Knowledge? We Don’t Need No Stinking Knowledge…

Hilarious, I know.

And also, false.  We do need knowledge.  Now more than anything.

I am launching the fourth edition of the knowledge management usage study for customer service to find out how we are doing.  Last year we found some morsels of Tiedosta (remember? to know, about knowledge) that pointed us to maintenance as the weak link in the KM equation and some confusion as to how to deal with communities.

What will this year find out?

Kate Leggett, esteemed colleague and Forrester analyst, recently said that KM is the foundation for Customer Service and CRM – and I couldn’t agree more.  She explores in her article what needs to happen – and some of those principles are reflected in my research as well.

But I am also exploring the next generations of KM: stored knowledge versus knowledge in use, leveraging subject matter experts, and my personal favorite — communities and knowledge.

Please help me by taking this survey – made it simple and easy, just 15 minutes or so of your time in exchange for a — well, ton of knowledge… about knowledge.

disclaimer: this is a sponsored research.  this year for the first time Microsoft stepped up and backed my research.  for that i am eternally grateful – but not grateful enough to give them editorial (or any other type) of control.  i wrote the questions, the thesis, and will collect and hold the information.  i will analyze and follow-up with respondents, and i am the sole responsible party for this.  if it works, as it has in the past, they will get some killer content (as others have in the past). if it doesn’t — well, i am not sure what happens since i have never failed. hilarious, i know.

Thinking Cloud? Think About These Roadblocks

Organizations are migrating to the cloud in droves these days. The leaders of the pack are investing in an open and public cloud model. Others are slowly moving towards that by first testing the waters in a private cloud. This is fine as long as the vision remains clear and the private cloud model is viewed as a way to get to the open and public model. Realistically, a three-tier cloud model is a foregone conclusion, a commoditized element that all organizations have in their future.

The migration to cloud computing is complicated, to say the least. Besides the “tip of the spear” issues of capital expenditures (including amortization of the assets) versus operating expenditures (which will make anyone’s head spin), there are many other issues to consider. The following are the top seven issues to consider when moving to the cloud – in no particular order – with a simple explanation of why each matters (or doesn’t) in a cloud computing architecture.

