Twitter for Customer Service? These Companies Get It Right

If you follow my blog and my writings (and rantings, and presentations, and panels — if you ever talked to me about this) you know that I am not a big fan of using Twitter for Customer Service.

It is not that it is not possible to do it well, but it is that the resolution times, close rates, escalation rates, and just about any other metric you can use are so horrible by comparison that to do it is almost a waste of time and resources.

This prompted me, about a year ago, to write a post advocating the use of a single channel strategy, and even before that to deliver a presentation on the failing metrics of social channels.

Although things have improved, somewhat, for smart organizations that have learnt along the way, my core statement remains as it was at the beginning: Twitter is no more than an appropriate triage tool for Customer Service (I think I called it an IVR back then, I still do today).

Midst the poor performance and lack of understanding from organizations though, few glimmer of hopes are emerging.

Here are two examples, in pictures, of companies that are getting the gist of using Twitter for triage and escalation when necessary – and have the right tools to do so (which is the hardest thing to do using Twitter for Customer Service BTW).

Example One: T-Mobile Escalates To Chat.

In the picture below you can see a customer asking for help with a billing issue.  Now, there are two bad ways to handle this: 1) ask the customer to call and give them a ticket number (after asking them to follow you, DM back and forth), 2) try to resolve the issue via Twitter (yes, even via DM) in 140 characters at the time.

tmobile example


Alas, T-Mobile did it right – realizing it would take more than 140 (or 280, or 420 — yes, I did take math in college) characters to resolve it, they immediately escalate to chat.

Why this is better than calling or emailing?

The customer wants immediate resolution, more than likely, and they come to Twitter for that.  By escalating to a real-time channel (chat is one) that is easier to use, less expensive (on average) than phone, and can be even outsourced without major issue (as opposed to the telephone being outsourced and customers complaining) they can control the SLAs, the privacy of the customer, and the wishes of the customer.  Even if the customer wants attention, and not real time resolution, the offer is a good way to set expectations: we are here to help, in real time.

BTW, I clicked on the link, it worked – but it was time-sensitive and expired shortly after it was issued – even better.

I also imagine that the chat session would show up in the unified desktop that T-Mobile agents have, where they will get access to KB, customer history, etc.  Likely better than the tools they have for Twitter (educated guess based on what I know they do).

Example Two: Amazon Escalates To Web-Based Ticketing.

In this second example a customer complained about something that was not right with a product made by one of Amazon’s companies.  They quickly replied with a link to provide additional information.

amazon - 1amazon-2

The interesting part here is that (if you notice, my name is at the top of the screen) by doing this Amazon can see the type of customer I am (I am prime, and I use it very often), what products I purchased, when, and other information they need — in addition to being able to link my Twitter ID to my Amazon account (if not done before).

Social ID correlation is a huge, huge, huge problem for companies — and this is an easy solution to that problem if customers are logged in.

Bottom Line: Learn how to use each channel properly.  Social channels are horrible for resolution (even if you get past the 40% of unnoticed events, the 10-20% average close rate, and the 10x or more resolution times) and they are perfect for triage and escalation.

Do it well.

What do you think? Other examples of well done Customer Service via Twitter? That is scalable? Viable? Sustainable?

Would love to hear you thoughts…

A Customer State Vector? Great Idea – for Customer Experiences

Last week I had a very interesting briefing with my friends from the SAS Institute (disclaimer: not a client. I know, too short – but this is supposed to be a short post).

One the things we conversed about was a new blog written by their CEO, Dr. Goodnight.  If you don’t know him, he is truly one of the pioneers of the world of data (big, small, and medium), analytics (in-memory, on disk, or even on tape), and neighboring concepts.  I always look forward to my chats with him, he has an amazing talent for thought leadership in bringing complex concepts to a simple explanation.

The blog (here is the link) is a about an idea he had: talking about customer state vectors.  He explains what vectors are quite well, will copy from the blog to use his explanation.

The customer state vector is based on an engineering concept that is popular in the science community. For example, NASA uses a state vector to control the space shuttle during operations. Variables in the shuttle state vector show the present position, velocity components and other factors of the orbital trajectory at snapshots in time. It analyzes where an orbiting vehicle has been, where it is now and projects where it is going. Vectors are an excellent prediction tool for launch, orbit and landing positions.

He also makes reference to state vectors as a modeling tool for analytics, and he says:

 In the process of building predictive models for fraud detection or marketing, you discover the underlying set of variables that are important for use in those predictive models. Once you’ve built the models, you get a good picture of the data and variables you need to collect

This is all very interesting, but also very complicated.  They are working on making the concept easier to grasp, and to use, via new products and interfaces (which is under NDA for a short time longer) and they are making progress.

Alas, that is not the reason I am writing this. You know me, I don’t write about briefings and press releases. I was thinking about the concept over the weekend (yes, in my time off) and started to draw some comparisons to customer experience.

While it is true that vectors are very valuable for predicting and forecasting — could the concept be used for managing in real time and reporting?

I think so, with some alterations… and it would be great to apply to customer experiences.

