A few years ago, when Oracle was busy buying companies for fill out its front office cloud offering RightNow Technologies developed a day in the life video that sticks with me. It was shown at the last RightNow user meeting while RightNow was an independent company. In fact at the conference where it was debuted, Oracle announced its acquisition of RightNow.
The video’s importance was as a harbinger of things to come in the customer service world. At that point in time, we were struggling with the idea of multi-channel support or the ability to provide service regardless of whatever channel—social, mobile, email, etc. —that a request came in. We got over that soon enough.
The video takes a day in the life approach to showing someone dealing through a phone with a variety of service encounters from making and confirming airline reservations to getting an appointment for an oil change. In the process some nifty technologies like machine learning and natural language processing came into play to make everything work. The video made it look seamless and very plausible.
It was impressive. One person on the phone in the back seat of a car on the way to the airport did a lot. Today much of this has come into view and while only a few companies are taking advantage of the possibilities inherent in this technology, from what I see, it’s the next thing. To be sure, every business won’t need each capability and it’s important to focus on those functions that add the most value to a business’s or brand’s outreach.
What’s beyond all this is even more exciting to me. With the advent of the IoT there’s a tsunami of data that some businesses can collect and analyze to help them do more and better things for customers—things that customers actually want as opposed to things that the business guesses they want. There’s also the idea of people helping people that might not seem earth shaking but by this I mean the ability to engage your best customers to offer assistance to their peers. It’s appealing because it’s certainly cheap but more fundamentally because engaged customers have a focus on their expertise and a desire to be of service that’s hard to match with even the best employees. Customers can tell other customers, “I get it because I’ve been there,” in ways that CSRs can only emulate.
This is a busy week. I’ve been to the CRM Evolution conference in Washington, D.C. and am now attending the Oracle Modern Service Experience in Las Vegas. Both shows have on display many cool, new, and futuristic solutions for the front office and if past is prolog the future will be present before you can blink, so we need to pay attention. All this travel can be a bear but it’s the best way to get fresh insights. There will be more about all this here soon.
For Immediate Release
Denis Pombriant has won several awards in the CRM Writers’ Awards 2017 including the Gold Award for Best Writer and the Silver Award in the Best Article category for his piece ‘Blockchain: CRM’s Next Frontier’ as published on Beagle Research. Beagle Research has also been awarded the Silver Award for Best Independent Blog.
The awards recognize top writing talent across the CRM industry from all types of publication, with categories for both vendor and independent blogs, and for individual writers.
The final results were decided by a combination of recommendations from the judges and a public vote.
Denis Pombriant was praised by the judges for the breadth of his subject knowledge and valuable contribution to industry debate.
Awards judge and Discover CRM Editor Kathryn Beeson said:
The standard of nominations we received was extremely high, and our judging panel had to make some very tough decisions when selecting our winners.
Whilst reviewing the entries, I was particularly struck by the clarity of Denis’ writing as well as his great passion for the industry. It was clear to me that his work focuses on current research and provokes conversations which are dynamic and relevant. Beagle Research is an excellent resource for anyone looking to learn about current CRM trends through considered analysis.
ABOUT THE AWARDS
The CRM Writers’ Awards were launched in 2017 by discovercrm.com to recognize top writing talent across the CRM industry. The CRM blogosphere is crammed full of knowledge and writing expertise yet surprisingly this is rarely celebrated in any official way. The CRM Writers’ Awards 2017 were established to change this. Run every year, they recognize the brightest, most switched on bloggers, writers and journalists working in the CRM industry, with prizes available in Best Vendor Blog, Best Independent blog, Best Writer and Best Article categories.
ABOUT DISCOVER CRM
Discover CRM is an online publication which caters to professionals across the CRM industry. It provides product and industry news, whitepapers, comparison tools and how-to guides for professionals looking for advice on selecting, implementing and running CRM technology.
They say it can take a product idea ten years from concept to mass-market appeal but that might be only an optimist’s viewpoint. Some of the best ideas in CRM right now have been marinating for at least that long and for some, much longer. Two great examples are analytics and CPQ that companies like Oracle and Salesforce and others have embraced with passion. Interestingly, each technology has traversed a path that needed other technologies to become fully mature.
Analytics—and by this we mean business intelligence, data mining—an old term for what we now call machine learning—and big data needed a lot of hardware improvements to make itself prominent. For example, way back in the 1990s Kendall Square in Cambridge, MA, next door to MIT, became known as AI Alley for all of the startups there that were going to enable us to know customers’ minds before they did. Those pioneering companies are mostly gone now but their ideas generated big R&D throughout the tech sector.
One of the major drawbacks of any kind of advanced analysis is the need for processing power on specific data. To do that you need fast CPUs but also, your data can’t be static and sitting on a disk. So the AI movement influenced not only speedups for CPUs such as multi-processors and federated computing but also in-memory databases and very dense memory.