  1. Architecture: A cloud computing architecture has to have three layers running on top of a public network, or else the benefits are lost. The three layers — infrastructure, platform, and software — roughly correspond to the main functions they perform: storage and connectivity, logic and processing, and presentation. If your provider or vendor offers anything other than three independent layers that can be interconnected or even replaced, you are not getting cloud computing components but most likely legacy SaaS or hosted components.
  1. Security: Much has been said about security in an open network, but not all of it is true. There is plenty of research that shows that cloud-based security is as secure as (if not more secure than) anything that can be done on-premises. If you hire a security provider, or your cloud provider does the security, you are getting the latest and greatest implementations of security managed by a team of experts that is bigger and more experienced that anything you could hire in-house. Further, they are invested in keeping things secure, versus being one of the functions your team performs. There is no matching the investment cloud providers can make on security while they distribute the costs.
  1. Software: This is probably the biggest problem you will face as you migrate into cloud computing. Vendors who have enterprise licenses already implemented have a hard time letting go of the security of knowing the licenses and maintenance fees will continue to roll in as long as the contract is renewed. In cloud computing, there are no certainties – it’s far easier to rip and replace if the vendor does not do a good job. The cloud computing architecture is based on the premise of replacing and extending by hiring one or more vendors that do the same function. As such, the fees are not paid for access to the application, but for usage; the model is based on value delivered. Planning, and your vendor, must conform to new models.
  1. Hardware: As mentioned above, amortization and customs of doing things a certain way play a major role in preventing, or rather delaying, migration to a cloud computing architecture. The hardware that has been purchased, maintained, optimized, and used for many years is now no longer under the control of the same people; cloud providers own it and rent it out as necessary. This changes a large number of traditions in the organization, and the people behind them are not going to be happy. Anticipate and plan for change management around them and the vendors behind the hardware.
  1. Integration: Organizations coming to the cloud from any other computing platform often have a hard time grasping the issue of integration. Integration in an on-premise, hosted or legacy SaaS application demands point-to-point work. You have to know where you are coming from and where you are going. You have to build an exclusive “pipe” between the two places, select the data you want to pass along, and then program it and hope nothing changes. In the cloud, it’s very different, since the metadata and services allow a platform to serve anyone who asks for the right information with the right security attached. If the person is authorized, the service runs and provides a result. If the data passed changes, the metadata handles that. If the call changes, the metadata handles that. In addition, a secure platform acts as an access point to any other secure and trusted platform, eliminating the need to do yet another integration point. This makes everything far easier and more powerful.
  1. Control: The control that your organization and the people in it have over the existing on-premises assets is going away. In spite of several industries and even some countries still holding on to the “location of the data” tales, the day is near where, as one CIO recently told me, “I don’t know where my data is, nor do I care. I know I can use it whenever I need it – that’s all I need to know.” It is not only the data, but the hardware, software configurations, management and maintenance of the assets, as well as the direct influence on how things get done. When a cloud provider delivers solutions to thousands of clients concurrently, there is not a lot of room for the users to derail the process. While we are starting to see more configuration and management options emerge via metadata, the amount of control that exists in the cloud is very different from on-premises. It isn’t worse, since it delivers more value. It’s just different.
  1. Business Transformation: This is one of the biggest items to consider when moving to the cloud. For digital transformation to occur, which is the next stage for business transformation in the upcoming decade, the cloud must be a commoditized, sunk-in investment that is considered to already exist and be implemented. Virtually none of the management and allocation of the data, knowledge, and content necessary for digital transformation to occur can be moved around without use of the cloud as the underlying infrastructure. Combined with the issues mentioned previously and all the benefits of cloud computing adoption, these things will make digital transformation happen.

Of course, each implementation is different, and these issues as well as others will vary from organization to organization. However, the past ten or more years of implementing cloud computing architectures have taught me these valuable lessons.

Do you have some others to add? Let me know in the comments!

disclaimer: Acumatica is a client, and this year the contributed to my research time exploring cloud.  I cross-posted this on their site and they are also using the content in other manners – part of my sponsored research model.  I do my research, I get paid to share some of the results, but I own the agenda, editorial rights, and distribution rights as well as intellectual property.  I appreciate their support of my vices (food for my kids, a place to sleep) and hope to continue working with them on research on cloud topics.  The thoughts and concepts in this post are totally mine.

More Cloud Stuff (Links To A Great, Long Interview)

I wrote last week about a framework to have better cloud discussions.  I said two things: it took me over a year to be able to write that short piece (which is true), and I will write many more things along those lines.

I also did an interview with an old colleague of mine who is now the CMO at Logikcull.  Started as a short discussion on industry cloud – but ended up being a full-on discussion on cloud concepts and misconceptions.  It was one of the pivotal moments in getting to my last post on cloud.

I wanted to share the three posts (yes, we talked for a while) that was published in their blog.  This is reading time of about 10-12 minutes per episode.  But, trust me – if you are interested in cloud computing and want to have a different perspective (the final post starts with the incredibly sentient sentence “It’s hard to say whether Esteban Kolsky is a contrarian or everybody else is just plain wrong”) please read through.

I will entertain comments and questions below or any other method you prefer.  Thanks for reading.

Part 1 – Debunking the Myths of Cloud

Admit it, when you think “cloud,” you think elastic. You think scalable. You think SaaS. And that’s right, but it’s not all-the-way right. According to Esteban Kolsky, the cloud — the true cloud, the pure cloud — is not nearly as simple as those buzzwords suggest, nor as ubiquitous.

Kolsky, a former research director at Gartner and widely respected technology consultant and commentator, has never been one to accept conventional wisdom. In this multi-part interview with Logikcull, he sets straight the commonly accepted, but ultimately wrong, notions, perceptions and definitions of cloud.


