Guess What Customer Relationship Management is All About?

Come, on – guess.

Come on, just one guess?

Give up?

As you probably know if you follow me on Twitter, my blog, or anywhere in this world – I am a judge and organizer for the CRM Idol competition (link to more details).  A large part of the process, until now, has been checking references.  We asked each of the 60 vendors (40 in The Americas, 20 in EMEA) to provide us with three references each so we could vet them, make sure they were “legitimate” vendors and that their customers thought the same.

I took advantage of the many hours of therapy since I left Gartner, I do feel much better now – thanks for asking, to use part of the model I used back then for references: score them based on the value of the reference they provided: glowing reference, positive, neutral, or negative.  I also used open-ended questions, versus numeric scales, to make sure we got some “meat” and not a simple score.

It was very telling.

Enough wasting your reading time, here is the scoop.  Among the ~160 references we received back, the number one – by far – reason for a good reference and continuous business was:

Good Technology.

No, I am messing with you. Seriously, the number one reason references said they would continue to do work with a vendor was the team on the vendor side, attention to the client’s needs, and quick action to solve problems.  In other words, the person-to-person relationship.

True, this is a very tiny segment of the world, but if you think about it – what do your customers rave about when they give you good marks? Your technology – or your people?

Just thought you would like to know as you plan your expenditures for the next year…

A Little Help with Voice of the Customer Research, If You Please…

I am asking for your help.  Yes, I know I am always asking – but this could actually be interesting for you as well.

I am working with Attensity on a  research report on Voice of the Customer.  We are trying to find out what is the current status, where we are going in the next couple of years, and what we shall expect to see, and invest in, going forward.  We created a short 96-question survey, which I will later parse, put through the analytical engine and give back to those who participate in the form of a research report.

We have been collecting answers from self-professed Voice of the Customers practitioners and consultants for the past 2 weeks, we have somewhere shy of 500 responses – but I’d like to get more.  As many as I can get, the more we get the easiest it will be to slive-dice-puree-and-analyze.  Would you please help me by taking this short 96-question survey?  I am posting the link at the end of this post.

If you are a VoC practitioner – won’t you please take this survey? When you do, you can qualify for a drawing for an iPad.  Promise you, no kidding you, honestly.

Thanks very much in advance – oh, almost forgot… the survey is just 18 questions, not 96.

(Did you see what I just did there? I managed your expectations and increased the likelihood you would take the survey by reducing the number of questions – both at the same time, genius – pure genius).

Link to the survey.

Intelligence Versus Knowledge

(another late night epiphany brought to you by father time and beer)

I was reading a post on the future of activity streams at SocialCast’s blog, and I read a sentence that caught my attention.  Somewhere near the middle of the post, Monica Wilkinson (the author) is discussing how she uses activity streams and what she likes about them, and says:

I have a deep appreciation for the power of Activity Streams as a mechanism to foster collective intelligence and productivity. I believe that a company that has good guidelines, good people, good tools and effective monitoring does not need central approvers.

I agree with that statement in certain cases but one word caught my attention: intelligence as opposed to knowledge.

For a very long time maintained two beliefs:

  1. collaboration relies on sharing knowledge, and
  2. activity streams make it impossible to generate and support knowledge due to their dynamic nature.

I think of intelligence as real-time use of information, knowledge as stored use of information.  One cannot recall intelligence, but can search and recall (and reuse – key point) knowledge.  This has been one of the most ardent protests I had against activity streams (including Twitter, Chatter, Yammer, and – yes – SocialCast): they are incapable of generating knowledge and therefore not suitable for collaborative enterprises.  They do provide information, intelligence as Ms Wilkinson sagely points, but without the proper conversion to knowledge, it is irrelevant.

In my world knowledge is something you seek and aim for. Experiences and  interactions with customers demand knowledge in several ways: the same response being made available time after time, knowing what the answer to any question is immediately, delivering the value of a proper answer and more.  Knowledge is managed, intelligence is used – over time, knowledge is far more valuable.  I think of intelligence as necessary in the world, but not as valuable as knowledge (or maybe, having a different value – yeah, that’s better).

Here is my question to you: do you know what your organization  needs? Is it knowledge or intelligence?  How are you delivering that?