Here is the rub, the crux of this idea: a customer experience has many moving parts, and we are absolutely horrid at monitoring and working with all of them.  Sure, we can improve one aspect or portion of it, but carefully monitoring it, but we fail to do that for all of them at the same time.  I wrote about creating indexes for monitor experiences before (here is the link) and even came up with a formula to do it (well, it was an attempt).

The problem with my index is that, as much that is done in an enterprise, it is reactive: it only lets you know something is not right and lets you act on it post-facto.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could move an index calculation to real-time?

Enter vectors.

By monitoring many variables at the same time, the relationship between them (if one goes up, what happens to the others? what if two of them move in different directions?), and the repercussions of the moves in the variables (in space terms: are you crashing against the space station on coming in for a landing?) at the same time they are the perfect concept to do this.

Best part, you can get the concept without and advanced degree in data and statistics, just by knowing how your business operates and what metrics matter.  Not only that,but if you spent some time lately correlating your metrics to your KPIs, this is the perfect tool to test that and make sure you got the right model.

If you think this is interesting, then go back to all your math teachers over the years and apologize for telling them you would never use any math in your career…

Vectors are a cool concept, definitely worth looking into and altering it for your organization.

Don’t you think?

A Brief History Of Salesforce1

(note: this is a similar format to my brief history of SCRM, which was widely successful at the time to explain how SCRM came to be.  This is in no way related to Stephen Hawkins’ masterpiece – but you likely already knew that. my official disclaimer of conflict of interests and such is at the bottom of this post)

I let some time go by after DreamForce 2013 so I could cool off from the heated discussions I had with plenty of people.

If I hear one more person tell me that Salesforce1 (S1) is a client-side app, a mobile client, the culmination of Touch (remember that launch? Not many do) or something similar I will scream (like I did the past few days).  And the problem is that (SFDC) has such a loyal customer and fan base that they will repeat pretty much what they are told (as well as some of the “influencers” and “analysts” out there – unfortunately analysis is no longer a required activity for analysts).  This dichotomy between what it is and what was presented at the show culminated (at least for me) in an exchange between Marc Benioff and myself on Twitter on Thanksgiving Day (Zachary Jeans did a good job of converting it to a Storify stream; you can find it here if you are interested).

That exchange prompted me to write this, I had only been talking to people about it prior, as a way to preempt the question of what is S1 and why there is so much confusion.


You see, there is so much to what S1 is that is not being covered that it is almost an insult to the people that spent 3-5+ years working on getting it done.  To make justice to the journey, and explain it in more detail that you probably have seen, a little history is in order.

(another note: I have down at the bottom a few other articles I considered worth including here that explain it quite well without the long-winded story, feel free to skip it and read those)

The History

SFDC launched in 1999.  At the beginning their call to fame was “No Software” (still hanging around today, ask TooSaasy) back in the days before we had cloud or SaaS.  In those days the rage was Hosted Applications (also known back then as ASP – which was Microsoft’s version, remember Microsoft? It was pretty big back then).

To put it into perspective, this was about the same time Siebel was dominating the “CRM” (read sales force automation mostly with very bad versions of marketing and passable versions of customer service) market; by promising no software to be downloaded (and very low prices to boot) SFDC was able to take a nice piece of the market from Siebel.

Now, keep in mind this was not a cloud application, this was a hosted application.  That means there was a monolithic architecture (mono=single, lithus=stone – meaning an all-in-one comprehensive solution) that run using browsers as interfaces.  To make this happen, things like multi-tenancy (many users running the same application) and multi-instances (many copies of the exact same application) were necessary.  I already covered why multi-tenancy is a horrible idea for real cloud applications (please read it, extend it to multi-instances as well – applies later in the story).

Bottom line: back then this was all we had.  Other vendors like RightNow Technologies, E.piphany, and many others were doing the same: hosted applications that provided a browser interface to monolithic solutions running in the background.

The problem with monolithic architectures is that is a client-server solution through-and-through and it cannot leverage the basic principles of distributed computing well (which is the basis for cloud computing as well as know).  Thus, running monolithic solutions (even via browsers for interfaces) means that innovation, security, integration, and even the ability to scale the solutions are very limited. The cloud computing promises of infinite elasticity, easy integration via platforms, and vetted and tokenized security to ensure privacy and safety is not possible in hosted applications, just like it was not possible in client-server applications without significant investment and unsustainable methods.

Well, I should say not possible to be done easily – but anyone can “pretend” they can do it by creating more and more complex code and solutions.  Removing the flexibility and elasticity of the cloud computing architecture gave us what we called, incorrectly, cloud for a long time: between 1995 and 2005 there were only hosted applications (with very few exceptions coming from smaller vendors) that could not leverage the promise of cloud computing.

SFDC, as well as most other Enterprise Software vendors, was in this camp.

This was very evident to the people who saw SFDC try to build ServiceCloud in the early days: version after version of a monolithic solution that could not integrate with or work as the other solutions deployed by SFDC and could not compete with the then-reigning-champion:  RightNow Technologies (another hosted solution, still today) or even the smaller customer service vendors.

Sometime in 2006-2007 SFDC realized the problem they had and noticed that distributed computing and three-tier cloud computing was starting to be noticed in the Enterprise Software world (some of the early smaller vendors that were creating innovative solutions for Enterprise Software were beginning to leverage the cloud computing model and break their monolithic solutions into tiers, finding ways to deploy them and leveraging the recently launched AWS services from Amazon and Grid computing from other large vendors).