Part 2 – The Economics of Cloud

The first part of Logikcull’s interview with Esteban Kolsky addressed common misperceptions about the cloud, which Kolsky defined, strictly, as a three-tiered architecture divided between infrastructure, platform and software.

“It’s the three elements you use when you create an application: the presentation layer, the logic layer and the underlying network and database,” Kolsky, a former Gartner analyst and widely respected technology consultant, said.

Here we dive — into the weeds, at times — into the evolution of cloud computing, the economic advantages and challenges its purveyors face, and how companies like Salesforce are pioneering customized “industry clouds.”

Also, we answer the question: What the heck is industry cloud?

Part 3 – Fearing the Cloud is Nonsense

It’s hard to say whether Esteban Kolsky is a contrarian or everybody else is just plain wrong. Over the course of this three-part interview, Kolsky, a well-known technology consultant and former Gartner analyst, has debunked pretty much every commonly held notion related to cloud computing and its underlying infrastructure.

When we asked, for instance, whether “private cloud” is more secure than “public cloud,” he retorts, Private “cloud” is not cloud at all! 

In previous installments, Kolsky defined true cloud architecture and compared its properties to other architectures mistakenly assumed to be cloud. He then spelled out the economic incentives of cloud adoption for providers and consumers.

Here we pick up the conversation with Kolsky explaining why cloud vendors are moving to provide industry-specific solutions under the nom de guerre “industry cloud.”

Also, if you want to read more about the background research I’ve done, and more, in my Cloud Purist e-book – please download it here (no worries, i don’t ask for anything – free download).

disclaimer: I mention Salesforce, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and a few others in my interview.  I mention Logikcull in here.  Salesforce is a current client, so is Microsoft.  Oracle was a client (and doubt it would be again), IBM was never a client, nor will it be. Logikcull is not a client (and won’t be) as I did this interview as a favor for my friend  Dave Austin.  I may have missed someone else I mentioned – and they may or may not be a client.  But trust me, I know few people who would want to be mention in a series aimed at debunking what they sell.  So, yeah — kind of proves that being a client or not does not exempt you from being called on what you do wrong.  I also mention Amazon, Airbnb, Google, and a few other consumer companies – as far as I can tell, i did not mention any clients among those either — but I may be wrong (even if I did, it was public information – privacy clauses built into my end-user contracts prevent me from disclosing their names and status.  I try my best to not be influenced and to not ruin my reputation – trust me, every mention is warranted by their actions, not their status as client or not.

Framework For a Discussion of Cloud Computing (In Less Than One Page)

For a little over a year Sameer Patel (a good friend, except for this instance) has been bugging me about defining the cloud in a one-pager.

I have to say, it’s been challenging.  I have written before pages and pages defining the cloud (including my cloud purist e-book – check it out) in many ways.  I have done charts and slides, entire presentations, reams for electronic paper, and more – but defining it in one page was proving nearly impossible.

Until yesterday.

I finally figured out what the problem has been.  It is not a problem of definitions (there are plenty of those going around) but a problem of confusion.

There is a general confusion as to what the cloud is because we use the same word to define three very different things.

  1. The cloud as the Internet.  In the old TV commercials that Microsoft sponsored five years ago so support the launch of Windows 7 we used to hear the battle cry “to the cloud” as if it was a place where everything magic happens and exists.  They, of course, meant the Internet (actually, to be more precise the WWW – the subset of the Internet that we operate via browsers).  Movies, data, applications – everything was “in the cloud” – meaning available via a browser from anywhere you could connect to the world wide web.  Needless to say, this is an improper use of the term (I covered a myriad of definitions in my e-book, including the “standard” NIST definition that most people use).
  2. The cloud as a delivery model.  This improper definition led to the start of the confusion since it led to the wrong use of the term “cloud” by vendors when offered hosted and SaaS-like solutions.  Ever since the days of ASP (if you remember that far back) and NetScape Application Server (NAS – again, if you remember that far back) we had applications that could be delivered via a browser.  RightNow Technologies and were pioneers in this movement allowing customers to use applications they ran in a data center in a timeshare model (let’s call it what it is – even if we don’t have mainframes).  This was the way out of the dark ages of client-server architectures and the beginning of embracing the internet in organizations.  The main problem this model has (still today) is that it shares a monolithic server running in a data center instead of leveraging the power of cloud computing architecture (distributed computing, more on this later).
  3. The cloud as a computing architecture.  Research on distributed work (later computing) models began in 1939 with earlier models of what became Cloud Computing Architecture.  In this model, each job to be done is divided into smaller possible computational pieces (operational before computers) and distributed to the best resources able to complete them timely.  This was done all at the same time – versus the serial manufacturing model prevalent at the time (that was spawned by the industrial revolution).  Granted, it was impossible to implement in the early days but we have come a long-way since the start of computers and the growth of computing power to the point that we can have a three-tier architecture that supports distributed computing well today.

