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SAP pivots as the customer turns 2018

bill mcdermott sapphire 2018 SAP pivots as the customer turns 2018

SAP CEO Bill McDermott: “We will not waver or bend until we have taken over the CRM market.”

In the interests of disclosure, I was writing this SAP piece as a brief part of a “Random Thoughts” post that would kind of mirror the format of my upcoming podcast – which will begin with the official launch of my website – the56group.com – in a month or two.

And then it — as “it” often does — spiraled out of control. Or into a long cycle of control, depending on how mad you think I am. (Mad as in crazy, not angry.) So, I split this into two parts. Random thoughts will be coming, but first: SAP’s pivot, with a perspective of what it means to the industry and to SAP as a company — not as a different version of their tech stack.

Here goes:

Industry News: SAP announces pivot to the front office – a formerly brief perspective

Ever since SAP announced their pivoting to CRM at SAPPHIRE a few weeks or so ago, the headlines have been rife with SAP positioning itself against Salesforce; SAP recognizing the value of the CRM market and its continued dynamic growth; and SAP’s determination to dominate the currently $ 40 billion CRM market. Bill McDermott, SAP’s long time CEO, in very dramatic terms is quoted as saying:

“We will not waver or bend until we have taken over the CRM (customer relationship management) market…”


“SAP was the last to accept the status quo of CRM and is now the first to change it,” “The legacy CRM systems are all about sales; SAP C/4 HANA is all about the consumer.”

That was then…

All nice, dramatic and warrior like – but performance art isn’t what makes this interesting nor is “we will not waver or bend” suited to anything less than assaulting a beach during World War II, not a software company announcement. Nor are these statements what was very important about what SAP did. But before I get too far into why this was the right move for SAP, let me frame this a little with history and corrections of history.

SAP was not the last to accept the status quo, it was the last of the big four to have a functional CRM suite, which it got when Bob Stutz, Jujhar Singh and company built SAP 2007, a highly competitive CRM suite in its day. That suite was the status quo, which was, at that time, what they (and the market) needed – actually a marginally more advanced version of the status quo. It did what CRM was supposed to do in 2007 – a sales, marketing, and customer service three pillars set of somewhat integrated solutions with a single data store.

What made it a bit more advanced – again for 2007 – was that it had one of the first “Google-like” user interfaces. It was what the world needed then and SAP, to their credit, were able to provide it. It made them at least a player in the CRM market, when prior to that they were an ERP company pretender in the market, providing what was mostly well known to be shelfware. That 2007 edition catapulted them into contention – a company to take seriously. Now, obviously, the stakes are higher and the needs greater. Think ecosystems and platforms.

This current pivot and the announcement associated with it has been three years in the making. It isn’t new. In fact, they made this announcement on September 15, 2015 with somewhat different but not all that different wording. To wit:

New York — September 15, 2015: SAP SE (NYSE: SAP) today announced future integrated digital enterprise technologies that are intended to transform the relationships companies have with their customers.

SAP plans to unleash a powerful portfolio of SAP® hybris® tools that are envisioned to enable in-the-moment customer profiling, digital commerce and community development, empowering an organization’s front office to stay connected with the frequently shifting needs of its customers and prospects and enabling companies to go beyond customer relationship management (CRM) into a new era of digital connectedness, customer service and support.

“Companies can no longer rely on the costly, siloed systems of yesterday to engage with their customers, who are savvy, multidevice digital natives. They want their needs understood and met — right now and every time,” said Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP SE. “Legacy cloud-based CRM technologies create business complexity because their foundations predate the rise of social media and mobility. Companies today need innovative, integrated solutions that simplify the front office, making them easy to do business with and fostering greater customer engagement.”

In today’s digital world, businesses need to connect the front office and back office in real time — linking people, inventory, supply chain, pricing and customers together. This means that the new front office must go beyond the traditional marketing, sales and service automation functions and include integrated, real-time personalization, Web and mobile commerce, social customer service and more. Planned tools from SAP are envisioned to simplify the front office, helping businesses get a single, contextual view of their customers while giving each customer a consistent, personalized experience across all channels.”

Nothing really came of this, in part because it was made during Dreamforce and nobody read it; in part because the SAP Hybris group was transitioning into the company still at that point and there wasn’t a cohesive product suite that was ready to go to market to make this happen and in part because they were attempting to make ecommerce a fourth pillar of CRM — which it wasn’t and isn’t.

To be crystal clear: CRM is the operational core of a customer engaged business; ecommerce is the transactional core of that same customer engaged business. All in all, they weren’t quite ready to make the announcement that they did make – and made it again in a three-years-more-contemporary form this year – but they are ready now.

This is now….

I wasn’t at SAPPHIRE this year, I will be at Barcelona if they are willing to invite me. (I would have come but I was at PegaWorld with two speaking engagements.) However, I have digested enough of what was presented thanks to SAP’s good-hearted and highly capable analyst relations staff, to give you a brief first take on what I do think.

First, please, understand, I have been and continue to be a fan of SAP. They have been a company I have covered and one that I have been an engaged adviser to for more than a decade. I admire many of their senior staff, their innovation (you should see what’s coming out of the Palo Alto Labs – and I can say that anytime and be completely blown away by the innovation I see). I admire their thinking about community and their actual community in practice- SCN – one of the world’s largest and best run tech communities. I love their willingness (and their success) in co-creating with their customers. I admire their acquisitions. I think their M&A strategy over the years – at least when it comes to their major acquisitions has been minimally on point and borderline brilliant. I think it isn’t a coincidence they are one of the world’s most successful companies at least in the back office.

If you saw their interactions with their customers on a regular basis, which I do, you’d be surprised and, given their public image, amazed. They are among the most continually underestimated companies in the world – and, while I won’t cover it in this post except indirectly – there is a reason for that – and its on them.

Pivot = Pirouette?

When SAP announced this move, within literally minutes there were headlines about “analysts sour on SAP announcement.” One tweet, from MGI Research, a company I never heard of and know nothing about, had that comment and linked it to an article in Reuters quoting Gartner analyst, Ed Thompson, one of the best in the world. There wasn’t a single word in the article that was indicative of analysts souring. Here’s a screencap of the tweet. Then read the article.

 SAP pivots as the customer turns 2018

In fact, if you look at the analyst community, it’s somewhat split on the move – though leans to positive with concerns.

Here are some who lean favorable but not wholly that.

  1. John Bruno, Senior Analyst, Forrester
  2. Vinnie Mirchandani, dealarchitect
  3. Phil Wainwright, Diginomica

One or two lean negative but not wholly that:

  1. Esteban Kolsky (but this is a fair article, because it has what he likes too.)

Finally, one or two are mixed:

  1. Denis Pombriant

Headlines like MGI Research’s tweet are misleading and are showing animosity from the headline provider not those quoted in the post. Not sure what their beef is, but I didn’t like what they wrote. Our job as analysts isn’t to twist reality. Our job isn’t to “show the vendors their baby is ugly.” Our job is to say “if you raise baby’s right face cheek up this much and lower the left one this much, they will be more beautiful.” Point out the flaws when necessary and the strengths for two reasons – one so that those we should be serving, the public, have a clear picture of what they are looking at and possibly for. And two, so that we help the companies be better – if our opinion means anything to anyone at all that is.

The venom that gets spit at vendors from some of the folks in my world is ridiculous. It often seems more personal (e.g. they won’t talk to me so therefore…). Companies, especially large enterprises like SAP, are complex and complicated. There isn’t all good or all bad about any of them. SAP, Oracle, Salesforce, Microsoft etc. all have strengths and weaknesses and while they compete and thus have a lot in common – if they didn’t they wouldn’t be in competition – each of them carries enough differences – ranging from their tech stack, to their culture, to their partners, to their customer success programs etc. to their R&D investments, to their relationship as a trusted advisor, ad infinitum, to give potential customers a choice in deciding what they want.

If I might pontificate for a moment, as analysts we have a responsibility not only to report but to opine — and to do that fairly with an understanding that none of these companies fall into the black or white part of the universe. What works, what doesn’t work, what might the company do to fix what doesn’t — and doing that without rancor but with regard for those who read what we write and listen to what we say is what analysts who are being fair should be doing. Its fine to be critical, just not fine to be venomous and misleading and let some personal slight be the determinant of the attitude one takes to the company.

Where I stand…

Let me be firm on where I come in here. I am squarely in the camp that this was the right move for SAP and — all drama aside — is what can propel SAP forward provided they are willing to address the market directly rather than address it through the lens of Salesforce – and providing they can produce what they need to make this the real deal.