The answer, my friend, is floating in the stream…

(note: I made two changes to this post after original publication.  I removed the sentence that read “Did I finally get confirmation of my belief? Is it true that activity streams cannot generate knowledge?” since, other than gloating about how smart I am it did little for the post and distracted from the main question of intelligence vs knowledge.  I also changed the first sentence following the quote, which originally read “I agree with that statement, emphatically I must add, but one word caught my attention: intelligence as opposed to knowledge.” since deeper thoughts about the statement made me realized it only applies to certain cases and situations, not across the board).

Guest Post: The Moral Obligation of Voice

I read this post in West Interactive’s Blog about What Can we Learn From Voice and I thought it would be very interesting for you to read it.  I tweeted it, but also asked Gregg McMullen if I could repost is as a guest post.  Thankfully, he said yes… enjoy.

Before there was a contact center or a notion of customer service in the cloud, there were inbound and outbound telemarketing centers. Over 30 years ago, these telemarketing centers were the leading technology in customer interactions, using “technology” such as rolodexes and carbon copy forms.

Since then, companies have evolved their voice support channels, developing high-tech, efficient solutions for solving customer inquiries and issues. Focusing their strategies on voice support, over 70 percent of companies use a single toll-free number as their primary customer care point, and voice still holds the highest percent of resolution.

This mature customer support model has created a blend of technology and human capital to balance the highest quality and cost efficiencies for customer care. The voice channel relies on a stack of integrated components, such as IVR routing and automation, speech technology and intelligent call routing, as well as robust desktop tools and highly trained customer care representatives.

But, as technology advances and customer expectations change, we are seeing a strong emergence of customer interactions in the social media and mobile spaces. One could argue that, as they relate to customer care, these technologies are very much in their infancy. However, they are likely here to stay.

As companies begin to build customer contact strategies around these new and evolving channels, one has to ask, “Does voice have a moral obligation to share its experiences with and even extend its 30 years of learning and technology to the social media and mobile worlds?”

New channels like social media and mobile could learn a lot from voice. The traditional contact center suite of technology and services has everything it needs to reach out and pull these customer interactions into a mature, proven, successful model.

NetSuite? For The Enterprise? Really?

Bear with me for a second here, this is not about CRM, or about NetSuite for that matter even.  This is about enterprise computing models.

I attended NetSuite’s SuiteWorld 2011 yesterday (it goes for 3 days, I could not make all three unfortunately) as a guest.  That means they comped me on my registration, will reimburse me for my  transportation expenses (if I ever get around to doing an expense report), fed me, and took me to a magnificent event last night with some of the best food I had in ages.  I won’t bore you with details, but if I was someone to  bend my ethics for any reason, that meal would’ve done it.  Trust me.

(BTW, that was my disclaimer statement – in case the FCC is watching)

Back to my Choco Zucaritas with 1% Milk for breakfast world, I must confess I did not follow NetSuite a lot before.  I knew of them, had come across them sometimes in my days at Gartner (and since them), and followed them via Press Releases.

I knew what they do, placed them in short lists for SME companies looking for ERP providers (with the caveat that I don’t follow either market extensively), and overall had a good opinion of them.  However, I never understood where they were heading, their vision or strategy.

Ebbed by fellow influencer/advisor/analyst Paul Greenberg over time, I decided to spend time with them and find out what made them tick.  I couldn’t have picked a better time to do so.

I spent most of the day yesterday looking at what they are trying to do, trying to understand their strategy.  At first, I was not very impressed-  it sounded like what they had been doing for some time.  ERP and back office functions, working over the internet in hosted applications, function-specific modules.  Then they mentioned adding Yammer as a partner (see Paul’s take on that in this video).  It sounded like no more than just adding Social X to their product.  Really, nothing to look at here that was not there before… except for Social through Yammer (which without a motive is simply activity stream noise that disturbs work – and the reason that most Salesforce Chatter users are not using it — but I will cover that in more detail later).

Then we went to lunch (side note: I had lunch with Kate Leggett from Forrester, who is doing amazing research on Customer Service – definitely worth putting her in your radar screen if not there already… I gave you her Twitter link, follow her).