The above definitions are where vendors (especially Enterprise Software) vendors are stuck (a combination of one and two above) versus where customers want to go (three above).

And the source of the confusion.

I will build the above into a one page, downloadable infographic in the next couple of weeks (be careful what you ask for Sameer :)).  But I wanted to get the conversation going in the right direction.

No definitions, just a way to recognize what each vendor is doing – and a post I will point to as I begin to evaluate where each major vendor is, and where they are going, in the next few weeks.

What do you think? Am I off?

disclaimer: even though I don’t mention any vendors here, some of the major vendors are my clients – some are not.  I will disclose those more as I move forward – but I want to use this little piece of writing to thank Mike Fauscette, Paul Greenberg, and Denis Pombriant for helping me solidify my thinking.  Any interesting or good insight above came from them, any major errors are totally mine and I did not let them talk me out of them.  and for the record, the definitions above are 467 words without good editing done – under a page… :).  more on this will be coming soon, be patient… but this is critical to frame the conversation of what the cloud is and is not.

Got A Customer Service Tale To Tell?

Yes boys and girls. That time of the year again. 

Budgets. Plans. Goals. And getting your speaker submissions done for conferences in 2016. 

And because we changed the dates for the Customer Service Experience conference next year to May 23-26 (and the city to DC instead of New York City) we are calling for speakers to summit ther ideas now. 

You have until November 6 to send in your proposals (here is the link). We are looking for great stories around customer service, customer experience, and all topics related to working with customers. 

A few caveats (and then some suggestions):

  • Sorry. No software vendor-submitted presentations will be considered. My hands are tied on this one. Been trying for three years. No dice. 
  • Practitioners (folks doing the work with a story to tell) will have first consideration. Last year this made a difference in the last three slots – highly encouraged. 
  • Consultants and integrators with a story to tell (getting the idea?) and not just pushing their methodology, smarts, or products get second consideration. 
  • Analysts and other influencers get consideration for the 12-minute sessions and for panels.  If you have an interesting story to tell (yes, I’m serious about these stories) then contact me and we can discuss. 

That’s pretty much it. Share your story

If you don’t know what to talk about, these are the topics that were most popular and requested for next year:  

  1. Analytics. Measurement. Metrics.
  2. Multi-channel. Omni-channel. 
  3. Employee engagement.  Agent engagement. 
  4. End -to-end experiences. 
  5. Digital transformation. Business transformation.  
  6. Communities. 
  7. Knowledge management. 
  8. Social customer service. 

That’s about it. Send us your stories before November 6

Questions? Comments? Below. 


Want Real Success? Destroy the Company-Centric Customer Experience

(cross-posted at Callidus blog)

Earlier this year I presented at C3 in Las Vegas.  The topic of my presentation was Customer Experience for Executives.  It was very well received, if I say so myself – since no one else was in the room… Kidding! I was asked to post a brief summary of the talk here.

I have summarized the main points (and placed a link at the bottom to the slideshare version of my deck) below – but more importantly, I welcome your contributions. What have your executives asked/demanded to know about customer experience? What did I miss in my presentation? What would convince your executive team to give CX a whirl? Let me know in the comments below, or contact me via Twitter and let me know – or just let me know any way you can.