In 2007 SFDC launched – their first attempt at a platform.  While the migration of force-dot-comexisting code bases was not in the initial plan, the idea was to build a platform layer as part of a three-tier cloud computing model and let developers use that to access SFDC applications.  This was their first attempt at delivering a platform and had, still today has some, many problems: proprietary languages, incomplete service directories, and limited integration into the existing applications of SFDC (SFA and the pretty bad customer service solution back then) were the most noticeable for users; a very complex architecture was the problem for whoever looked behind the browser.

Alas, it was a good first step and it was welcomed by the developers and customers as a way to extend the existing solutions SFDC offered back then.

The Evolution

What follows was a list of steps that helped them realize the potential and power of the platform (trying to shorten this post, which is going to be long anyway):

  • In 2008 SFDC acquires Instranet, a French customer service solution that was very strong in knowledge management but not so much in other areas.  The great part of that acquisition was getting Alex Dayon, a young technologist who understood the power and the concept of the cloud computing model and was willing to rebuild service cloud as a platform-based solution.
  • In 2009 Vetrazzo, an SFDC customer, built ERP functions in in one-third the time and cost of buying an ERP solution to run their organization.  This was not done with SFDC but it was heavily advertised by then once it was done. This proved that motivated customers with access to could do anything they wanted.
  • In 2009 FinancialForce launched using as their underlying platform to offer accounting solutions to SFDC customers.
  • In 2010 Kenandy launched using to create a standard ERP solution, still standing today and used by multiple SFDC customers.
  • In 2010 SFDC launched Chatter, which was initially launched as a hybrid of platform solution and monolithic architecture software. Very important later as it was another data point in showing that platform-only solutions (see above) were better.  It also became the “guinea pig” of migrating SFDC applications to become platform solutions.
  • In 2011 and 2012 SFDC acquired several “dot-com” properties (some of them later became, and as well as Heroku (a platform focused on letting developers write smaller apps that could be deployed via web or mobile using different languages)

All these steps were essential to the development of S1, for different reasons:

  • Instranet, which later became a working model of ServiceCloud – the first-one ever to be honest – was a proof-of-concept that platform based solutions could be done.  The development of this solution as ServiceCloud was done (approximately) between 2009 and 2011.
  • Chatter was further proof that monolithic applications were a horrible idea if they were going to be used as a platform.  When Chatter was first launched it could only operate as a stand-alone solution, another entire solution separate from existing applications, and integration into the code-bases of ServiceCloud and SalesCloud was nearly impossible – something that a platform-based service could’ve done with little effort if any.
  • The varied dot-com acquisitions, and platform-based launches by their partners, were important to prove that (since they were real three-tier cloud solutions) platform based services could be used and leveraged across different applications, and to prove that cloud-computing was a far better model than monolithic solutions (I wrote about the acquisition of Assistly, now, and covered some of these points).

Now it is 2011ish (not very precise, some of the points above came more clear as the development of S1 was underway, but it is the right timeframe going forward).  SFDC already knows that is not cutting it as a platform (it was proven when they could not launch Chatter as a platform service) and they need to do something.  What follows is one of the hardest decisions to take as an Enterprise Software vendor – but one that will have proven incredible beneficial for SFDC: they needed to re-architect  This was the genesis of S1 (not the original name, and certainly not any name that was used during development).

SFDC makes the decision to re-architect the platform that was supposed to be basis for everything they do – and to fully embrace the three-tier model of cloud-computing.  The new platform will not only be extensible, secure, and elastic – it won’t have the interface code it had before (that becomes the true SaaS) and will have to separate the database and connectivity layers form the platform as well (this was the hardest thing to do, but this is another long story).

Among the many things they had realized once they got going was the power it can confer.  Take Chatter for example, one of the best examples of this change.  Chatter was a stand-alone solution that could, in the original implementation, bring some details from files and users into an activity stream.  It was not possible at the beginning to use Chatter for the new ideas that were emerging: make the stream part of all applications and functions, integrate it directly into groups and files to launch communities, and even worse – make it the basis for the social enterprise model that SFDC had then espoused.

chatterChatter was redone – the second time was done as a full platform-based solution: a service-based application that can operate within the platform to serve functions to any other application. The re-launch of Chatter as a platform (done in 2012) was a showcase of the power of what (then) could do: it quickly became part of everything that SFDC offered, its functions were easily accessible by not only other applications but also by customers, partners, and even competitors (the back story on Chatter and the database licenses it required, and how that became a roadblock for its growth was solved in the deal reached in2013 with Oracle– also another great story for later).

The Proposed Solution

And now we are at the end of 2012, beginning of 2013 with three incredible important accomplishments:

  1. A newly re-architected platform (yet unnamed) that could change the Enterprise Software world
  2. A new version of Chatter that not only serves as the proof of concept for this platform, but also the epitome of the many acquisitions and partnerships it took for SFDC to get to this point.
  3. The burning question of how to deploy and leverage this the best way possible.

Enter S1.

