CRM, most salespeople dislike the extra work and overhead it creates and generally use CRM begrudgingly — and rarely to its full potential.”

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Most CRM implementations hinder sales team efficiency, and the most likely casualty is the client relationship.  Consequently, the “R” in CRM remains driven by humans: insights into the nature of those relationships, the relative strength of that relationship, can be a closely guarded secret.  As Alan Mullaly, former CEO of Ford Motor Company, once put it – “You can’t manage a secret.”

In friendships, when an event occurs that puts the relationship at risk, we ask ourselves some simple questions: What happened?  Do I want to save this friendship?  What should I do next?

Can answers to these “people questions” be automated at scale?  Can management obtain useful relationship analytics and pinpoint growth opportunities?  Can your firm strengthen human relationships with smarter data practices?

Relationship Analytics

Relationship Intelligence software transforms CRM systems into Customer Relationship Automation (CRA) systems.

CRA systems acquire contact and account data from internal and external sources, removing both human error and manual labor.  CRA algorithms support timely delivery of information to employees responsible for building strong relationships with clients and referral sources.

Because CRA data is timely and accurate, it gets used. As Ms. Shih points out, collecting data about your network, researching events occurring within your network and assembling that data is non-selling work: it’s considered “grunt work” because it is.  But data about the people you know, inside and outside your firm, builds relationships.  Vendors such as and Introhive automate the collection of data and provide tailored insights to company rainmakers. CRA tools connect the dots for you: they let you know that you and your client share an interest or common experience by putting that information in your calendar, or on your phone. Trivial from a business perspective, but priceless in building a connection—these pieces of information are brought to you by AI.

The key benefit is the predictive analytics.  Like other applications of machine learning, relationship analytics vendors provide intelligent software that can classify accounts and events as positive or negative.  The algorithms can identify trends.  They help humans focus on the relationships that require attention.

Clean Master Data Is a Critical Success Factor

Data quality within internal systems is a critical success factor to achieving value with CRA.  AI requires metrics; relationship intelligence requires people data.  Your ability to achieve actionable insights with AI is predicated on a single source of the truth for client and employee master data.

Master Data Management (MDM) is a set of processes and tools that support the disciplined management of core information assets, from cradle to grave.  If you suffer from multiple sources of the truth, MDM provides the infrastructure to create and maintain Golden Records—the most accurate and complete representation of a thing from data records that are incomplete or inaccurate.

MDM builds a foundation for intelligent automation across industries.  It supports AI initiatives by providing the most accurate picture possible of your core assets: your clients and your people.  Many services firms suffer from fragmented people data, with data residing in billing, CRM, performance management, and other systems.  By consolidating this data, standardizing and matching using simple matching techniques, MDM creates a 360-degree view of clients and employees for CRA tools to leverage.

blumshapiro offers Master Data Management and Machine Learning Advisory services to clients seeking to grow their services portfolio.  Clients growing beyond the limits of their on-premises accounting system can accelerate growth with cloud accounting packages from Sage Intacct.  Light switch for Intacct is Master Data Management embedded into the Intacct implementation process, providing clients with high quality master data at go-live.

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