When we came back in the afternoon, we talked about vision, strategy, where the cloud is going and where NetSuite would like to be.  That’s when it got interesting: NetSuite wants to move up to the enterprise, and wants to bring cloud computing with them.  I think it is a laudable goal here, but my fellow analysts are not so sure.

Dennis Howlett wrote the following, in a very well worded cautionary piece

NetSuite has always been ambitious and should be congratulated for its ability to move upmarket over the last couple of years. However, the kind of customer it is planning to engage exhibits a level of complexity that is an order of magnitude above that which they are used to managing

Kate Leggett was a little more direct, saying

It will be a challenge to see whether Netsuite can deliver as it makes inroads into the enterprise.

Me? I am more optimistic for their potential… but cautious to see how they execute.  Here is why I think they have a chance, three reasons:

1) They are not doing it this year.  This is a long term plan, something they are going to set their sights on and try to get there – soon, but not this year.  It will take 2-3 years at least to align the enterprise needs and the changes that are necessary for them to adopt and embrace a model like NetSuite’s.   It should take about the same or a little longer for NetSuite to strengthen their solution to meet them there.

2) They are more cloud that just about everyone in the enterprise today.  Yes, that includes Salesforce and the other not-ready-to-commit-to-the-cloud vendors.  Their platform has been developing quite nicely, thank you, and they showed what they can do today by showcasing how Yammer and Qontext (seemingly comparable choices for social computing, although not to those who spend time looking at the differences) can co-exist and work equally well within NetSuite.  Without a platform, the level of integration they are seeking is just not doable (or very expensive and cumbersome — ask SAP and Oracle about it, even Microsoft — at least until Azure comes around).

3) The enterprise is willing to compromise and meet them halfway.  The model they use, end-to-end processes that leverage the cloud, is going to be the leading computing model that enterprises will be adopting in the mid-term future.  They need to be there to leverage what NetSuite has to offer.

Of course, this is not as simple as flipping a switch and writing some code or something like that.  This is a process that will take years to achieve, and it requires a solid vision and steady leadership to get there.  I think that NetSuite has that more than  the other vendors, which is why I am confident that they can deliver it.  Could they falter on the road? Absolutely, the only truth about cloud today is that is is badly misunderstood by most people and that we have long way to go before we get somewhere interesting with it.  NetSuite is not exempt from this, same as everyone else.

I am confident that, for now, NetSuite has what they need to progress in their endeavor.  I will continue to monitor them and report on their progress as I get updates.

OK, that was the tip of the hat — now for the wag of the finger.

Can we PLEASE put behind the comparison by detriment?

To be fair, I almost failed to pay attention to some of the announcements yesterday (OK, I actually did not pay attention, had to go back and have follow-up discussion) since they were enveloped in “Vendor Z is bad at doing this, and we are doing it better”.

Here is the bottom line (and this NOT for NetSuite only – all vendors should understand this): customers and prospects buy your product, your features, your functions, and your differentiators — now what you do better.  In most cases, they don’t even understand the differences you are highlighting — or even care!

STOP, stop, stop putting others down to highlight your product: you are failing to make a comparison; you are just looking petty.

Want to tell prospects how good your product is?  Do it, not by comparison – but by highlighting the hard work that got you to where you are and the power of your product to deliver results they need.

All vendors are guilty of doing this.  All of them.  Stop it.

What do you think? I am too optimistic? Is cloud really the future of Enterprise Computing? Should I have stopped at the fourth glass of champagne at the dinner event?

"Intentionalizing" Customer Service

I was listening to NPR in the car while driving the kids to school (part of my contribution to their culture, don’t say I am not a good parent) and there was a discussion about Charter Schools versus Public Schools.

I just happen to hear an interview with Andrew Rotherham, an educational analyst, talking about why Charter Schools were superior to Public Schools in their delivery.  He said something that was very, very interesting — and it got me thinking.  He said, and I am quoting him,

The best schools — whether they’re charter schools, public schools or private schools — are intentional about everything they do, says educational analyst Andrew Rotherham.

“They are intentional about who is in the building, who is teaching, how they use data, what’s happening for students, the support for students, the curriculum, how progress is assessed,” he says. “Everything is intentional and nothing is left to chance.”