Let’s start with the basics – do you need to embrace Customer Experience? Yes.

In recent surveys compiled by the Office of Consumer Affairs (an entity working with the U.S. Government and reporting within the White House hierarchy) shows that 55 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for a guaranteed good experience.  “Guaranteed” is the key here – customers are not satisfied with just having or being promised one.  A recent survey in the U.K. shows up to 86 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for an upgraded experience.  This is what customers want: better experiences – and when more than half of your customers want something, shouldn’t you be willing to give it to them?

I wrote some time ago about the shift from a traditional customer lifecycle (where the company decides what type of interaction – and therefore experience – the customer is exposed to based on its internal recognition of the current state of the customer in the lifecycle) to a continuum (where the customer decides at the moment of the interaction what he needs to get form the company and how, therefore building experiences personalized and customized to his current needs and status).

I advocated then as I do now that company-centric behavior, where results, benefits, and value are measured by the company based on its internal benchmarks and standards, are quickly disappearing.  This come thanks to the emergence of online communities – where each dissatisfied voice can be augmented thousands of times instantly – and the rise of the customer era.  Not only has this trend continued to evolve, but the shift to customer-centricity and the empowerment of the customer is gaining traction in corporate America at previously unheard-of rates.  Indeed, in my last research report I found that 84 percent of organizations are now embracing the customer experience model – even if they are not very sure what they are doing yet (72 percent are still strategizing and discussing).

In executive suites, the most common questions I get asked are, what should be the difference between today’s customer experience efforts and those in the recent past, which in most cases failed – and should we even try to create customer experiences now. The distinction is simple. By enforcing a designed experience created by the company, you are still steeped in company-centric behavior that focuses mostly on – figuratively speaking – using a sledgehammer to make customers stay in their place.  This is not very attractive – especially when these customers can complain in their communities and degrade the value of the brand.  A customer-experience based world, where you provide the basic infrastructure and let customers personalize and customize their experiences each and every time, is the way to go.  Its like using a magnet to attract customers versus the sledgehammer mentioned before.

Your job is not to learn (or infer, or deduce, or think you know, or know you know – but don’t really know but assume… and you know what they say about assuming) what customers want. Your job is to figure out how to build the best possible multi-channel, dynamic, flexible, and responsive infrastructure in your organization, leveraging the technologies and tools provided, so you can let customers build their own personalized, optimized experience for each interaction based on their needs and wants for that specific moment.  Whether they need a quick, single-word answer or a lengthy explanation as a result of the same question asked in two different contexts and situations, your infrastructure musty be able to figure that out and provide both – and learn from that interaction so it can improve the next one.

This is not an avant-garde movement in customer strategies – we’ve been talking about this since the term “customer-centricity” was introduced in the mid-1990s. We now, finally, have the right environment, tools, people, and ability to deliver on that – in real time.

That’s what you need to know for Customer Experience at the executive level.  The link below will take you to a deck that will explain it in more detail and give you some numbers and data to write it more eloquently.

What do you think?

Embeddable Functions Are (Finally) Coming to Customer Service

In December of 2014 something weird began to happen: we were introduced (or rather, re-introduced since the concept has been around for some time) to embeddable apps and uses.

Zendesk announced their embeddable API as a way to bring specific components from the application (like tickets and channel management) via  widget into other applications.

At the same time, Actuate introduced a platform for embeddable analytics, providing a similar approach – you can bring analytics and visualization in real-time into any other app or application via their API and widgets.

There were others, still under development, that are going in the same direction and I cannot disclose – yet.

Mind you, embedded value inserted in other apps or applications is not new.  It has been at least 15 years since we started promoting the value of in-app knowledge bases for field service and remote workers (can you imagine an airline technician trying to fix and engine that has to go back to a desktop computer to look at pictures and instructions? used to be that way).

But this is different.  This is not about just one function (highly customized and heavily bloated to be honest – that is what we used to have) being created specifically to be used independently.  This time we are talking about leveraging the power of the cloud – not just technology.