So of course it took twenty years to make all this happen but today we’re reaping the benefits of all that investment and research. Now we really do have the ability to probabilistically know what customers in the aggregate will think and we can act by putting next best action suggestions on a smartphone. That’s pretty cool.
Analytics have come a long way but the ultimate benefit will likely be felt in the IoT as machines increasingly communicate with machines with rich data streams that have to be monitored for exceptions.
CPQ or configure, price, quote software is even more of a now or in the moment idea. It was once a standalone category that could be grafted on to SFA for companies that needed it. But every company needs CPQ and without it many are reduced to relying on spreadsheet apps that often collapse under their own weight.
Consider the spreadsheets involved in proto-CPQ. We all developed spreadsheets in-house to deal with needs not addressed elsewhere for the product catalog including prices and descriptions. Businesses also needed a spreadsheet for each deal, which would be updated multiple times within a sales process. Quarterly updates to the product spreadsheet and random updates to quotes invited all kinds of problems.
Sales reps are known for their ability to seek out the shortest distance to close and we love them for it. But often the path went through using old quotes modified for new deals that often used old product catalogs and price lists and possibly the wrong discounting. In this scenario, management has to patrol every bid, every deal, and that’s getting to be hard to do. Management would rather be promoting the new product line with new pricing and other things that add greater value.
There’s also the issue of turning the catalog lose on a website so that customers can configure their own solutions. But you can’t begin to do this unless you can build business rules into the process such as Product A is always sold with 2-Product B’s or 1-Product C plus services. Other forms of front office automation, like SFA, make it possible for reps to handle increasing territory responsibilities. This decreases the number of reps needed but leaves their managers with the same amount of work reviewing manually created quotes. The front office strategy today is to manage the exceptions—SFA with analytics and good reporting makes managing the territory easy. But spreadsheet-based CPQ is not a good fit for analytics so CPQ becomes the weak link in an otherwise improved sales process. Spreadsheet CPQ is impossible to manage by exception leading to slow turnaround on quotes and lost deals. To manage quotes by exception, the same as you manage a territory, you need a CPQ system.
Not surprisingly, this is where analytics and CPQ cross paths. Analytics tools are great at finding the exceptions based on the business rules we set up. Rather than a manager scanning all deals or offers, a rules and analytics based CPQ system can simply flag outliers such as overly generous discounts or incorrect pricing. There might be legitimate reasons for the exceptions but there should also be easy ways to find and deal with them without having to sift through the majority of plain vanilla deals too.
More than just saving labor or improving accuracy, a business that can more easily pivot on a customer’s quotation request and do it first, is in a better position to win. It’s a form of business agility, an idea much in the news today. Agility is supposed to be about flexibility and the capability to change and evolve rapidly to meet market demands accurately without incurring a great deal of overhead. Business agility is important because, while it might be possible to manually respond to a single special need, it’s not a good idea to base a business model on it. Specifically, responding to special needs—good! Doing it manually over the long run—not so much.
Last point, if business agility is important to your business then software agility ought to be important too. This means, where possible, using solutions built on the same platform so that they use the same objects and data naturally, without having to rely on massive integrations. In my experience, many point solution integrations take a toll on IT that should be avoided if you expect to maximize your business’ agility.
CPQ and analytics have come a long way over decades to provide us with some of the needed components of a truly agile business approach today. Spreadsheets have barely changed. In a more competitive world it makes great sense to ensure that every part of your key business processes (there’s nothing more core than sales) is supported by a system, not a spreadsheet, and the best way to do this is with platform based components like CPQ.
A few years ago, fed up with the cattle call atmosphere, poor service, decrepit planes, inadequate room for my femurs and kneecaps, and draconian boarding procedures, I quit flying United Airlines.
I had a significant number of miles in my account but I reasoned that I wouldn’t fly United for pleasure if they were so terrible for business travel. So I burned my miles flying first class to meetings and events and then I picked other airlines. Initially I missed things like early boarding and departure lounges but I always found solace in knowing that for a few bucks I could get a sandwich or a drink before leaving and that no matter when I boarded it wouldn’t matter because we were all going to the same place. On the other hand, giving up going through United’s security screening at places like SFO was like being deprived of rutabagas.
Last week another carrier canceled my flight home and I picked a United flight in desperation. As a one-off I thought the airline had improved somewhat but not enough to make it a regular choice again. Then the Twitter-sphere began filling up with reports of company agents assaulting customers to make them relinquish seats.