I am not yet sure of how and when S1 was named so, and it does not matter. What matters is what it can do: it has the power to change SFDC from a hosted application (fine, hybrid hosted and cloud application if you prefer) vendor to one of the few solutions in the market with the clout and power to change cloud computing and ensure the adoption by organizations (IBM and Microsoft are the closest – but that is a whole different story also, trying to stay focused).

Here comes DreamForce 2013 – the chance to introduce S1.

During the keynote(s) (there were many more than one) the emphasis for S1 was on the use as a mobile client (it’s an app you can download today in the app store – don’t wait!), as a platform and an app (as if you could be a car and a highway system at the same time), and as many more things than what it is.  My blood pressure rose several points each time someone asked me what I thought of the “new mobile app: S1” or tried to convince me this was the culmination of Touch (that was a release SFDC did to address HTML5 “clients” about two years ago, a total failure – still exists somewhere in the chatter mobile and other apps, but nowhere near what the expectations were at the time).

To be fair, SFDC partners, most of them, I talked to were very smart about it and are already working on very interesting modules that leverage S1. The understanding of a three-tier model for cloud computing and how SFDC is working to incorporate it into their solution was not beyond comprehension by partners, it was poorly explained by SFDC.

The fact that some of SFDC employees were repeating this mantra of “mobile client” was what made it more cumbersome to me: knowing the effort and time it took to build it – why belittle it by calling it a mobile client?

S1 could be a mobile client – well, not really.  It can be displayed via a mobile client (mobile is an interface, not a client) as well as a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, a smartphone, a partner application, a custom app, an embedded item, a connected machine, even a connected customer and anything else in between.  Because it is a platform, any change you make to a service is IMMEDIATELY reflected in all clients and interfaces – that is the beauty of the three-tier cloud computing model.

There are many benefits to S1 (the platform) that are not being discussed (which I will make the ending of this book-long post).  There are some I will miss in this short post (yes, short – I once wrote a 45+ pages simple explanation of how cloud computing works).

Let me explain some of the things you can get when you stop calling it a mobile client and focus on the power of the platform (and we will extend that to ecosystems of platforms in another post):

  1. Any client, anywhere can access any service offered by the platform.  This means that once you authenticate with a platform, anything else you want to access that is trusted to that platform is also accessible (PaaS to PaaS integration is far safer and scalable than point-to-point integration or security as done today by monolithic solutions)
  2. Any interface (mobile, computer, watch, a “thing” in the internet of things) can access the functions and data (once properly secured and authenticated) and display it – you cannot have an “internet of things” or even an “internet of customers” without an ecosystem of trusted platforms (well, not a sustainable one at least).  This will lead to the rise of “atomized apps” (usually called apps).  These apps are found in mobile devices and are single-function solutions that require no further logic (think about it this way, if your job involves checking people’s credit scores before approving an application for a loan – wouldn’t you prefer to have a simple app that does just that? If your smartphone or table can do it, why not your organization? It now can)
  3. The concept of multi-tenancy finally disappears (yay – I cannot tell you how happy I am) together with the concept of multi-instances.  We move to elastic single-instances with single-tenancy: each customer can have their own service (managed via systems management and metadata quite easily) and instantiate is as many times they need – and make any changes they want in the process. No longer are customers constrained (either in data model or functionality) to what’s offered as they can extend the functionality quite easily by making another service call (to any providers) without having to worry about changing the core service.  (note: vendors will try to tell you how expensive this is as compared to multi-tenancy, but ask you yourself how “cheap” it was to use multi-tenancy and what benefits you as the customer derived from that – or read my previously linked post for that answer).
  4. SFDC can create more modular “API calls”.  They introduced this at the same time as S1 but they failed to mention why this was possible: any API is a library of many calls to different parts of the monolithic application to leverage their functions and data.  API calls require complex transacting for security, scalability, and even integration that can reduce the granularity (read complexity or simplicity – either work – if you prefer) of how you can interact with it.  By using services that leverage tokenized security and inheritances (core benefits of cloud computing) the calls can be far simpler, and far many more, while performing at the same or better level.  Completing more service calls will use fewer resources and time that doing the same via API calls.  Bottom line: you can use more granular functions with far less resources.
  5. Incorporating Enterprise Application Stores (EAS) into their cloud computing deployment will allow any organization to create as many atomized apps as they would like to, thus reducing the complexity of the solutions used by the customers, the training and support costs, and enabling and empowering their customers to build and use their own “custom” version of the Enterprise Software they have running.  The device and operating system they run is irrelevant as long they are supported in the EAS (SFDC announced, very quietly, the first version of their EAS at DreamForce).

The $64,000.00 Question

If you followed all this so far, thank you.  I know it is a bit to consume.

You are probably saying by now, is that Saleforce1? Is the platform they launched and announced as a mobile-client / platform / everything what it is? Is it working yet?

Lots of questions, one simple answer. No.

Let me explain.

Salesforce1 at this point is a very well developed concept, an idea that has been partially implemented and (like i said above) it has a lot of potential.  It has the potential to change how we do Enterprise Software and Cloud Computing forever.  It has the potential to change the way software vendors work with each other.  It has the potential to change how organizations think about ecosystems, about systems of engagement, and about everything from personalization to revenue models.