This is the time to do it. It’s not just a matter of taking advantage of the opportunity available in the now largest business software segment – CRM – which Gartner said hit $ 40 billion in 2017 (and will hit $ 66 billion by 2021). It is also because, to effect digital transformation which as Esteban Kolsky so often rightly points out isn’t really “digital” transformation but business transformation – companies need to become more customer engaged than they currently are. The technology needed is the technology that operationalizes the customer facing efforts that the company has to make. That allows the company to design the strategies and implement the programs that both create and sustain the customer’s commitments to that company. But to be that, one way or the other, involves the entirety of a company, not just the technology, not just the design and execution of the strategy and programs, not just the culture, not just the actual interactions between the company and the customer – but ALL OF IT.

As a technology company, what SAP brings to the table, is that they offer enterprises, and even much of the mid-market an end-to-end technology matrix and are, for the most part – though with a major flaw (PRIMITIVE PLATFORM) (more later) – organized to provide it that way. Arguably, Oracle has that too, but their current way of organizing their technology offerings doesn’t support the idea of an end to end matrix or ecosystem. This can be a market advantage for SAP but there is a lot to do to make this happen.

So, let me start with what I like about the SAP move – and then what I don’t or am concerned about.

The name of the game is I like it like that…

  1. I like the pivot of the company itself. This is an area that SAP has been preparing to focus on for three years – and, especially given my worldview when it comes to CRM, customer engagement, and customer experience – can be an area that they potentially can excel in. The commitment to the customer facing market is genuine and the resources are going to be made available throughout the company to make sure that what has to be done is done. I have no doubt about that commitment.
  2. I like their global positioning around the Intelligent Enterprise – a lot. Its one that they can arguably make the case for – and can be a true differentiator for them – and that they can show to be more than marketing hype by their offerings in the front office, the back office and the supply chain including their very advanced customer-facing work in digital supply chain (done by the amazing Hala Zeine). This is SO much better than the rightfully maligned “SAP Runs Simple” messaging of the last few years since it decidedly does not. Intelligent Enterprise is one that while they are not uniquely suited for – Infor can make the claim, Oracle, stretching it could, but regardless, for SAP, it just works.
  3. I like Alex Atzberger as the leader of SAP Customer Experience Cloud (more later on the name itself). He is universally well regarded, likeable, intelligent and respected throughout SAP and for those who know him outside of SAP, all that outside of SAP, too. His story, which I won’t repeat here, is well worth hearing. A great choice to run the this now most important effort at SAP. He is also making himself readily available which is something that was NOT at all an SAP Hybris leadership hallmark. He is a fast learner. Big thumbs up here.
  4. I like that SAP Hybris is no longer SAP Hybris and that Hybris itself is now the Commerce Cloud. Absorbing the Hybris brand into SAP, regardless of all the very positive changes due to Hybris’ impact (there were many) is the right move. It’s been overdue. SAP acquired Hybris, not the other way around.
  5. The SAP acquisition strategy led to two of the best acquisitions I’ve seen in many years – Gigya and Callidus Cloud. Both of these companies — which I had much more than a passing acquaintance with — were brilliant acquisitions. Gigya, the leader in customer identity management, not only provides SAP with 1.2 billion verified customer identities (almost 17% of the planet, people), but SAP has already used it to generate three GPDR-compliant products with proactive GDPR-readiness tools, SAP Identity, SAP Consent, SAP Profile. Callidus Cloud, a company that I advised for four years right up to the acquisition, provides SAP with the sales (and some marketing) enhancements for SAP’s more traditionally focused Sales and Marketing capabilities. For example, the Callidus Cloud sales onboarding application, built on the Callidus Cloud Litmos Learning Management System (LMS) is arguably the best I’ve ever seen and, from what I understand, not only will be sold by the SAP Customer Experience Cloud teams, but will become SAP’s internal sales onboarding system. Callidus Cloud is a perfect fit for SAP (or honestly, would have been for literally all the major vendors) and their unique blend of services and solutions will go a long way to differentiating C/4 HANA from the pack. Its arguably the linchpin for SAP’s customer experience cloud offerings.
  6. SAP placing a bet on microservices is something I like – a lot. They have a microservices platform YaaS. While I can’t tell you how great it is or how bad it since I haven’t seen it in any depth other than a few demos, I can tell you that SAP has a strong commitment to making it a core piece of their current customer-facing thrust. I am a firm believer that microservices are one of the pillars of the future when it comes to engaging customers and when it comes to crafting customer experiences. I think Esteban Kolsky, in a white paper he wrote, sponsored by SAP Hybris in 2017, lays out the case really well. Here is an excerpt: “Microservices will dramatically redefine the future of customer interactions, evolving service from large, complex applications to multiple independent function. Enter microservices: the Swiss army knife of the cloud computing age. This cloud-plus-apps approach lets you rewrite the rules by letting customers create the experience they need, in a time and place that works for them.” I couldn’t say it any more clearly. An example of its great success is WeChat, the ubiquitous-in-China mobile platform. Their “appstore” is actually a microservices store where there are millions of “apps” that actually allow you to craft a series of services such as making airline, hotel, or whatever reservations, transferring money, etc. that can be done via shortcode and mobile messaging. SAP’s commitment is notable and important, and provided that YaaS is a) a true platform, and b) more than a series of demos, can give them a market leading position.
  7. I like that they have revamped the offering and kind of categorized it into industry standard names e.g. Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Service Cloud, and Commerce Cloud. I can’t say I like the rebranding of Gigya around the Customer Data Cloud. Customer data sits “horizontally” in an offering, Clouds are solutions or applications i.e. vertical. Nothing horizontal is a cloud. This isn’t just endemic to SAP – all their competitors do the same thing. A layer is named a cloud. Not wise. That said, the other four – might as well make them Sales, Service, Marketing, and Commerce Clouds. There are usually two options – a highly creative name that reflects what the products or platform layers do (e.g. PROS Monet, Salesforce Einstein), or, if not that, then the name that can be googled and you will come out in the search (as will your competitors). So the four clouds that SAP Customer Experience provides – are the same exact names as everyone else’s and that’s just fine. That puts them in the mix when research for a solution is going on.

What I don’t like….

  1. Positioning their move as one to “take over” the CRM market from Salesforce is unwise and not only one that they won’t win but one that doesn’t do them, their customers, future customers or anyone else any good because it has no value in highlighting what SAP has to offer. It only does what does what all the other players in the industry do, which is to position Salesforce as the alpha – which helps Salesforce, not SAP (or Oracle, or Microsoft or any competitor of Salesforce for that matter.) They would be much wiser to work with their strengths.
  2. Calling their overall CRM related or what they call their customer experience suite C/4 HANA First, it’s time to stop putting in HANA as part of an overarching product name. HANA, which for those of you who don’t know is SAP’s in memory data processing and management engine. It’s a vital part of what they do but by putting it in the name of their back-office suite S/4 HANA and now their “front office” suite, C/4 HANA they limit their world view and they make it seem that the suite itself is limited to working with HANA. I know they are in part trying to stop encroachment on their customer base by Salesforce et al but this name doesn’t help them stop it. C/4HANA is a very poor name because:
    1. It is limiting with its inclusion of HANA in the name and implies no way to integrate with something outside SAP which in this day and age is deadly.
    2. It is a colorless name and tells you very little except that you probably can assume that C means customer. Big deal.
    3. Apparently the “4” means 4th generation of CRM, not “for” though of course, in the infinite cleverness of vendor naming conventions it means that too since I imagine in S/4HANA, the 4 isn’t for the 4th generation of “S” – whatever that is. Just doesn’t work for me.
    4. I have no idea what the 4th generation of CRM is. I read a piece on it by SAP and still have no idea. That name means they’d better be ready to explain that – now.
    5. C4 is a plastic explosive. Not something you want to be associated with – ever.
  3. Talking about how we are undergoing a customer revolution as if this is a new revelation. It is not, it is over 10 years old and it is a fact of life at this point. Transformation of the customer’s needs, wants, demands, and control occurred due to the communications revolution that began more than 15 years ago. It is continuous as the technology evolves, the customers mature and the world changes, but its not a new revelation, it’s something that we all have been not just writing about but have been living for the last decade plus. Calling this customer revolution something new is like saying that mobile is a “trend.” They are how we live.
  4. This is a company that can provide end-to-end (and back to front) technology. While on the front end I’ve seen them rename their offerings, I haven’t seen any indication of how they intend to knit the offering into a unified matrix that provides enterprise customers – theirs or otherwise – with the ecosystem they require from SAP. Meaning they haven’t proven to me or anyone that their products can do what they are claiming they can. Because they aren’t showing the products, just the messages. They need to move on this fast. Or their efforts will come to bupkis (literally beans in Yiddish. Colloquially meaning “nothing of value”).