I was awestruck for second.

That was a pretty darn good point.  It was not that the schools were different: they both did the same (educated children), and using the same core processes, materials, and guidelines.  What set Charter Schools apart was their approach to the student.  They didn’t just assumed the student will be there no matter what (Charter Schools recruit students to register, they don’t just “get them” by zoning like public schools do); they knew they had to deliver above their “competition” to get the students to come.

Being intentional, making sure that everything that was there had to be there to deliver a superb experience, was part of their relationship strategy.

I want to close with another quote (you can read the short article here for context)

But I think more than anything else that I’d like to see replicated is that ethos of possibility and thinking differently about what’s possible for kids who have been failed by public schools for a very long time

Wouldn’t it be very, very interesting, to see “intentionality” applied to Customer Service?

Is Facebook Anti Social?

Today’s guest post is from Anthony Nemelka, a long-time veteran of the social business technology scene and currently the CEO of Teleplace, Inc..

Whatever happened to Second Life?  I asked that question to a group of kids the other day and their response was somewhat unsurprising: “What is Second Life?”

Clearly, immersive 3D collaboration technology has failed to live up to the hype of some of its early advocates and visionaries. Reflecting some of those expectations, I recall a senior analyst at a well-known IT consulting firm once telling me he was certain that Second Life would beat out Facebook as the preferred platform for Web-based social interaction among consumers. That prediction was made in 2007, and he was just one of many who thought consumers would prefer 3D gaming environments over text and pictures when interacting with their friends over the Web. Online multi-user gaming was exploding at the time, and why wouldn’t users prefer a UI that more closely simulates the real world?

By the end of 2010, that analyst admitted he had been completely wrong. “In the end,” he said, “text and pictures won.”

But I think we should stop using war analogies when it comes to describing the business of technology. Winning and losing imply permanence. When it comes to high tech, there is no permanence. Just ask Microsoft and Apple.

Technology adoption is much better understood—and predicted — in the context of how it’s being used. When it comes to immersive technology, online gaming is a great example. I recently observed that same group of kids playing a game with each other over the Internet using Xbox Live. These kids had never actually met in person. They lived thousands of miles apart. But the interaction between them was little different from what would have taken place had they been playing in their own backyard. It was highly interactive. There was a lot of shouting, with a few gestures thrown in for good measure. It was structured yet unpredictable. It demanded tremendous focus. The strengths and weaknesses of each of the players were readily apparent. Peer pressure was rampant. There was a clear pecking order, and alliances ended up separating the winners from the losers. In the end, it was shared experience—not an individual one — and that’s what made it feel highly social even though the users were thousands of miles apart.

What I observed that day was far different from how those same kids interact on Facebook. Though we call Facebook a social network, social networking is not a good contextual description of how it’s used. Facebook is more like a hole in the fence of your backyard allowing you or your neighbor to peek in on each other from time to time. It’s certainly not about shared experiences at all. At its core, the Facebook experience is a clever amalgamation of voyeurism and narcissism. It’s either all about me or it’s about what I’m going to discover about you. In the old days they called that anti-social. Now we call it being social? Really??

Of course, neither narcissism nor voyeurism is encouraged at work, and that may be why the concept of “Facebook for the enterprise” has never really taken off. CEOs understand the concept of Facebook, but they struggle to see how it’s appropriate in the context of work.

Group interaction in the context of work has a lot more in common with what I observed in those kids playing Xbox Live than it does with Facebook. Work-based collaboration is highly interactive. It often involves a lot of talking and gesturing. It’s structured yet unpredictable at times. It demands focus. The strengths and weaknesses of other people are readily apparent. Peer pressure is rampant, and there’s always a pecking order—both formal and informal. Alliances often separate the winners from the losers. And in the end, it’s a shared experience and a shared outcome, not an individual one.

Though I’m a veteran of the social business software market, I’m convinced now more than ever that the asynchronous collaboration technologies most often associated with social business software are falling short of what’s needed for enterprise collaboration. The technologies are simply inappropriate for the context. Workers need technology that more closely replicates and integrates with how they interact in person. In the end, the technologies best suited for that will likely have much more in common with Xbox Live than with Facebook.