It has all that potential – but it needs to be realized.  By my estimates, it is about 60-70% complete right now.  Most of the basic APIs have been moved over to the new service-style granular API model and a large number of customers have been running in the new platform without knowing it.

A development environment, an extension of existing IDE, already exists and service calls are working and available.  There are development manuals and directions, guides on how to do it, and even a “mobile client” (think Chatter mobile and you get a good picture) to allow anyone working with it have a mobile interface to it.  The majority of the pieces are there, but it is not complete.

I talked to a few partners and they had been working with it for some time.  They have been, and continue to, developing new solutions leveraging what Salesforce1 has to offer for some time now.  They have plans, new ideas, and the desire to build new models and new execution paths to fulfill the needs of their customers.  They are working on it and are doing quite well from what i saw.

I also talked to a few, very few, early adopters that are beginning to explore and see what they can do with it.  Admins and Developers are getting a closer-to-the-ground look at the potential and power of the platform and creating very interesting apps and applications for it.

However, none of these are released (there are a few apps in the AppExchange that say Salesforce1 ready – but I have not found any customers using those versions yet).  By my estimates, we are at the very least six months away, but more likely nine-twelve months from having some extraordinary solutions with momentum.  We are one-to-two years away from revolutionizing the way we use those apps, and three-to-five years away from changing revenue and business models to accommodate this new platform (including the core concepts of cloud computing).

Of course, timing will change from industry to industry, and company size to company size.  There are no guarantees of how long it will take to get there, but this is for sure – although Salesforce1 is not 100% ready today, it is excellent progress towards the realization of one of my visions – and the delivery of significant value to the users, customers, and partners.

Time will tell.

This is a very, very brief summary of the many discussions I had over the past few days with different people.  There is a lot more than I can put in here, please contact me if you would like to discuss this in more detail.

I made the offer over Twitter before and I will make it again: I would be more than happy to invest the time and effort in helping anyone understand why S1 is far more than a mobile application or client.

The potential to change the game of Enterprise Software is phenomenal – let’s just hope SFDC does a good job of explaining it.

Benioff Tweet

Yeah, you better believe I will send them. I will share via this blog following…


Notable Posts (that means I agree with them)
Ben Kepes, amazing cloud dude
Brian Vellmure, analyst extraordinaire
Ken Yeung, interesting and smart reporter
disclaimer: These are my opinions; by no means they are official words from SFDC.  This is my understanding and it is not endorsed by anyone at SFDC.  I have not run this by them, not have I sought approval.  Any errors, omissions, or mistakes are mine and mine only – Safe Harbor does not apply here, I am just telling a story as I see it.  Feel free to correct me in the comments or debate me as well.  I don’t monitor comments, even if WP does, I always approve them.
disclaimer-2: I said this before, Salesforce is one of the smart companies that took me on the offer to become my client.  I am very appreciative for the years we worked together, the incredible access to information, the many debates we held (still hold, never ending) about cloud and software, and their friendship and support for my work.  They also pay for me to attend Dreamforce every year, including hotels, meals, the registration fee, and a few parties here and there as well as a nice analyst swag bag.  I won’t deny it, they spoil me.  However, as you can see throughout the text, that does not mean I will be nice to them or not call them in their mistakes (yes, many through history).  As anybody else I chose to invite to be my client, they listen and sometimes work on their mistakes, sometimes they don’t (but all I can seriously ask is that they listen).  Everything they gave me to date has resulted in a stronger understanding of the potential that Salesforce1 has to change Enterprise Software (and not via more Marketing, as Marc Benioff mentioned in a tweet).  I just hope they realize it, it would make many of my long-held visions begin to come true (you know it is all about me, right?)

Are You Going To Be Doing Customer Service In 2014?

I think I know the answer to that…

The better question then is not if you are going to do it, but how.  And that is where i can help.

Earlier this year with my friends at KANA and I conducted a survey of the trends and momentum of the Customer Service market.  I asked you to participate and we got a tad over 400 responses.  Now it’s time to share the results.

Would you like to know who owns Customer Experience initiatives (hint: it is not marketing)? Or whether it is a good idea to deploy mobile as an interface for customer service? How about learning from the people who are working in omni-channel implementations?

Would you like to know what omni-channel is and how you can tackle its challenges? I promise to keep the discussion on omni family-friend – even try to define it (if you know me, this is a sacrifice!)

Do you know how to integrate social and customer service through mobile interfaces and via agents desktops?  Would you like to?

All this is yours, for the taking, just for registering for the free webinar where we will introduce the results of the research and give you a chance to access the full report as well.

Did you know, for example, that just 40% of customer service department have budgeting and political power over their operations? (if you want to find out who has the rest, join us).

You probably know that email and phone are the most widely used channels (96% and 93% respectively), but which channels are the fastest growing in adoption? How are social channels (Twitter and Facebook) faring in adoption now that we found out how well they can work?

Join us for this webinar and get the answers – and get your planning for 2014 done in time.

