Engagement != Experience != Relationship — You Know That, Right?

Oracle announced the acquisition of Vitrue this morning.  Did they need that?  Let me put it this way… if I say “Databases” you probably think Oracle… If I say “Marketing” there may be a lot of companies that come to mind before Oracle, if at all.  It will be added to their cloud offerings, joining the likes of RightNow and Taleo at the very least in their expansion as a SaaS provider.

Oracle has been executing well on their cloud strategy this past year.  In their global analyst day a few weeks back, the vision and message shared (most of which remains NDA for about another month or so) was quite advanced and well done .  They have a good vision, and a good wallet to execute on that vision as the recent acquisitions of RightNow Technologies, Taleo, and few others show.  They are making the shift to that place that Larry Ellison derided in 1999 when he asked “Why on Earth would anyone want to use the cloud?” (paraphrasing).

Credit where credit is due – they are doing a good job of coming up to speed in it as their clients take on it and ask Oracle to join them there.

There are many things that are not yet done in the execution of that vision but this is not the place for it; there are  some parts that are being executed quite well.

The messaging shift to “Experiences” as the replacement for “Relationships” in CRM is one of those.  They get it, they know what they are going after, they understand what their customers are asking and what they need to do (side item: that has always been Oracle’s strength and strategy, come from behind the hype and deliver working solutions that are good for mainstream, not ahead for early adopters – but I digress, and will discuss Oracle’s innovation credentials at some other time).

What prompted me to write this post is this tweet I saw this morning.

I am not taking on Alan individually, he is a great analyst at Constellation (where I sit in their Board of Advisers) and he is doing a great  job. What he is saying is a simplified statement (140 characters only goes so far), and partially right.

But I want to take on the wrongly stated concept that end-to-end engagement is the same as end-to-end experiences which in turn is the same as end-to-end-process.

That is not the case, by far.

There is still room for relationship building with customers, even in an experience-driven world, since not everyone is looking for an experience.  I just want my checking account balance, not an experience.  That two second interaction is just a small part of  the relationship that I have with my bank.  I don’t want to be asked how it was, to have it improved, or to be made fast or interesting or different.  I want a number.  I expect it to be there, accurate, and ready when I want it – it is the bank fulfilling their end of our relationship.  This is simply content provided on-demand when needed. There is no context, no intent, and not circumstances that surround it.  Not an experience, just part of the relationship.

There is a certain set of processes, that can be transformed into an experience.  If I want to open a new account with the same bank, I’d expect an experience.  I’d expect context and intent, I’d expect more focused and complementing information to be provided, different steps in the process delivered via different channels (I can choose which one I want) but the ultimate goal is to complete the set of transactions with the least effort on my part, best result, and a happy win-win for the bank and myself.  The complex and intertwined processes the bank needs to undertake in the back-end to make this happen (provision the account, verify my identity and credit-worthiness, give me content to support my decision-making, interact with me at different touchpoints, offer me specific products and solutions based on my needs, and more) will make this an end-to-end experience.

Engagement is just wrong.

I was in a panel last week where the use of the word engagement was all over the place; apparently it has replaced relationship and experience as the new go-to-word for everything we do in business these days.  I did not know that customers are demanding engagement (they aren’t, trust me) and businesses need to engage to retain Trust (another one, I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole right now – but they don’t either).  Sure, bring your “research” and put it in the comments, glad to debate that down there… if you feel it is debatable.

Paraphrasing Scott McNealy – there is no engagement, get over it.

It is a buzzword used by the Social Media Gurus to try to control the next stage in the evolution of business on the road to becoming a collaborative enterprise.  I won’t go into a lengthy discussion on that today (1,000 words is more than enough for this), but seriously — who wakes up in the morning and says “I so wish I could engage with my bank this morning as I need to get my balance” or “If my bank does not engage with me when I try to open a new account, I am done with them”.  Even better, can you imagine the CEO of your bank saying “How come we are not engaging more with John? He seems to be upset about it”.

Engagement does not exist, it is a word used to make believe that businesses are “social” and “human”.

If you want to sound hip and modern, go ahead and use engagement and engage as much as you want. Just make sure to explain that you are only using it because is part of the vernacular, not because you believe in it.  You’ll get more respect in the world of real business.

At the risk of dating myself here, flame on.

disclaimer: Oracle is a customer and have frequent interactions with them as part of their IR program, including attending the global analyst day for free and getting my expenses paid to be there. I am currently working with Oracle on an unrelated project to create content. Vitrue was never a customer.