What I’d like to see more of or more about

  1. Moving from SAP Hybris to SAP Customer Experience is something that requires a lot more than just a name change. As I outlined in part one of my post on Adobe a few weeks ago, customer experience means a lot of things to a lot of people and a lot of things to just me too. Here are some of the differences in the use of customer experience where I distinguish between the overarching (my favorite word these days) customer experience, consumable experiences and brand experience – all of which are used in the service of customer experience by a lot more than just me. I need to see how SAP is thinking about this. They have gone from SAP CRM to SAP Customer Engagement to SAP Hybris Customer Engagement and Commerce to now, SAP Customer Experience. I thought when SAP went to Customer Engagement (not CEC) that they had nailed the market and aligned with it where it was as CRM morphed from its purer form to the operational core of a larger engagement protoplasm. I’m not as thrilled as I was then but I’m willing to listen. But SAP has to explain it. (More below on this too)
  2. SAP is without a doubt a master of vertical markets. I’ve seen their industry process maps and their templates and their knowledgebase by industry and they are by far the best of any vendor’s I’ve seen. By far. They are dominant in the back office of many markets for many years, oil and gas being one of the paradigmatic examples of a 30 year (give or take) cycle of dominant market position. But they have given little indication of their vertical strategy re: the pivot. The implications of going at verticals in the front office are gigantic (I don’t use huge anymore. Guess why). First, Oracle CX is well positioned in many verticals, including public sector – a big SAP focus. Second, Salesforce partners are taking up the cudgel for that and you have companies like Veeva and Vlocity moving fast and doing a great job in encroaching on vertical territories. Microsoft has an enormous reach in verticals ranging from sports (though it is declining there) to healthcare and government also – even construction. But SAP still has the trust of many of those specific markets, so they have a leg up on a lot of the vendors. But I wouldn’t waste any time developing a vertical strategy and specific vertical market targets if I were SAP. So far, there is no indication they have done that.
  3. Ecosystems and Platforms are the future and the present. All of SAP’s competitors have been moving in this direction. Oracle still has a way to go in both ecosystems planning and platform development – or at least the public announcement of that. Microsoft, with the release of PowerApps has the tool that all the other companies should envy and that with Azure et al cements them as a possible leader in platforms if they are smart enough to follow through. As far as ecosystems go, Microsoft’s partnership with Adobe is an indication of their understanding of ecosystems as a strategic GTM (go to market) effort, not a partner-in-a-marketplace tactical effort.t Salesforce has been focused on building the Customer Success Platform and its previous incarnations since 2002 and is learning quickly how to harness their organic ecosystem – the largest one I’ve ever seen in a business – strategically, rather than let is roil, roll and dissipate into slots in the AppExchange. So SAP needs to get on the ball now with that. SAP has always imperfectly but still better than most, understood ecosystems. While they seem to have the pieces for a platform (YaaS etc) I don’t see any indication that they are thinking that directly about it. If I were them, I’d publicize the platform and I’d run through an ecosystem building exercise to see what the end to end intelligent enterprise actually requires. But that’s just me.
  4. Thought leadership is going to need a revamp. That said, I want to be clear that its not due to deficiencies in that area either in the back office or the front office. In the front office, their thought leadership site The Future of Customer Engagement & Commerce, aside from a ponderous name that I presume will be rebranded anyway, was the best in the industry. But they are pivoting the entire company around the Intelligent Enterprise and Customer Experience and that has decidedly NOT been their thought leadership focus for the last several years so they are going to have to build a substantial refresh of the content. Both internally and with the support of external specialists. There isn’t much there to support their new initiative. Plus, even though The Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce is clearly the site focused on the customer-facing efforts of the company, it can’t ignore the Intelligent Enterprise in all its thinking. Now that the company has decided to go after the emotional market that CRM and CX and CE represent, they are going to have to change a lot of things about the way they do their business – thought leadership, again, respecting the quality of their past material, needs a serious upgrade.
  5. Follow through is the last one and the one that I’m most concerned about. I don’t doubt the seriousness of SAP’s commitment to take on this new direction. But, I’ve been waiting to see this more than three years now. Its now been announced. Been announced though isn’t the same as execution or transformation. The company has a lot of changing to do and actions to take which I am hopeful they will.


Let me kind of sum this up. Honestly, I could have written a lot more about the company, having been their adviser for more than a decade and having covered them even longer than that – and having been someone, who both marvels at their innovation and scope and marvels at their historic inability to tell that story.

At the highest level, I like this move by SAP – its one I thought was long overdue. But I’m not complaining. They made the move and for that they should be applauded. I think that this benefits them, the industry, the market, and their current and future customers – if they actually stay consistent and execute well against their pronouncement. However, I am concerned for all the reasons stated above, but optimistic because of the positives that are already there and their new leadership. Its good to see this happen. I’ve been in the CRM industry for the last 25 years or so and have a pretty damned good knowledge of what it was, is, and will be – and what customer engagement and experience were, are, and will be. SAP is hitting many of the right buttons, because a. they are market aware and b. they smell the money when it comes to the CRM market. And I say, good for them. I hope it works but I am waiting to see and they still have a lot to do. But I am hopeful they can and all will benefit if they do.


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Improving Customer Empathy With Machine Learning

 Improving Customer Empathy With Machine Learning

In a February 2018 interview, Liz Goli, Commissioner of Queensland’s Office of State Revenue (OSR), sat back in her chair: “The machine can actually improve our empathy with our customers,” she reflected. Now that’s interesting – the idea that an unfeeling machine could help human beings be more empathetic towards other human beings!

Late last year, OSR implemented a successful machine learning prototype, and it’s moving forward with a production pilot of this emerging technology. “We don’t want a system where the machine is making decisions. But we do want the machine to offer up next best-action recommendations to our staff that they have the option to follow – or not – based on their experience and knowledge of how the legislation should be applied… We’d also like a system that can ingest Big Data and take action within certain parameters. For example, in case of a natural disaster, the machine might be able to find out which customers are impacted and replace debt-collection notices with proactive letters giving additional time to pay.”

From action-reaction to proactive and personalized

OSR is responsible for collecting taxes and royalties and administering the First Home Owners’ Grant for Australians residing in the State of Queensland. The revenue collected by the Office provides about A$ 17 billion (€11 billion) in annual income for the state, which is reinvested in roads, schools, hospitals, and community services. With less than 500 staff members servicing over 2 million taxpayers, the Office needs to deliver highly efficient and automated services while minimizing costly and time-consuming manual processes. Moreover, OSR needs to unlock the information in the Office’s vast data holdings to deliver the kind of customer-centric, digitally enabled services desired by government, businesses, and the community.

Timely collection of taxation revenue is key to the government’s ability to fund essential services. But each year up to five percent of revenues are uncollected by the due date, amounting to an A$ 882 million (€555 million) liability in FY16. Default on Land Tax is particularly high, with over 15% of revenues uncollected by the due date, amounting to an A$ 112 million (€70 million) liability in FY16.

For most of us, it’s difficult to fathom how such sums of money could be recovered, but as Ms. Goli said, what happens at an individual level is actually quite simple: “We expect the debtor to pay, and if they don’t then we start to remind them, and after each reminder we sit back and wait. Our process can be described as action-reaction, action-reaction – every action we do is supposed to prompt a reaction from the customer. But because we haven’t historically done a lot of analysis about what reactions our actions provoked, we haven’t always understood our customers’ motivations.”

Therefore, to achieve their strategic objective of reducing liabilities, Ms. Goli and her team knew that they first needed to understand what factors lead some customers to pay on time, while others do not. The challenge was how to uncover the insights buried within the Office’s Big Data holdings – this is where machine learning came in. The Office’s machine learning prototype analyzed 187 million records to provide a prediction of risk by taxpayer and identify the events and influences that lead to payment default. These may be things that OSR has control over (e.g., processes and interactions), things that the government dictates (e.g., policy and legislation), or external impacts (e.g., natural disasters). The machine makes the links between cause and effect, enabling the Office to be proactive in its responses and personalized in its treatment.

Understanding customer motivations

But at the individual level, how do you begin to understand the motivations of someone you’ve never even met? The answer lies in visualization of their journey. Ms. Goli explains: “Traditionally we’ve worked with data in spreadsheets, but we’ve discovered that data visualization is really important. People are visual, and we’re better able to identify patterns with a visual representation of data than with data in a spreadsheet.” So, it’s not only the surfacing of key events and influences, but also how these are presented on a timeline that enables staff to truly understand customer motivations.