See you there!

disclaimer: I know this will be a shock, but KANA is a customer.  I have been working with them for many, many years (even when back at Gartner) and was hired by them for about a year in a too-soon-to-date-other-people stage of our relationship.  I have a retainer contract that includes the study we conducted, strategic consulting, and even the webinar you are attending.  Alas, since 400+ of you answered the survey, it is unlikely that I made up the answers or twisted the findings (as you will find out if you attend, a couple of areas are not what they would like to see advertised – will let you know if you join us).  So, yeah, i got paid to do this – but as always i retain my independence – which anyone at KANA would love to discuss in detail considering how stubborn i can be about it.

Customer Service, Mobile “Stuff”, All Your Questions Answered

If you are like most people out there are you are terrified right now.

I mean, after all mobile is eating the world!


I mean what is going to happen after we are all mobilified? after we all got mobile devices and wearable and embedded computers and — what… is ESP next? What’s going on here?!?!?!?!

OK, if you are like most people out there that is not your reaction, but FUD(*) has always been a good tool to sell hype and “bright, shiny new stuff” you did not even know you needed.  Unfortunately, just like it was Social’s turn five years ago, it is Mobility’s turn this time around.

At this point you have three choices:

  1. Plunge your head in the sand, ignore everything and come up for air in about two-three years when we have some answers (you may lose your competitive advantage, but you will also miss the “buy now or forever lose your business” stage).
  2. Buy into the hype and noise and — well, just do something already!  Buy a new mobile gateway, or a mobile development platform, or hire a mobile development studio, or send all your developers and IT people to mobile-U (I did not find it, but I am sure it exists; Social-U still exists).
  3. Take the rational approach and find out what others in your position have done, what is available, and what you can do about it.

If you are like me, you would choose #2 — I mean, number three.  And in doing so, you will have to sign up for my session at DreamForce 13 where we will cover mobility and the future of customer service (I don’t make the titles, sorry).  In spite of the title, I am doing something different at this session.  You don’t get to see me spout for 45 minutes on what mobile could become — but instead you get to hear it directly from eight practitioners who have done and continue to work with mobility on a daily basis.

Register (yes, that’s a link) for my session and come listen to:

  • Stephen Barrett – he spends his time helping Salesforce customers embrace and deploy mobile solutions for – well, Salesforce (including ServiceCloud)
  • Brendan Callum- he is a independent Service Cloud Certified Consultant helping customers deploy mobile solutions
  • Lawrence Coburn –  you probably already know of his app; he is the CEO of DoubleDutch – one of the premier custom-built mobile applications for business
  • Dave Hart – he Implemented a massive, global field-service solution for Pitney Bowes using mobile devices
  • Sheryl Kingstone – she is the coolest analyst with Yankee Group and one of the very early analysts covering mobility (I mean, from the beginning)
  • Aaron McElroy – he and his team  from Kabam deployed one of the earliest solutions to help their mobile users
  • Tim Rondeau – he is a veteran of customer service and and Activision Customer Care Expert (can you imagine the efforts when dealing with gamers and mobility?)
  • Abinash Tripathy – CEO of HelpShift – probably the coolest mobile toolset for organizations to provide support to devices

I picked these people to be on stage with me so they can tell you directly what mobile is, where it is going, and what you can do about it.  Each of them will have about five minutes to tell their story in an interview, and then we will have time to take your questions.

This is not your standard, hour-long, boring session - this is “hear it directly from the mouth of people who have done it and have the t-shirt” session.  You cannot miss it, but you will if you don’t register early.  As with most sessions at DreamForce, space is limited.  Please register so we can save you a spot, and come armed with your questions on mobliity for customers.

We will have the answers.

(*) FUD refers to Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt – a secret weapon of analysts and consultants to convince people to act; oops! there goes my union card for the analysts guild…

disclaimer:  SalesForce is a retainer customer, I am doing this session as part of the contract I have with them; I sit on the board of Advisers for HelpShift.  I have no commercial relationship with DoubleDutch, ServiceMax, Activision, Kabam, Yankee Group / 451 Research, or Perficient (nor do I expect one as a result of this panel – although it would be fun to have the YG/451 convo).  And, in spite of that – they all get to come up on stage and talk about their experiences – why? because they have something important to say and to tell you – so there is no implied pay-for-play, or tit-for-tat in this session, just honest people who have done the work and want to share their expertise.  If you still think this is a pay-for-play, well – choose another session and miss out on their wisdom and expertise – you certainly got me figured out!

Is Oracle at a Junction Point in Its History?

I attended Oracle Open World a few weeks ago (and been traveling since, which is why I am just getting to this now – but then again, there is more information in this post than Just that catalyst event of #OOW13).  It brought together a few items that have been bouncing around my head for the past few years and I wanted to put them down somewhere — this is a good place.

This is not a review of the show, uber-friend Paul Greenberg did a sensational job at his ZDNet blog and I agree with most of what he said there, but an analysis of the position that Oracle has in the market – not just for CRM, but overall (yes, I am stepping away from my well-known focus, but I think it will be OK).

Red Stack

Oracle Full Stack – the Red Stack

Before we start, disclaimer.  Oracle is a client, was a client and may continue to be a client.  They are currently publishing a series of posts I researched and wrote on customer experience (more on this coming up).  They also graciously pay my expenses for Oracle Open World, and invite me to meals and other events during the year.  I appreciate the access I get to people and information from them, and their support for my habit of attending conferences on a yearly basis.  Of course, none of that has any bearing on my analysis of their position or their potential –  but you already know that.