You likely heard me before talk about the ability of cloud-based platforms (middle layer in a proper three-tier open cloud architecture) to deliver value anywhere.  Leveraging the services made available by the platform the SaaS layer (the interface, also the software layer proper) can deliver anything that is entitled to access.

This is what is making apps and applications far more flexible (and way smaller) than ever.  If i can just bring the small functionality i need to complete my job into my screen easy and effortless then I (the individual user) can build apps that fit my need for that specific model (not to mention IT can do whatever they want as well).  This takes the burden of developing away from IT and away from complex sessions of requirements and so forth and gives the citizen programmer access to more power and flexibility.

It seems that December of 2014 was not that long ago – yet we are starting to see the second generation of embedded technology emerge already.  Indeed, the newer vendors (more cloud savvy, more flexible and dynamic, smaller and more nimble) are starting to offer what they call in-app functionality.

Whether its HelpShift (one of the early vendors to offer in-app support for gaming platforms), or SparkCentral (who just released their in-app messaging for customer service last week – and what prompted me to write this) we are seeing far smaller, more powerful, and easier to use in-app functionality that allows any user (still today being used via IT – but the product can easily allow any user to embed the functionality in their own-grown apps) to use what they need where they need.


The next step is to take IT out of the equation (sorry, like you guys – but you have too much going on to deliver apps quickly and effectively… need to let the citizen programmer take over) and where we are seeing Salesforce start down that road with the Lighting set of tools they announced last year at Dreamforce and greatly expanded two weeks ago with the introduction of The Lighting Experience (or whatever marketing deemed it to be – I am sorry, I am not that good at slogans).

There is an immense amount of value in creating small (atomized, applications as I used to call them 10 years ago — simply apps as they are called today) apps that perform very specific functionality.  In addition to delivering on the true value of cloud computing (yeah, who needs a browser? we just leverage the internet as a transport network and be done with it!) it also empowers the user to be more mobile, connected, and effective.

I expect to see the next generation of in-app empowered apps and applications begin to hit contact centers in the next few months and better adoption over the next 18-24 months until we reach mainstream adoption sometime in the 2017-2018 timeframe.  Although I always say my timeframes are short (and optimistic) and you should always add something to them – i am starting to get the feeling that this time is different… this time, I think i am long.

What do you think?

Planning to use in-app functionality in your apps and applications? Have already something under way? let me know below in the comments… would love to know more about what’s happening.

disclaimer: where to start? let’s see… Salesforce is a client (and, btw, I am presenting the latest and greatest Evolution of Customer Service at Dreamforce next week – come see me!).  SparkCentral was a client (inactive now) and likely going to be a client again – yeah, they like me that much.  HelpShift was a client and I sit on their board of advisors and I hold equity (should go without saying, but — i am nothing if not honest).  Moxie was a client (inactive now, but likely going back to active).  Actuate (acquired by OpenText) was a client (inactive right now, but we are working on something soon) and a good friend of mine Allen Bonde is there.  Zendesk is not a client per-se, but I have some involvement with them in Latin America via one of the many commercials endeavors I have in Latin America (read it with an accent, sounds much better).  There are many more clients (both active and inactive) and I pretty certain that I could’ve used (and missed) others that are doing things around this area.  I am not using vendor names as a way of endorsement but as examples. If I missed you, feel free to drop the info in the comments – only time I won’t delete your spammy comment :).  Otherwise, as you likely know, I am all about trends and not about endorsing vendors or technologies.  I am highlighting a trend and not promoting a vendor.  If any of the vendors mentioned here expected or would like preferential treatment because of their mention — ha! yeah, right… reputation above compensation, my friends.

How to Do Mobile Customer Service (With Videos!)

Yes.  I gave in to the dark side… the title is a little link-baitish… I will admit that.

But, there is good content (and they are videos) associated with it.