In the example of one high-value taxpayer, OSR discovered that his behavior over five years has been to ignore the Office’s debt collection notices until he receives a final legal notice, at which point he promptly settles his debt. Visualization of this particular customer’s journey caused OSR to conclude that his behavior is not motivated by an inability to pay on time, but by a deliberate tactic of delayed settlement. Now the Office has the insight required to design a debt collection strategy for this cohort of one. “We can write to him explaining that we’ve noticed that he only ever pays on the final notice, so we’re not going to bother him anymore with multiple reminders – from now on he’ll get one reminder, then the next letter will be a final legal notice. Equally, for taxpayers who typically do the right thing but are non-compliant in a particular instance, we can design a strategy for them.”

A right-from-the-start approach

Ultimately, the Office’s debt collection strategy is all about proactive compliance. In this respect, OSR has borrowed the mantra “right from the start” from the OECD’s Forum on Tax Administration (FTA). The FTA aims to influence the environment in which tax systems operate to move from a confrontational dialogue to more constructive engagement with taxpayers. The proactive compliance approach recognizes that taxpayers are motivated by perceptions of deterrence (the risk of detection and the severity of punishment), norms (both personal and social), opportunities for non-compliance, fairness (distributive, procedural, and retributive), economic factors, and interactions between the taxpayer and the revenue office.

Right from the start” emphasizes the need to create an environment that encourages compliant behavior by acting in real time and up-front; focusing on end-to-end processes; making it easy to comply (and difficult not to); and actively involving and engaging taxpayers to achieve a better understanding of their perspective. For OSR, this translates into four policy and practice strategies: designing risk-based revenue management interactions; fostering meaningful relationships with customers and partners; developing enhanced services through digital methods; and building a capable, change-responsive workforce. Perhaps most importantly, the Office is leveraging the insights gained through machine learning to redesign business processes with the customer at the center.

Customer-centricity is about efficiency and confidence

It’s not uncommon to for retail expectations of customer self-service to be transposed onto digital government initiatives. But as Ms. Goli explains, “in a government context, customer-centricity isn’t about providing a retail-like online shopping experience. It’s about providing a highly efficient service where people have confidence that they’re receiving the right information at the right time.” To achieve this, OSR needs to leverage its Big Data assets and apply them in a transparent way. “We want to get to the point that what we see is what they see. We’ll show them what we know about them, and they can correct it with us. This will create a mature relationship built on mutual obligations, where we trust them and they trust us.”

But customer-centricity isn’t just about delivering a great customer experience – it also has a role to play in delivering the Office’s proactive compliance objectives. Where traditionally revenue offices tend to look at compliance tax-by-tax, a customer-centric approach checks whether the taxpayer is fully compliant across all their tax affairs. For example, some businesses might always ensure that they’re compliant for one type of tax, where the consequences for non-payment are greater, but they’re consistently non-compliant for other types of taxes. In this way, a customer-centric view gives insight into the taxpayer’s true compliance behavior. This might cause the Office to reassess whether it should continue to offer payment arrangements for one tax type to someone who is a serial late-payer of other taxes, or whether it should take the standard approach with someone who is generally compliant across all their payment obligations.

Further, since debt is often a leading indicator of hardship, a customer-centric approach can highlight instances where a taxpayer might be struggling or a business might be failing. This could prompt the government to proactively reach out to the customer with an offer of assistance. When asked to summarize how she expects machine learning to change the way the Office engages with taxpayers in the future, Ms. Goli replied, “in the midst of all the digital, people want a human connection more than ever before. A connection that is proactive and personalized. Machine learning will provide OSR with a capability to deliver this to our customers, completely transforming our engagement in the future.”

Enabling data-driven policy and practice

By enabling evidence-based decision-making, machine learning is fundamentally changing the ways of working at OSR. Ms. Goli and her team see the potential for:

  • Manual decision-making based on only a small percentage of the data that is available, to be replaced by machine-generated proposals based on all available data;
  • Revenue agents to be able to leverage the insights garnered from machine learning while on calls with customers to better understand their situation and provide enhanced levels of service;
  • Collection agents to be freed from actions that drive little value to focus on interventions that will make a real difference to both the Office’s customers and revenue outcomes; and
  • Risk profiling and segmentation to be used to drive more proactive campaigns and compliance activities aligning with the Office’s risk-based revenue management approach.

The insights gained through machine learning also have the potential to be used as input into future policy development. “We now have the evidence to support our advice that if you design it this way, this is what the likely reaction will be.” Thereby, data-driven insights can help strengthen the voice of the administrative arm of government to policy-makers, influencing legislative change based on service delivery experience.

Gather more insight on The Human Side Of Machine Learning.

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Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement View Usage Logger using Azure Functions and Application Insights

I recently received the same request from two customers, so I felt maybe it might be a good topic to discuss here so others can take advantage of it as well. The request was as follows: The customers wanted a way to track active usage of the Views in their system to find out which ones actually got used. They can use this information to deactivate unused Views, and consolidate their list of views for each entity to only the ones needed by their users.

In order to help accomplish this goal, I’m going to use an asynchronous Service Bus plugin registered on the Retrieve message for the SavedQuery entity. This will tell us every time we retrieve a view definition, which should only happen when a user clicks a view from a view picker or through advanced find. There will also be times when the view definition has already been retrieved and is cached locally, so we’ll essentially be tracking “cold loads” of Views, or the first time they are retrieved in a browser session per user.

This article will have a very similar alternative that I created for customers who prefer Log Analytics to Application Insights. The alternative uses a Logic App in Azure to grab the message from the Service Bus Queue and push the data to log analytics.



Identify views with the most traffic/requests, so that other unused views can be deleted and highly used ones can be optimized.


  • Register Service Endpoint message on Retrieve of Saved Query entity in CRM. This will asynchronously post the execution context containing the view data to a Service Bus Queue/Topic, where it can be retrieved by a Logic App.
  • The Logic App will parse out the relevant data (Entity Name, View Name) from the execution context, and pass to an Azure Function which will insert it into an Application Insights Tenant where it is logged and can be reported on.


  • Service Bus Queue created in an Azure subscription, need the connection string for step 2b.



  1. Create Service Bus Queue or Topic
  2. Register Service Endpoint in the CRM Plugin Registration Tool
    1. Register->New Service Endpoint
    2. Paste in a Connection string retrieved from the Azure Portal
    3. On the next screen, Change the Message type from .Net Binary to JSON, Enter the Queue or Topic Name
    4. Click OK
  3. Attach a message processing step to the new service endpoint in the Plugin Registration Tool
    1. Register->New Step
    2. In Message, enter Retrieve
    3. In Primary Entity, enter savedquery
    4. Change Execution Mode to Asynchronous
    5. Click Register
  4. Create an Azure Function App to help translate the JSON from the plugin
    1. In the Azure Portal, click New->Serverless Function App
    2. Give the App a unique name, Resource Group, Storage Account
    3. Click Create
    4. Click the +/Add button, add a new HTTPTrigger function
    5. Use this code for your function:

      #r “Newtonsoft.Json”

      using System.Net;

      using System;

      using Newtonsoft.Json;

      using System.Collections.Generic;

      using Microsoft.ApplicationInsights;

      private static TelemetryClient telemetry = new TelemetryClient();

      public static async Task<HttpResponseMessage> Run(HttpRequestMessage req, TraceWriter log)


      dynamic data = await req.Content.ReadAsAsync<object>();



      //log as much additional information from CRM as we can for auditing

      //we can get CorrelationId, which ties directly back to the plugin

      //execution and is also useful for Microsoft support to have

      //UserId could also be helpful so you can tie a view retrieve directly

      //back to a user in case you want to find out why they use that particular view

      //giving a static Operation Name string will allow you to quickly filter

      //down results to this type of operation if your Application Insights instance is heavily used


      telemetry.Context.Operation.Id = data.CorrelationId.ToString();

      telemetry.Context.User.Id = data.UserId.ToString();

      telemetry.Context.Operation.Name = “View Accessed”;

      string target = data.Target.ToString();

      KeyValuePair<string,object>[] entity = JsonConvert.DeserializeObject<KeyValuePair<string,object>[]>(target);

      List<KeyValuePair<string,object>> entList = entity.ToList<KeyValuePair<string,object>>();

      Dictionary<string,object> entDict = entList.ToDictionary(k=>k.Key,v=>v.Value);

      string newJson = JsonConvert.SerializeObject(entDict);

      telemetry.TrackEvent(entDict[“returnedtypecode”].ToString() + ” – ” + entDict[“name”].ToString());

      return req.CreateResponse(HttpStatusCode.OK, newJson);


    6. Create a new file in your project by expanding View files on the right, click Add, name the file project.json
    7. Open project.json and add this code:


      “frameworks”: {


      “dependencies”: {

      “Microsoft.ApplicationInsights”: “2.2.0”