Ok, on to analysis now.

The biggest mistake we all make with Oracle is to consider it just one company.  It is not, it is three different companies in one – and that is where the analysis breaks down.  We (and will put myself in this group until after I am done with this post) all knock them down for what they do poorly in one area and forget to contrast it to the others.  Or, even worse, we analyze the entire company based on the limited exposure (and our knowledge) of one or two elements that we know deeply.  I’d like to use this post to move past that.

First, and foremost, Oracle is a database company.  This is where they started and where (in all honesty) they make the biggest inroads and investments these days (even until now).  I won’t bore you with technical details, but Oracle 12c (their latest release) is a technological marvel considering who they are aiming as their target market (basically, all the companies that bought and are using all previous versions of their databases).  It delivers value by focusing on the latest-and-greatest innovations in database management and it incorporates them into their solutions.

Their customers’ needs and desires, mixed with the latest-and-greatest in databases, drives their innovation.  Of course, there are companies out there that are producing new-and-innovative models for databases (unstructured, in-memory, NoSQL as examples) but that talks more to the Control Oracle exercises in their market and the inability to new companies to produce competitive solutions.  Oracle has incorporated all these innovations to some degree or other into their database solutions and will likely continue to do so.

Second, Oracle is a hardware company.  They acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010 and has since been busy transforming what was world-class machines and hardware into some of the sexiest, sleekest, best-performing machines in the their class.  I mean, honestly – who can see the specs of their new machines and not drool a little? Fine, who among those hardware geeks amongst us can see the specs and performance numbers and not drool?  Serious hardware porn if I may use that term. Way serious.

The “engineered to work together” campaign also talks to their hopes and aspirations for their hardware: they would love nothing more than being able to sell hardware-to-database-to-software solutions that perform as well if not better than similar offers in the market.  As good as their hardware is, and their databases, this is still an early move and something that needs to be worked over the next few years.

I believe they are missing what should be a key component of their hardware strategy going forward: delivering both data-centers as well as hosting data-centers services in the cloud.  Don’t be confused with their current (poorly worded and worse imagined) “cloud strategy”; Oracle has the potential to become the hardware layer for cloud services directly and by selling to others (or even renting to others – a far better cloud strategy than their current private-hybrid-public interpretation of cloud strategy).

Alas, their hardware is the second best feature (following databases) and one where a better strategy and different focus on an open cloud for the enterprise could provide a killer differentiation and far better market presence.

This leaves their software applications – a messy, poorly delivered approach to fit in a market where they have limited possibilities in my opinion.  Let me explain.

There are many facets to Oracle’s approach to software applications – too many in fact to cover them all.  There are some good intentions, some of them even met with decent results, but no matter what they do and present as strategy they will always be victims of their three largest blunders in this area:

  1. Fusion Applications (and hosted application, and cloud applications).  Fusion, and if you are reading this you’d know, was first announced in 2005 (shortly after the acquisition of Siebel, PeopleSoft and JD Edwards).  It has since then produced very limited results (both in number of applications migrated to it as well as in adoption of the solutions by customers).  In the more than eight years since it was announced it has gone through many architecture and positioning changes (including being used to encompass hosted applications, cloud applications and related strategies) alas it has still not produced a final placement or even a strategy as Oracle intended it to be.  To be frank, the Applications Forever initiative (while not as innovative or forward-thinking, but announced at the same time) produced better results with far less investment and confusion.  Indeed, Fusion Applications is a tired, mixed-results, not-well-focused program that should disappear if Oracle wants to have a good presence in the cloud (but more on that in the next two points).
  2. Acquired Applications. Oracle made 30 acquisitions since February 2010 (when, in my opinion, first indicated their intent to “go cloud” by acquiring AmberPoint – a SOA Management tool).  The vast majority of them have been, by conventional wisdom, ho-hum when it comes to measuring success: the massive majority (eighty percent average by popular wisdom – there is no official number) of employees of the acquired companies left (including key technology and architecture people as well as entire sales teams) and customers also left (based on our ongoing market research) since they did not want to be Oracle customers.  Further, revenue levels have been shaky (one of the recently acquired companies saw their revenue expectations for the year reduced by over 80% based on information we received) and ongoing attempts to either integrate the new technology or even to consolidate some of the overlapping solutions failed.  While there is a certain hope and degree of success involving Eloqua, Vitrue, and Collective Intellect so far (and I hope it continues and grows to show they are getting the idea of extracting value out of acquisitions) three out of thirty is not a great measure of success.
  3. Innovative Solutions.  To be fair and give credit where due, Oracle has made some amazing applications over time.  Oracle Social Network was a very early pioneer in the social business world (and the attempt to make it part of the basic architecture across all products was copied by other vendors later), some of the deep integrations between business intelligence and databases are still awe-inspiring today, and their presence in verticals (Pharmaceuticals and Government are core examples) is definitely not missed.  Indeed, they have had extremely well developed and innovative applications over the years – yet they don’t seem to get the results intended.  After more than five years working on OSN it is still not deployed as intended, the BI innovations have been done by most other vendors, and their vertical leadership is beginning to be challenged by newcomers.  All these problems stem from the same issue: political fighting over product ownership and direction.  If Oracle can successfully defuse these issues they can make a real attempt as leading the market in innovation – as it is, not even Steve Miranda (whom I deeply admire and has done an amazing job at leveling some of these problems) can make it work as it should.