If you are not familiar with the story, the short form is that a flight from Chicago to Louisville was over sold on Sunday and the airline needed three seats for crew members who had to work a flight out of Louisville the next morning. They offered various inducements to get people to give up their seats, up to $800 by some reports. But the passengers wouldn’t accommodate so the airline called security to physically remove three people. Yes. The story and video making news involves a man (a doctor no less) being dragged down the airplane’s aisle with a bloody lip. https://thinkprogress.org/united-passenger-brutally-removed-from-plane-chicago-louisville-f886330eb393
What were they thinking? Were they thinking? What were they thinking with?
In addition to the obvious assault and battery on a customer, there’s a little problem of unilaterally voiding a contract that lawyers for both sides will spend many billable hours resolving. But the main point in this age of cellphone cameras and CRM is how egregiously the airline acted in the furtherance of its goals and to the detriment of its customers.
As it happens there’s something that almost anyone dealing with United can do about this. I am thinking of how effective the sponsors’ boycott of Bill O’Reilly’s show has been. More than 52 sponsors have pulled ads in the wake of a New York Times story that Fox has paid out at least $13 million to settle sexual harassment suits by the ancient-enfant-terrible. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/04/business/media/sexual-harassment-bill-oreilly-fox.html
Boycotting United as I have done might not be possible for many people so I won’t advocate it simply because I believe that situations like this require creativity. So here’s a modest proposal. Pick a trip and pay for it with your miles rather than cash. Burning miles will take some debits off the balance sheet and this won’t affect the company very much, but depriving it of the cash normally expected from ticket sales very well might if enough people do it.
This small act of solidarity might give executives a glimpse of what it might look like if a significant number of customers actually head for the doors. It might also give a few passengers the idea that they can liberate themselves from the frequent flier lock-in euphemistically called a customer loyalty program. Who knows? It could even make airlines in general a bit more sensitive to customers.
“What’s the Value of a Like?” an article in the March-April issue of CRM, HBR, Harvard Business Review, lands on the social marketer like a proverbial ton of bricks. In it Leslie K. John, Daniel Mochon, Oliver Emrich, and Janet Schwartz report on four years of experiments, 23 in all, that engaged 18,000 people and concluded that, “Social media doesn’t work the way many marketers think it does. The mere act of endorsing a brand does not affect a customer’s behavior or lead to increased purchasing, nor does it spur purchasing by friends.”
If that’s all you read you might believe that everything we’ve thought and acted upon involving social media marketing was wrong; however, it’s not, though the research clearly signals that we have to adjust our thinking. Back before there was experimental data to support various contentions, it made perfect sense to believe that the likes and endorsements posted to friends on social media would drive more business. After all, didn’t we all subscribe to the idea that a disgruntled customer will tell many more people about a brand’s shortcomings than a happy customer will sing its praises? And didn’t we all accept that a social megaphone could be a brand disaster if not handled properly?
Yes, and yes, we did all that and it’s not wrong, at least not totally, but there are two ways to see this as the authors point out,
“It’s possible that getting people to follow a brand on social media makes them buy more. But it’s also possible that those who already have positive feelings toward a brand are more likely to follow it in the first place, and that’s why they spend more than non-followers.
Teasing this apart is important because millions of dollars in marketing budgets hang in the balance. But also, according to the same article, a survey of CMOs showed that 87 percent couldn’t document how social creates new customers. When a number like this gets this large, the next step is often disenchantment which vendors understandable want to avoid.
The research shows that social likes and endorsements might be good to have but successful brands still understand that their marketing job isn’t done simply because a friend liked something. Such a friend will still need convincing so social’s value here is more one of teeing up the opportunity for more conventional marketing. Interestingly, the authors conclude that the social set up is a good precursor for good old advertising.
So in this vignette we can observe the latter stages of social marketing’s hypecycle. The technology arrived with great fanfare, a stampede of people bought it, and it promptly failed to perform up to inflated expectations—that’s a pure hypecycle. The good news is that towards the end of a hypecycle things settle down as we come to understand the best uses for new technologies based on real-world data. That’s what this report tells me. It sets social down in a continuum of marketing tools and approaches and demonstrates how it can best work in that milieu.
As a practical matter this now focuses most directly on customer loyalty. It’s nice to get incremental new business with an assist from social marketing, but the effect is most dramatically about loyalty for the simple reason that the hidden message of the study is the need for active engagement. Active outreach by a brand to get and keep customers involved is what drives the likes long after the original purchase.
A like from a one-time buyer says something about a product but likes coming in from customers over time indicates engagement and loyalty. Even customers who aren’t actively buying more can still retain a positive impression of a brand and that drives recommendations.
The research seems a little light on engagement and loyalty and I hope the authors revisit and write more. For many the relationship between engagement and loyalty is still a mystery and the article doesn’t help by separating ideas about initial and subsequent sales but it should. Most markets today have gone way past their exponential growth phases and social media marketing can easily be the difference between zero-sum markets and retaining some of the vibrancy that comes with product exploration and adoption. This is worth internalizing.