    8. The above code will tell the Azure function to download a nuget package for Application Insights.
  5. Now we can start to test the functionality, to start, login to CRM, Navigate to an entity, change the view
    1. You can monitor the console in your Function App to see if any errors occur
  6. Start reviewing results in Application Insights
    1. In the Azure portal, find Azure Functions and choose the Function App you created for this exercise.
    2. Click Application Insights
      1. From here you can click Analytics (small button in the ribbon), then click the + new tab button
      2. Intellisense is very good so as you keep typing you can tab to complete your entries
      3. Here is a sample query to display the top views in order in a bar graph format:


      | where timestamp >= ago(30d)

      | project name

      | summarize count() by name

      | order by count_ desc nulls last

      | where count_ > 2

      | render barchart

    3. The first line is the “table” name if you were comparing this query to a SQL query
    4. The next lines all begin with a pipe (|) operator which is just syntax, after that more querying keywords are specified. “where” is just like SQL, specifying a filter clause
    5. |project col1,col2,col3 specifies the columns to retrieve, like a “select” in sql. Omitting the project line is fine to retrieve all columns
    6. Comment lines out with // to try omitting various lines
    7. Functions help with dynamic time operations, like the ago(30d) function to only look back 30 days of logs, you can also use “m” for minutes “h” for hours, “d” for days
    8. |where count_ > 2 tells the query to forget about the views that only have 1 or 2 views and filter these out
    9. |summarize is the group by operator equivalent. In summarize you can use aggregates like count() max() avg(), followed by the keyword “by” which specifies columns to group on.
    10. |render barchart makes the output a graphical format, omitting makes it a table.
    11. Here is a sample output:

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Dynamics CRM in the Field

Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement Slow Form Loads for One User

I recently helped out on an issue with slow Dynamics 365 form loads. It was somewhat unique because the poor performance was only observed for one user, for one entity type(PhoneCall). However, every PhoneCall record that the user opened had the issue. We started with a somewhat typical approach investigating business rules, JavaScript, synchronous retrieve plugins, all the normal customization types we might see execute when a form loads. Disabling or removing any/all of them seemed to make no difference at all. We also investigated the roles/teams that this user was a member of, testing with other similar users and not seeing the same issue.


After some thought, we decided to query the UserUISettings record for this user/record type. This entity is used to store a record for each user, and each entity type the user accesses, the primary focus of each record is to cache the formxml from the last time the user accessed one of these records, and keep a cache of the records the user viewed, commonly referred to as Most Recently Used (MRU) data. This is displayed in the Dynamics 365 navigation in a dropdown next to the entity name, like this:

061118 2211 Dynamics3651 Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement Slow Form Loads for One User

Since this issue affected only one user and for only one entity type, an issue with a UserUISettings record potentially makes sense here. I asked the user to query their UserUISettings for PhoneCall and send me the results. Here is a sample query they can execute in the browser to find this information out:


<org>.crm.dynamics.com/api/data/v8.2/userentityuisettingsset?$ filter=_owninguser_value eq <user guid> and objecttypecode eq 4210


The column RecentlyViewedXml typically returns 5-10 recently viewed records in xml format, the xml will contain the datatype, primary name, id of the record. In the case of the user with the issue, the xml was very large, and contained 17,259 records. Trying to render this massive dataset in every form the user opened would almost certainly cause a performance problem.


It’s important to mention that the application is in charge of keeping this xml a manageable size, and that there was an old defect identified that prevented this cleanup. That defect has long since been corrected in the application, however we’ve observed that if these records grew to an unmanageable size, the cleanup never happens or times out/fails. Therefore a one-time cleanup for affected users is a viable long term solution and not just a stop-gap.


One thing that makes cleaning up this data very challenging, is that it is stored in two places. First in the UserEntityUISettings record in the database like we discussed but it is also cached in Html DOM storage on the browser. You can see this by navigating to Dynamics 365, opening the f12 developer tools in your browser, and typing localStorage in the console and pressing Enter. This cache/database relationship is not one directional as you might think, but they actually try to keep each other in sync. Therefore, if we delete everything from the RecentlyViewedXml field in the database, the next time we access Dynamics 365, the browser cache will upload all the bad data back to the server and we won’t observe any performance improvement. There needs to be a tandem effort to clear the localStorage cache and server data at the same time (or very close to it).


To assist with this effort, I created a solution that uses supported sdk methods to delete the data from the UserEntityUISettings record and clear the localStorage cache. Since it needs to execute on the browser of the affected user, there is a dashboard included in the solution that can be shared with users. When the user is instructed to navigate to the dashboard, they have the option of selecting an entity to clear the data for, or clear for all entities. The output window will provide progress updates and let the user know once the task is complete and they will not need to do any other steps like clearing history or closing the browser.


A view of the dashboard is included below.



061118 2211 Dynamics3652 Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement Slow Form Loads for One User

061118 2211 Dynamics3653 Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement Slow Form Loads for One User

Hope this helps,



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Dynamics CRM in the Field

Trust And Understanding: Winning Customer Relationships

 Trust And Understanding: Winning Customer Relationships

The digital age has created a lifestyle only a few could have imagined even a decade ago. Just look at how the dating scene has changed. Starting a relationship is now as easy as downloading a dating app on your smartphone or opening a video chat to nurture and grow relationships.

In my previous post, I talked about this evolution and what it means: Winning customer relationships means that brands have to show customers the love or risk losing them. But how do you turn that love into something long-term and meaningful?

You need a strategy to find and connect with consumers to establish a relationship. You then grow that relationship by building trust and letting consumers know how special they are to you.

Where to find love

When people are searching for that “someone special,” they don’t always know where to look.

Similarly, brands must identify all the online channels where customers share information, spend time, and make purchases. If you have physical channels such as stores, call centers, and pop-ups, create a symbiotic experience that matches the online one.

Know who you want

Once you’ve found them, make sure you recognize and understand your customers. What are they interested in? What bugs them? What makes them tick? To do this, you need to track where your customers are online and offline – and capture that data

Give them what they desire

Once you know where your customers spend time, you need to collect information to deepen your understanding of them. Now take that data and turn it into actionable initiatives and responses that are intuitive to your customers’ behavior.

That collected data will translate to all the ways a brand can understand and reward customers to build loyalty. What does this look like in practice? Let’s take a look at how a brand uses data collection to identify and bond with its customers.

Palladium Hotel Group: Bringing the party to customers

Palladium Hotel Group is an excellent example of how to turn customers into fans. The Spanish brand wanted to stand out from competitors by building a connection with customers, so it spent time getting to know them. It started by taking all its data and identifying not just who their customers are, but also what they need.

At the Ushuaïa Ibiza Beach Hotel, Palladium introduced wearable technology – a bracelet – that lets guests ditch their room key, purse, or wallet. The bracelet enables purchases directly to guests’ accounts and acts as a room key. It means they can soak up the sun by the pool and order cocktails without worrying.  Meanwhile, on social media, Palladium aligned the Ushuaïa brand with the interests of its clientele: music, fashion, and entertainment.

This all started with the data: collecting it, contextualizing it, then responding in real time. With it, Palladium identified what customers want and, in turn, built a large community of fans.

Beyond the fact that it has a vast online community, Palladium realized a 22% increase in email open rates. With its focus on real-time response to customers, it also delivers campaigns 55% more quickly.

How to nurture the love

Trust is the foundation of all relationships, including brands.

But they have to earn it.

If customers are willing to share personal information, they expect brands to protect and respect it. In return, customers want that data sharing to deliver rewards.

Trust and understanding with data

The research supports this: Brands win or lose customer trust based on how their personal information is handled. The SAP Hybris Consumer Insights Survey asked consumers what they expect from brands when handling personal information.

The results showed that over two-thirds of consumers globally expect brands to protect their interests when using private data. The result in the US was even higher, with 72% of consumers having that expectation.

And customers require brands to be clear about their intentions. Consumers see transparency with data as essential, with more than half globally expecting this from brands when sharing data with affiliated partners. That number also increased in the US, with over two-thirds of consumers surveyed expecting transparency, substantially higher compared to the global average of 54%.

When getting to know customers, brands should first think about what information people are comfortable sharing, rather than what they want to know. The mindset should be customer-centric, delivering a service that rewards customers for their business.

Results from the Consumer Insights Survey demonstrate that people are most willing to share mobile numbers, emails, and shopping preferences. This data can be pooled and used to deliver loyalty campaigns and improved customer service across multiple channels.

ASICS: Love is like a marathon

For ASICS, trust is key to building closer relationships with customers. As a brand, it wants to put customers first by helping them achieve their personal goals, whether it’s completing a marathon, going to the gym more often, or improving run times.