Phew, that is a lot of thinking and lots of words – no?

Oracle’s position, market presence, and mastery of Databases and Hardware cannot be matched overall (there are areas where you will see innovation and different implementations, but none of them will ultimately challenge Oracle should they continue investing as they have).  Oracle Software Applications (and there are other data points I did not mention in an effort to focus on three key problems) has more problems than solutions currently.

Can Oracle pull out of this and become successful at applications? Yes, they can.  Some of the things they need to do are above: focus on a common applications architecture, successfully connect them together, and stop the brain drain from acquired companies.  Some other items (like a better cloud strategy, a reimagined view of what applications do – including mobile apps going forward, and far better work at “hardware and software engineered to work together” at the application level) are not mentioned.

The first thing they have to do: stop giving so many people so much power and find a chief applications officer (for lack of a better title) that can both dictate standards, common vision, and integrated solutions across the entire spectrum.

At least, that is my perspective – What’s yours? What says you? Am I way off here?

KANA Shows Their Future Potential In NOLA

Better late than never, they say – and here comes this review of the KANA Connect user conference, earlier in September, in New Orleans, Lousiana (also known as NOLA, get the title now? get it? get it? that was the only time I will be obnoxious on this post).

The event was well attended (rough estimates from me is about 300 +/- attendants all included) with a large contingency from public sector – KANA Lagan’s business – and a lot of new people – from my conversations – that had never attended before.

The event was well planned with virtually all sessions “analyst and pundit free”, that is with customers and consultants talking about real-life implementations, lessons learned, and what their experiences were.  Virtually all the attendants i talked to liked the model and the content, appreciated the information shared and were very satisfied with the event.

The entertainment side of it was also well done, with a march led by a Jazz ensemble from the hotel to a Latin Quarter restaurant that included police escort and shutting down Canal street for about 20 minutes.  Overall, a great event.

Final disclaimer before I give you the highlights: KANA is a client, has been for over 15 years (back to the Gartner days) and even though i did not present at the event, data from the latest research report I did with them was shared.  They also paid for my expenses and attendance at the event, and gave me access to their executives and clients.  I have been a supporter of KANA for a while (one of my first implementations as a CRM practitioner was a KANA ERMS), I have written about them before – both positive and negative pieces (I foretold their potential demise at one time, and praised their progress at others).  All in all, about even for any vendor I cover – and this post is no exception.  If you feel I am biased, do let me know – but I doubt it.

Great – it was great to see further progress on the “assimilation” of the acquisitions into the new-and-improved KANA.  The Ciboodle and KANA marriage is starting to yield very good product, with pieces of both put together into a flexible platform-based customer-service solution that has lots of potential.  Not finished yet, but at least 85-90% done. I like what they have done and where they are going, Steven Thurlow has done a great job merging architectures and solutions.

Good – Lagan and Trinicom (both acquisitions) are doing quite well as standalone, but a bit more work is necessary to extend the power of the enterprise platform and share some of the “goodies” into those product lines.  Keeping separate code  lines, which in this case is a good thing, and separate messages to target their core markets well, I think that they have passed the integration stage and are becoming good separate businesses on their own.  I’d like to see Trinicom (now KANA Express) extend their presence in the Americas and Lagan gain some of the components from KANA Enterprise, but overall – good progress.

Meh – Press, Pundit, Analyst, Influencer coverage of the event.  They were some good people there, and I was happy to see them, but KANA needs to have more mindshare as they ramp up to become one of the largest vendors in Customer Service.  It is time to invest in relationships and bring those relationships to the show.  The customers (who were in the hundreds, in sharp contrast with a few years ago of barely a couple dozen) and quality of the products could tell a great story, but there weren’t enough people to listen.  This is not anyone’s fault in the KANA team, it is just a question of allocation of time and resources.  Time to shift those resources in favor of getting noted more.

Bad – The event was very well organized, all sessions on time, content was coordinated, and speakers well trained and prepared.  Maybe a little too prepared.  Some of the sessions seem canned more than spontaneous, and the content was.  Not enough emphasis was placed on the roadmap (there were a couple of sessions, but lacked a coordinated vision for the combination of all the products and solutions).  I think it is an issue of lack of time and too much to do, but it needs to be better formalized going forward to present a more coherent end-to-end story to all their products.

I am encouraged, as a long-time supporter of the company, of the work they have done since last years’ show and since the acquisitions.  There is still room for improvement in integration and telling a better story, and lots of potential areas for expansion, but so far good.  At least far better than they have shown in previous iterations during the 2000s.

Fun ahead for the Customer Service market? Absolutely, has not been this much fun since the early 2000s.  Time for a new market leader to emerge, KANA is one of the potential contenders.  The next two years will be battleground years vying for position for all of them.

Were you there? What did you think?

the blog!

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