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Go Digital or Die - CRM Evolution 2016

Conference at a Glance

CRM Evolution 2016 revolved around two main topics
  • customer experience, customer engagement
  • digital transformation
As part of these three main topics many speakers were about how to get there, which includes thinking and talking about machine learning, predictive analytics, and, of course, the Internet of Things.
The conference, organized by David Myron and chaired by CRM guru Paul Greenberg once more had an impressive lineup of speakers, starting with two highly impressive keynotes, held by Dennis Snow, formerly of Disney on Monday, and Brian Solis from Altimeter Group on Tuesday. As before it was co-located with SpeechTek and Customer Service experience, the latter chaired by Esteban Kolski. This combination guarantees a lot of high caliber attendance and a lot of networking opportunity, something that Paul Greenberg very strongly and actively supports. It is virtually impossible to not network …
According to colleague Scott Rogers, although the conference appeared to be bigger than the years before it all seemed more intimate, but not crowded, which probably can get attributed to a good choice of venue.
The event being vendor independent is only the icing on the cake. In my eyes this is the one CRM related conference that one must not miss. In contrast to last year I attended CRM Evolution only, which in retrospective was a mistake.
But let’s have a look at the conference themes.

There is no Business without Customer Engagement and good Customer Experiences

In the opening key note Dennis Snow told us about the Disney way of creating great customer experiences, which basically follows three simple rules
  1. Design your processes with the customer in mind, not with internal/operational priorities; look through the lens of the customer
  2. Pay attention to details
  3. Create little “Wow Moments”. These add up to a lasting great experience and are easier to achieve than single “big” experiences.
To me the most important message that Dennis conveyed is that the simple things and consistency are what matters. Consistently provide little experiences throughout the customer life cycle. He underpinned this with some examples from the ‘ordeal’ of getting out of the park and back into the hotel. Everybody is exhausted, kids may be edgy, riding the bus is usually not fun. What about the bus driver singing some songs or doing a little trivia? The rooms showing some little surprise, like specially folded towels?
Another of his core messages was that a company gets loyalty and advocacy only by creating those “wow” moments mentioned above. For this to be effective, however, it must not fail at base priorities. Customer expectations can get mapped to a pyramid. Every customer expects accuracy and availability. These are just the baseline, however. If a company fails at these then there will not be a good customer experience. There is also no chance to create wow moments in these layers – only negative ones. Opportunities for wow moments lie at the top of the pyramid, where a company can become a partner or ultimately become a trusted advisor.
The latter was also emphasized upon by other speakers and during the panels; e.g. when it comes to selling it is now paramount to become a part of the customer’s network of trust.
Michael Fauscette provided some survey data showing that vendor sales professionals are about the last ones to be influential to purchasing decisions and they nearly 2/3 of all surveyed companies agree that they engage with a sales person only to seal the deal after the decision has been taken. On the other hand, even more would appreciate being engaged by sales persons with relevant and contextual information. This currently does not come from vendors.
Denis Pombriant had some good words to say about this from a loyalty angle. He started off with the observation that due to poorly implemented loyalty programs around 6.2 trillion dollar get wasted per annum due to customer churn etc. His basic conclusion was that a company cannot buy customer loyalty anymore but needs to earn it via superior engagement and providing a superior customer experience.

Go Digital or Die

The second big topic was digital transformation. Digital transformation can be defined as ‘the realignment of, or new investment in, technology, business models, and processes to drive new value for customers and employees and more effectively compete in an ever-changing digital economy”.
The consensus opinion can be summed up as ‘go digital or die’. This message was hammered home in his usual refreshing style by Ray Wang and, from a more organizational maturity point of view by Brian Solis during his day 2 keynote.
Brian Solis looked at digital transformation from organizational maturity and people points of view. He started off stating that one is on the wrong end of innovation when waiting for someone else to tell what needs to get done. Innovation, also digital innovation and innovation in customer experience, starts from within: Observe, believe in it, act! Similar to Dennis Snow the day before Brian Solis makes it a strong point that innovation in customer experience is about making the company “conform to expectations and aspirations of people instead of making them conform to [the company’s] assumptions or legacy investments and processes”. If people look for shortcuts, then the designed experience is wrong.  
Ray Wang stated that digital disruption is not about a technology shift but that it is about transforming business models and how businesses engage with their customers. In his opinion products and services will become less and less important. Business models will shift to sell outcomes or customer experiences, which are fed by data that is converted to insights. This will also allow for developing business models that couldn’t be imagined before. He provided a few examples like Symmons Industries who built a business model around sensor driven shower heads. These shower heads help hotels mitigating a derailer of the experiences they provide while allowing Symmons Industries to move competitors’ parts and services out of hotels that use their shower heads.

Tying it Together

The connection between customer engagement and customer experience on one hand and digital transformation on the other hand is insight. Insight is data converted to actionable knowledge. In so far predictive analytics, machine learning, and Internet of Things are the glue.
The ability to meaningfully engage with relevant, timely, contextual information (at every touch point, if it is allowed to add yet another buzz word) requires data and the ability to do real-time predictive or, in the words of Ray Wang ‘anticipatory’, analytics.
Ray Wang defines anticipatory analytics as predictive analytics plus machine learning. Personally I’d rather think that this is an unnecessary distinction that probably will vanish soon. Predictive analytics will embrace machine learning instead of relying on static models.
The necessary data comes from all types of sources, traditional ones as well as from an increasing number of sensors – the Internet of Things.
How to strategically put all this together was covered by various speakers, including Barton Goldenberg, who places the CRM system as the hub of a number of systems that jointly implement a coherent strategy. Sheryl Kingstone looked deeper into how to use especially predictive analytics to achieve better customer engagement by delivering contextualized and personalized experiences consistently across channels. Volker Hildebrand from SAP succinctly said that “marketing has become a weapon of mass distraction” and that companies need to deliver reliable, contextually relevant, and timely information in a way that is convenient for their customers – or else they face the risk of getting out of business.
A path of getting step-by-step to a very consistent and successful engagement in the retail world that combines online- and offline behaviour was also presented using General Mills as an example. I found this one very impressive. Amy Halford and Molly Hjelm who presented also emphasized that “CRM is responsibility”, meaning that it is not only about getting data but also about giving back, which nicely ties into Denis Pombriant’s findings that customer loyalty needs to be earned. They also put an emphasis on one theme that I haven’t heard much about in other tracks: Data Quality! Data needs to be invested into in terms of quality and tagging in order to be really useful.

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