Accomplishing this means developing a single repository for consumer information, aligned with a marketing execution and analytics platform. With it, they’re identifying and capturing customer information.

ASICS is developing meaningful ways to connect with customers online and nurturing fans. It’s about putting customer goals at the heart of sales and marketing initiatives. For example, a customer can visit a store and use ASICS’s Foot ID technology to measure their feet and running movement. The data is analyzed to provide a personalized product recommendation for the customer.

ASICS is also gathering information through its My ASICS app, designed to help running enthusiasts with their goals, progress, times and analysis. While the brand better understands customers now, customers are aligning their goals with ASICS, forging a deeper connection.

Data + Trust = Love

It’s a simple equation, but adding data and trust together helps brands find love with customers. Data collection is how you know who your customers are, their interests, and where to find them. Then it’s time to deliver wonderful ways to win their loyalty, just like Palladium Hotel Group and ASICS. Palladium uses this to give customers an experience they won’t forget. ASICS helps customers achieve their personal goals and look forward. Both focus on a customer-centric strategy driven by data.

For brands to have the trust, love, and loyalty from consumers, they need to be ever-present and ever-mindful of consumer expectations.

Times have changed. In order for consumers to seek out your brand, you have to show them you’re worth it.

Learn more about what consumers want from brands here.

This article originally appeared on the Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce.

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Digitalist Magazine

Setting Up Surveys with Voice of the Customer

Voice of the CUstomer 300x225 Setting Up Surveys with Voice of the Customer

Setting up surveys with Voice of the Customer allows users to quickly collect feedback from their customers to better understand how they are being serviced. Building and distributing surveys not only helps with customer service feedback, but can also be helpful in planning upcoming sales activities and targeted marketing. In today’s blog, we’ll walk you through getting started with Voice of the Customer and setting up a survey.

Getting Started

Voice of the Customer is available for Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Dynamics CRM Online 2016 (update and later). The solution can be installed from the Dynamics 365 Administration Center as shown in the image below.

060818 1819 SettingUpSu1 Setting Up Surveys with Voice of the Customer

Once installed, the Voice of the Customer solution has been added to the Solutions and the Voice of the Customer area is added to the navigation:

060818 1819 SettingUpSu2 Setting Up Surveys with Voice of the Customer

060818 1819 SettingUpSu3 Setting Up Surveys with Voice of the Customer

Planning and Building a Survey

Now that you have Voice of the Customer installed, you can plan and build your surveys. To maximize the effectiveness, be sure you have a clear understanding of what you want to capture from the customer and how the collected data will be actionable for your organization. You will also want to make sure the surveys are short and focused. Surveys will only be effective if they are designed well and have a clear goal.

Building the Survey

Start out by creating a theme for your survey by navigating to the Voice of the Customer tile and select Themes. This is where you can add branding or use CSS to additional formatting:

060818 1819 SettingUpSu4 Setting Up Surveys with Voice of the Customer

For this example, we will use the default theme. Now we are ready to create a survey!

Creating a Survey Record:

  1. Navigate to the Voice of the Customer tile and select Surveys.
  2. Create a new survey by clicking +New.
  3. Complete all required values and save the record:
  • This is where you can also select your theme and upload a logo from the Survey Runtime section.

060818 1819 SettingUpSu5 Setting Up Surveys with Voice of the Customer

Now we can add questions to the survey:

1. From your saved survey record, select Designer from the drop-down option:

060818 1819 SettingUpSu6 Setting Up Surveys with Voice of the Customer

The survey designer is broken into three sections:

  • Survey Page Layout: The left section is used to layout your pages for the survey. Three pages are required for the welcome, questions, and completion pages.
  • Page Editor: The middle section allows users to add survey components and edit the selected forms.
  • Survey Parts: The right section allows users to add survey sections to the pages. You can drag and drop sections from the right section into the page editor.

060818 1819 SettingUpSu7 Setting Up Surveys with Voice of the Customer

Now that you are finished designing the survey, you can select the Preview button from the tool bar to test the survey and verify that it is being rendered as designed.

Remember to save your survey record and you are finished! Now, your survey is ready to be distributed and sent to customers.

As always, happy D365’Ing!

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PowerObjects- Bringing Focus to Dynamics CRM

Alexa, what will customer service look like in 2025?

robot wear headset Alexa, what will customer service look like in 2025?

Good morning, this lovely Tuesday wherever you are. Once again, I have the distinct honor to introduce Brent Leary, CRM, conversational interface, social thought leader. His diverse interests are legion and he articulately writes about all of them and has become a recognized expert in multiple domains. Here is the second of his “Voices Carry” column on conversational interfaces. You’ll being seeing this most every Tuesday until he decides he doesn’t want to do it here anymore.


What will customer service look like in 2025?

I was asked this question as part of a great panel taking place at PegaWorld in Las Vegas. I was honored to join the following group of experts for this cool session:

  • Mike Asebrook – Director Product Marketing, Pegasystems
  • Ben Barton – Team Lead, Expert Customer Service Consultant, Pegasystems
  • Leslie Dickens – Vice President, Corporate & Product Strategy, NASCO

And if that weren’t cool enough, the moderator was the guy that’s sharing his blog with me to write this stuff. Although, if past panels with him are any indicator, if there’s a Yankees game going on at the same time, those sudden outbursts from him had nothing to do with the subject matter at hand…

TechRepublic: 6 strategies to reduce customer frustration with IoT devices

In preparation for the panel I decided to put some thoughts together, so why not do it here? And yeah, I could talk about chatbots and automation/AI, or what percentage of the contact center will be taken over by robots running the show. Or how real time support with IoT and connected devices are going to impact customer service’s relationship to other areas of the business. Or where blockchain will fit in with all of this. Rather, I guess I’ll do what I’ve been doing more and more since 2014, and ask Alexa. Because I think voice assistants will play a major role in shaping customer engagement in the not too distant future, and that includes customer service from both a reactive and predictive perspective, in some pretty fundamentally basic ways.

Typing is for algorithms, talking is for assistance — from assistants

One of the more interesting developments is the rather stealthy way one of the foundational aspects of what we do on the web is quickly transitioning and transforming our behavior. We’ve been searching for information and answers to problems forever, and for more than two decades the web has been the place we’ve turned to when we need answers and info. And that has traditionally meant typing into a box a few words we hope will help the algorithms running in the background find the best answer for us. So we’ve had to adjust our communication efforts away from our natural speech patterns to fit computer processes and procedures that quite honestly have been foreign to the vast majority of us. Let’s face it, writing for algorithms was forced on us and we had to fall in line to get what we wanted.

But over the past couple of years, with Natural Language Processing (NLP) capabilities really hitting their stride we’ve been able to use our voices instead of just our fingers to request the information we’ve been looking for. So much so that by 2020, according to a Comscore survey, 50 percent of all searches will be done by voice. To me that’s an astonishing statistic that really drives home just how quickly voice technology can disrupt a fundamental activity like search is today. But the reason why people are turning to voice search makes all the sense in the world. When asked for the main reason, the respondents said:

  1. It’s easier – 32.6 percent
  2. I can do it when I can’t type – 26.2 percent
  3. It’s faster – 25.7 percent
  4. It’s fun – 15.1 percent

So it’s easier, it’s accessible, it’s faster and it’s fun… and whatever that last .4 percent said. That all adds up to an accelerated transformation of a fundamental activity because we’re able to go back to using our natural way of communicating to get what we need and want. Which seems like a possible propellant to changes in consumer behaviors and expectations in other important areas, like customer service and experiences. And what customer wouldn’t want their experiences to be easier, more accessible, faster and fun…and more natural to boot. With more interactions taking place each day through digital assistants, the transformation is already happening, and it may happen faster and more vociferously with Alexa leading the way.

Why isn’t getting assistance whenever you need as easy as asking Alexa or Siri or Google Assistant?

Picking up on that easier theme from above: About five years ago I had the opportunity to interview Travelocity founder Terry Jones for my conversation series over at Small Business Trends. And of all the interesting things he said that day, one thing has lasted with me the most:

Constantly innovating is so important to keeping up with today’s customers. We expect from every website what we get from the very, very best website. Customers will ask why isn’t Larry’s Insurance Company website as good as Amazon? We get frustrated when it isn’t.

It’s easy to see now that Terry Jones was right, Amazon raised expectations for everyone who’s looking to do business online with customers, and it’s not just about the look, feel and ease of use of the website. It was also because of the processes and experiences they introduced that are also now expected by customers of just about every company on the web today. Not only free shipping, but free expedited shipping is pretty much a must have now. And relatively free and easy return policies have also been adopted out of necessity due to the Amazon effect (although return policies are not as free-wheeling as they used to be with Amazon…).