Here is the scoop…

A couple of years ago I started working with a large number of brands on their approach to mobile customer service.  We tried, experimented, tested different things and in the process I came up with a nifty little model for adoption of mobile customer service which I have been improving ever since.

It’s a generational approach, each generation building on the previous one, and it has proven successful time and again.  You start simple and grow in complexity as you go along, learning and doing more.

Just like life – or school (just got back from my kid’s back to school night… always wondering how we did have fun before we had kids in school… I digress, sorry Sameer).

In the process, my friends at Salesforce asked me to do a few videos with advice on customer service and we all thought that this model (and its implications) were a good topic.

Now, just like in life – attention is limited and short.  My attention span these days is limited to… what was i saying?

Right, so we created the concept of customer service minute (more like between 1 and 2 minutes each) and crafted five awesome videos that answer the basic questions about mobile customer service.

I promise you, they are very much worthy if you are embarking on mobile customer service.  Trust me.  Years of experience condensed in 7-10 minutes of wisdom, examples, and statistics.

You are welcome, it’s what I do.

Click on this link (registration required, but its painless) and you can access the five videos.  Come back if you want to chat about them or leave some comments… or have a conversation.

If you want to get more on this, or anything related to customer service, come to my Dreamforce session:

Thought Leader: Keeping Your Customers Happy in Today’s Connected World, Tue, Sep 15, 3:00 PM-3:40 PM 
View Session Details

Or simple, leave your thoughts below.  Thanks.

note: if you have spare cycles and are in customer service, can you pretty please fill out my survey on usage and adoption? much appreciated…

disclaimer: as you can imagine, is a client.  They are an active retainer client and have been for a few years.  I am grateful to their contribution to my vices (like mortgages, food for the kids, clothes, etc.) and as always they don’t get to tell me what to do  (yes, it does frustrate them – just ask them).  Content is entirely mine, final edit and veto power is mine, and what to talk about and what to say is my decision.  Call it what you may, I call it a cool relationship where we both get what we need: great content and fed kids.  And no obligations on either side. Win-win

Evangelizing Omni-Channel (Why It’s NOT the Answer)

One of the topics that we set out to discover during out surveys past two years (note: take our survey this year, please? was whether organizations and practitioners were already on board with the concept of omni-channel.  What we found out was pretty much in line with what we expected: it is too early for them to focus on it.

Alas, the main problem we found (both outside of this research project as well as those people we tapped for follow-up discussions) was the lack of definition of omni-channel.  Indeed, there is confusion between multi-channel and omni-channel – and this is the biggest hindrance to its adoption.

We all understand single-channel as it is the origin of all customer service.  Customer service was provided person-to-person, over the phone via call center, or (in the case of more modern companies) via email or chat or any other single-channel.  Even as we grew operations and added new channels (e.g. from call center to simple contact center supporting email) we continued to support the channels separately as single-channel.  This was done partly by lack of understanding by call centers of what a contact center did as well as by not having available methods to share resources and technologies.

As we began to evolve customer service and added more channels (and found ways to share the underlying technologies and solutions – like knowledge bases and rules servers) the concept of multi-channel began to emerge.  Either as a fully integrated solution where all common components are leveraged and shared or as a collection of single-channel solutions that share some components in different ways, multi-channel became the definition of a contact center that had more than one channel operating successfully, had some integration between them for supporting tools and components, but was not yet fully operational as a single solution for all channels.

The concept of operating all channels as one always lacked one component: a single, combined, all-encompassing data model that allowed a transaction to be tracked across all channels and all interactions. If, for example, a customer started at the web site to find marketing information about a product, continued with an email asking for clarification of pricing, a phone call to further clarify an obscure point in the literature, then purchased the product via a third-party eCommerce site and came to a physical store for technical support in their minds that is one interaction, one experience.  For the organization that would be a minimum of five interactions (and in some cases, a much scarier multiple of that).

Closing this gap between expectations and delivery is where the idea of omni-channel becomes attractive.  There are two parts to delivering to this model and the first one is the technology necessary to make it happen behind the scenes.  This has been solved by leveraging and aggregating common components before – but usually falling short at cross-channel tracking.  Implementing the ability to use a single, common data model that pulls in data from multiple systems and interaction and maintains them as a common interaction is the first challenge – omni-channel cannot happen before cross-channel integration exists in the contact center.  We are just beginning to see implementations of cross-channel tracking and the initial results are encouraging.

Once cross-channel tracking is present, organizations can then focus on using that data and technology model to deliver to customers’ expectation of a single, cross-channel, and cross-interaction experience based on intent (the second of the portions of omni-channel).

If you think that omni-channel is as simple as delivering across channels, go back and read the paragraph above: it needs to be based on intent (thus, changing at each experience), based on previous and future predicted interactions (while keeping them together as one – whether it is a new one or a continuation of a previous one), and play equally across all channels (while realizing there are differences between channels that may not allow for equal delivery of all interactions across all channels).

The complexity of an omni-channel delivery is just barely starting to be addressed by organizations, and it is mostly the lack of understanding on their side of the myriad complexities associated with it that makes it slow going.  As one of the respondents of the survey told us when we followed up, just the idea of understanding what differentiates one interaction from the other based on intent causes a migraine.

Technology is available (hint: it requires multiple vendors from different technology sections) and desire is there – the lack of tangible methodologies and use cases (or even better, case studies and lessons learned) is what is causing it to not be fully adopted in real life.  Even if the organization can get past the lack of information and the complex technical aspects, political considerations and infighting are the next challenge to overcome – how to make different departments or business units work together towards a common goal.

Our surveys (2013, 2014) showed that only a handful of people are working on implementing omni-channel, while a large number (still short of mainstream adoption at one-third of the market) is doing something about it.  This is a good start.  The next best step is to evangelize and agree on a common concept of what omni-channel means so we can focus on growing adoption, finding lessons learned, and write the case studies that will help push adoption to higher levels.

At the end, the message to get across is that by implementing a two-stage omni-channel solution (infrastructure for the organization and software solutions to deliver to customers’ expectations) is getting the organization closer to the three R’s that encompass the organization-customer relationship in this age of the customer:

Right answer; Right channel; Right time.

SHAMELESS PLUG – While this was written in 2013 (but never published before) as a result of findings to the survey that year – it is still applicable today (and going forward).  If you want to help me find more insights like this, please take our survey this year… many thanks.

Customer Service Research – One More Time!

Yes, its that time of the year.

The (now) fourth version of this wonderful research on Customer Service Usage and Adoption report is coming back!

I know, I know.  Hard to contain your excitement… me too.

Here’s the scoop.  I have been running this report for the past three years under the sponsorship of KANA (née Sword Ciboodle) but the new leadership at Verint decided against creating fresh, unique content and instead wanted to focus their energy somewhere else.

I wished them well, and set out to find another sponsor.  As you know, I ask people to pay for my vices (doing research) in exchange for access to fresh content.  Works quite well, and helps me do the research I want to do (everything is my choice, including final veto).  You benefit by getting data that is not available elsewhere.

Among the many interested vendors I talked to, there was one that was the most interesting given our relationship and their status in the market.  After a short back-and-forth the Salesforce Service Cloud team has become the new sponsor.  Thanks, many, again.

Everything else remains the same: questions about usage, adoption, trends, and new things.  In addition to continuing asking about traditional contact center channels and technologies (including social) we are adding this year questions on mobile, communities, and even — nah, you will have to take it to find out…

As you know we discovered in past years the data that backed up the assertions that:

There were others, like when we first reported massive adoption of Facebook and Twitter – before anyone else, and many more.  But I don’t want to repeat the past findings – rather find the new ones.

Here is the link.  You will spend 20-25 minutes of your time answering the 21 questions (plus a few demographics) and you will get a copy of the results in return.  Also, invited to a webinar to share all results – and if you happen to attend Dreamforce 2015 in a few weeks you get access to the original, fresh, new content that will come from this research.

Nothing to lose, all to win – what do you say?

Take the survey?

the blog!

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