Also: AI and jobs: Where humans are better than algorithms, and vice versa

I think history has a pretty good chance to repeat itself, but instead of asking for your website to “be like Jeff’s”, this time by 2025 people may be asking you why your customer service isn’t as easy as asking Alexa…or Siri or GA (Google Assistant — man they need to come up with a better name than that). Because all of these assistants and the technologies that complement them (AI, NLP, IoT, etc) will constantly get better, and the data that will be available to make them smarter will get more vast, varied and voluminous. This will mean if companies like Amazon are able to leverage Alexa to provide more and better service experience to its customers, Larry (and the rest of us) is going to have to do the same thing, or else customers might get frustrated all over again. And chances are the frustration will come faster and be more catastrophic.

Primed for an explosion of interactions

Right now, every minute, there are billions of searches taking place and probably even more service requests being initiated and handled. But what will happen when it becomes easier and quicker to ask for something? The numbers we see today are going to pale in comparison to what we’ll see in the future. The types of issues that will crop up will grow as sensors in devices will interact with service processes (and other devices) in realtime to provide insights that can help keep customers happier and on board longer. So the scale we’ll be operating on will be tremendous, and customer expectations will continue to rise. And a more natural way of communicating with customers will help deliver better experiences and provide a better pathway to grow healthy, long lasting relationships over time. And, according to a Google study:

  1. 72 percent of voice activate speaker owners say that using their speakers have become a part of their daily routine
  2. 41 percent of voice speaker owners say talking to their speaker is like talking to a friend or another person

Now, of course, these folks are a part of the early adopter crowd. But these numbers point back to some of the numbers mentioned earlier. When technology can be used to allow us to communicate in a more natural fashion — and make fundamental, daily things easier and quicker to do — we tend to gravitate towards them at scale. And we’re beginning to see it happen with voice-first technology. Are we there yet? No. On we on the road to getting there? I think so. Will we get there by 2025? I’m not sure. But I’m guessing I’ll be able to ask Alexa when the time comes.

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ZDNet | crm RSS

How To Best Use Data To Reach Your Customer Anywhere

In a future teeming with robots and artificial intelligence, humans seem to be on the verge of being crowded out. But in reality the opposite is true.

To be successful, organizations need to become more human than ever.

Organizations that focus only on automation will automate away their competitive edge. The most successful will focus instead on skills that set them apart and that can’t be duplicated by AI or machine learning. Those skills can be summed up in one word: humanness.

You can see it in the numbers. According to David J. Deming of the Harvard Kennedy School, demand for jobs that require social skills has risen nearly 12 percentage points since 1980, while less-social jobs, such as computer coding, have declined by a little over 3 percentage points.

AI is in its infancy, which means that it cannot yet come close to duplicating our most human skills. Stefan van Duin and Naser Bakhshi, consultants at professional services company Deloitte, break down artificial intelligence into two types: narrow and general. Narrow AI is good at specific tasks, such as playing chess or identifying facial expressions. General AI, which can learn and solve complex, multifaceted problems the way a human being does, exists today only in the minds of futurists.

The only thing narrow artificial intelligence can do is automate. It can’t empathize. It can’t collaborate. It can’t innovate. Those abilities, if they ever come, are still a long way off. In the meantime, AI’s biggest value is in augmentation. When human beings work with AI tools, the process results in a sort of augmented intelligence. This augmented intelligence outperforms the work of either human beings or AI software tools on their own.

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AI-powered tools will be the partners that free employees and management to tackle higher-level challenges.

Those challenges will, by default, be more human and social in nature because many rote, repetitive tasks will be automated away. Companies will find that developing fundamental human skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving, within the organization will take on a new importance. These skills can’t be automated and they won’t become process steps for algorithms anytime soon.

In a world where technology change is constant and unpredictable, those organizations that make the fullest use of uniquely human skills will win. These skills will be used in collaboration with both other humans and AI-fueled software and hardware tools. The degree of humanness an organization possesses will become a competitive advantage.

This means that today’s companies must think about hiring, training, and leading differently. Most of today’s corporate training programs focus on imparting specific knowledge that will likely become obsolete over time.

Instead of hiring for portfolios of specific subject knowledge, organizations should instead hire—and train—for more foundational skills, whose value can’t erode away as easily.

Recently, educational consulting firm Hanover Research looked at high-growth occupations identified by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and determined the core skills required in each of them based on a database that it had developed. The most valuable skills were active listening, speaking, and critical thinking—giving lie to the dismissive term soft skills. They’re not soft; they’re human.

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This doesn’t mean that STEM skills won’t be important in the future. But organizations will find that their most valuable employees are those with both math and social skills.

That’s because technical skills will become more perishable as AI shifts the pace of technology change from linear to exponential. Employees will require constant retraining over time. For example, roughly half of the subject knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree, such as computer science, is already outdated by the time students graduate, according to The Future of Jobs, a report from the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The WEF’s report further notes that “65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist.” By contrast, human skills such as interpersonal communication and project management will remain consistent over the years.

For example, organizations already report that they are having difficulty finding people equipped for the Big Data era’s hot job: data scientist. That’s because data scientists need a combination of hard and soft skills. Data scientists can’t just be good programmers and statisticians; they also need to be intuitive and inquisitive and have good communication skills. We don’t expect all these qualities from our engineering graduates, nor from most of our employees.

But we need to start.

From Self-Help to Self-Skills

Even if most schools and employers have yet to see it, employees are starting to understand that their future viability depends on improving their innately human qualities. One of the most popular courses on Coursera, an online learning platform, is called Learning How to Learn. Created by the University of California, San Diego, the course is essentially a master class in human skills: students learn everything from memory techniques to dealing with procrastination and communicating complicated ideas, according to an article in The New York Times.

Although there is a longstanding assumption that social skills are innate, nothing is further from the truth. As the popularity of Learning How to Learn attests, human skills—everything from learning skills to communication skills to empathy—can, and indeed must, be taught.

These human skills are integral for training workers for a workplace where artificial intelligence and automation are part of the daily routine. According to the WEF’s New Vision for Education report, the skills that employees will need in the future fall into three primary categories:

  • Foundational literacies: These core skills needed for the coming age of robotics and AI include understanding the basics of math, science, computing, finance, civics, and culture. While mastery of every topic isn’t required, workers who have a basic comprehension of many different areas will be richly rewarded in the coming economy.
  • Competencies: Developing competencies requires mastering very human skills, such as active listening, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, communication, and collaboration.
  • Character qualities: Over the next decade, employees will need to master the skills that will help them grasp changing job duties and responsibilities. This means learning the skills that help employees acquire curiosity, initiative, persistence, grit, adaptability, leadership, and social and cultural awareness.

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The good news is that learning human skills is not completely divorced from how work is structured today. Yonatan Zunger, a Google engineer with a background working with AI, argues that there is a considerable need for human skills in the workplace already—especially in the tech world. Many employees are simply unaware that when they are working on complicated software or hardware projects, they are using empathy, strategic problem solving, intuition, and interpersonal communication.

The unconscious deployment of human skills takes place even more frequently when employees climb the corporate ladder into management. “This is closely tied to the deeper difference between junior and senior roles: a junior person’s job is to find answers to questions; a senior person’s job is to find the right questions to ask,” says Zunger.

Human skills will be crucial to navigating the AI-infused workplace. There will be no shortage of need for the right questions to ask.

One of the biggest changes narrow AI tools will bring to the workplace is an evolution in how work is performed. AI-based tools will automate repetitive tasks across a wide swath of industries, which means that the day-to-day work for many white-collar workers will become far more focused on tasks requiring problem solving and critical thinking. These tasks will present challenges centered on interpersonal collaboration, clear communication, and autonomous decision-making—all human skills.

Being More Human Is Hard

However, the human skills that are essential for tomorrow’s AI-ified workplace, such as interpersonal communication, project planning, and conflict management, require a different approach from traditional learning. Often, these skills don’t just require people to learn new facts and techniques; they also call for basic changes in the ways individuals behave on—and off—the job.

Attempting to teach employees how to make behavioral changes has always seemed off-limits to organizations—the province of private therapists, not corporate trainers. But that outlook is changing. As science gains a better understanding of how the human brain works, many behaviors that affect employees on the job are understood to be universal and natural rather than individual (see “Human Skills 101”).

Human Skills 101

As neuroscience has improved our understanding of the brain, human skills have become increasingly quantifiable—and teachable.

Though the term soft skills has managed to hang on in the popular lexicon, our understanding of these human skills has increased to the point where they aren’t soft at all: they are a clearly definable set of skills that are crucial for organizations in the AI era.

Active listening: Paying close attention when receiving information and drawing out more information than received in normal discourse

Critical thinking: Gathering, analyzing, and evaluating issues and information to come to an unbiased conclusion

Problem solving: Finding solutions to problems and understanding the steps used to solve the problem

Decision-making: Weighing the evidence and options at hand to determine a specific course of action

Monitoring: Paying close attention to an issue, topic, or interaction in order to retain information for the future

Coordination: Working with individuals and other groups to achieve common goals

Social perceptiveness: Inferring what others are thinking by observing them

Time management: Budgeting and allocating time for projects and goals and structuring schedules to minimize conflicts and maximize productivity

Creativity: Generating ideas, concepts, or inferences that can be used to create new things

Curiosity: Desiring to learn and understand new or unfamiliar concepts

Imagination: Conceiving and thinking about new ideas, concepts, or images

Storytelling: Building narratives and concepts out of both new and existing ideas

Experimentation: Trying out new ideas, theories, and activities

Ethics: Practicing rules and standards that guide conduct and guarantee rights and fairness

Empathy: Identifying and understanding the emotional states of others

Collaboration: Working with others, coordinating efforts, and sharing resources to accomplish a common project

Resiliency: Withstanding setbacks, avoiding discouragement, and persisting toward a larger goal

Resistance to change, for example, is now known to result from an involuntary chemical reaction in the brain known as the fight-or-flight response, not from a weakness of character. Scientists and psychologists have developed objective ways of identifying these kinds of behaviors and have come up with universally applicable ways for employees to learn how to deal with them.

Organizations that emphasize such individual behavioral traits as active listening, social perceptiveness, and experimentation will have both an easier transition to a workplace that uses AI tools and more success operating in it.

Framing behavioral training in ways that emphasize its practical application at work and in advancing career goals helps employees feel more comfortable confronting behavioral roadblocks without feeling bad about themselves or stigmatized by others. It also helps organizations see the potential ROI of investing in what has traditionally been dismissed as touchy-feely stuff.

Q118 ft2 image3 automation DD How To Best Use Data To Reach Your Customer AnywhereIn fact, offering objective means for examining inner behaviors and tools for modifying them is more beneficial than just leaving the job to employees. For example, according to research by psychologist Tasha Eurich, introspection, which is how most of us try to understand our behaviors, can actually be counterproductive.

Human beings are complex creatures. There is generally way too much going on inside our minds to be able to pinpoint the conscious and unconscious behaviors that drive us to act the way we do. We wind up inventing explanations—usually negative—for our behaviors, which can lead to anxiety and depression, according to Eurich’s research.

Structured, objective training can help employees improve their human skills without the negative side effects. At SAP, for example, we offer employees a course on conflict resolution that uses objective research techniques for determining what happens when people get into conflicts. Employees learn about the different conflict styles that researchers have identified and take an assessment to determine their own style of dealing with conflict. Then employees work in teams to discuss their different styles and work together to resolve a specific conflict that one of the group members is currently experiencing.

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Courses like this are helpful not just for reducing conflicts between individuals and among teams (and improving organizational productivity); they also contribute to greater self-awareness, which is the basis for enabling people to take fullest advantage of their human skills.

Self-awareness is a powerful tool for improving performance at both the individual and organizational levels. Self-aware people are more confident and creative, make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. They are also less likely to lie, cheat, and steal, according to Eurich.

It naturally follows that such people make better employees and are more likely to be promoted. They also make more effective leaders with happier employees, which makes the organization more profitable, according to research by Atuma Okpara and Agwu M. Edwin.

There are two types of self-awareness, writes Eurich. One is having a clear view inside of one’s self: one’s own thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses. The second type is understanding how others view us in terms of these same categories.

Interestingly, while we often assume that those who possess one type of awareness also possess the other, there is no direct correlation between the two. In fact, just 10% to 15% of people have both, according to a survey by Eurich. That means that the vast majority of us must learn one or the other—or both.

Gaining self-awareness is a process that can take many years. But training that gives employees the opportunity to examine their own behaviors against objective standards and gain feedback from expert instructors and peers can help speed up the journey. Just like the conflict management course, there are many ways to do this in a practical context that benefits employees and the organization alike.

For example, SAP also offers courses on building self-confidence, increasing trust with peers, creating connections with others, solving complex problems, and increasing resiliency in the face of difficult situations—all of which increase self-awareness in constructive ways. These human-skills courses are as popular with our employees as the hard-skill courses in new technologies or new programming techniques.

Depending on an organization’s size, budget, and goals, learning programs like these can include small group training, large lectures, online courses, licensing of third-party online content, reimbursement for students to attain certification, and many other models.
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Human Skills Are the Constant

Automation and artificial intelligence will change the workplace in unpredictable ways. One thing we can predict, however, is that human skills will be needed more than ever.

The connection between conflict resolution skills, critical thinking courses, and the rise of AI-aided technology might not be immediately obvious. But these new AI tools are leading us down the path to a much more human workplace.

Employees will interact with their computers through voice conversations and image recognition. Machine learning will find unexpected correlations in massive amounts of data but empathy and creativity will be required for data scientists to figure out the right questions to ask. Interpersonal communication will become even more important as teams coordinate between offices, remote workplaces, and AI aides.

While the future might be filled with artificial intelligence, deep learning, and untold amounts of data, uniquely human capabilities will be the ones that matter. Machines can’t write a symphony, design a building, teach a college course, or manage a department. The future belongs to humans working with machines, and for that, you need human skills. D!

About the Authors

Jenny Dearborn is Chief Learning Officer at SAP.

David Judge is Vice President, SAP Leonardo, at SAP.

Tom Raftery is Global Vice President and Internet of Things Evangelist at SAP.

Neal Ungerleider is a Los Angeles-based technology journalist and consultant.

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Increase Sales and Customer Engagement with Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Marketing

CRM Blog Increase Sales and Customer Engagement with Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Marketing

It has been a long time coming, but Microsoft’s marketing automation solution, Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Marketing, is now available, providing organizations with all the tools they need to automate campaigns, obtain better customer insights, and help drive their sales team.

Built on the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement platform (previously known as Microsoft Dynamics CRM), Dynamics 365 for Marketing leverages its intuitive, familiar interface to make it easier than ever to manage your marketing activities, increase customer engagement and facilitate the handoff to the sales team. As such, it allows users to:

  • Obtain a true 360° view of customers and prospects. Access all information regarding contacts, leads and customers to ensure that you have everything on hand to tailor your marketing campaigns and activities to their needs and better track them throughout the sales cycle.
  • Nurture leads with automated campaigns. Create campaigns, emails and landing pages with a simple, intuitive interface to attract potential customers. You can configure and personalize templates, manage events, and create online forms to gather data and keep leads engaged throughout the entire sales cycle.
  • Obtain better customer insights for better decisions. Create online forms and store the information to better identify customer interests and market trends, and to generate scores based on your own specific criteria. When a lead is hot, the handoff to the sales team can be done seamlessly and at the right time during the sales cycle.

Moreover, since the Dynamics 365 for Marketing solution is built on Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement, it provides the same adaptability and flexibility that this platform has come to be known for, ensuring that you can adapt to market trends and stay on top of technological developments to always reach customers through the appropriate channels.

This allows you to connect with them whenever, wherever, retaining their engagement to increase your chances of closing sales and providing the outstanding, personalized service that today’s customers have come to expect. For more information, read our article 5 Steps to Starting a Marketing Automation Practice Within Your Organization to nurture your leads in the long term.

By JOVACO Solutions, Microsoft Dynamics 365 marketing specialist in Quebec

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CRM Software Blog | Dynamics 365

Do You Have What it Takes to Be a Customer Experience Superhero? [Quiz]

JoeD365 Blog 300x225 Do You Have What it Takes to Be a Customer Experience Superhero? [Quiz]

In a world where data drives business success, there can be no room for error. Systems must operate efficiently, easily, and accurately to ensure excellent customer experiences. However, PowerObjects’ resident Superhero, Joe D365, has once again been pitted against one of his most unruly nemeses – Doctor Dirty Data. Joe D365 is calling on all available Customer Experience Superheroes to rid the world the world of the mayhem Doctor Dirty Data spreads. Is that you?

Do you have what it takes? Are you a Customer Experience Superhero? Take the quiz to find out if you have what it takes to join Joe D365.

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Clean, reliable data is critical to business success. By ensuring the world’s data is safe and secure, you and Joe D365 will ensure Dynamics 365 can continue to drive business innovation and positive customer experiences around the globe.

Joe’s waiting. Take the quiz now and see if you have what it takes to drive business innovation and become a Customer Experience Superhero.

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PowerObjects- Bringing Focus to Dynamics CRM