Tag Archives: Technologies
Value-added resellers deliver computing equipment, software and services that help organizations improve efficiency and visibility across their operations. VARs need those same capabilities themselves to thrive in a fast-paced and fiercely competitive industry that puts a premium on customer service.
GHA Technologies knows that first-hand. From its founding as a one-person shop in 1990, GHA has grown into a $ 141 million business reselling millions of products from 2,500 technology vendors such as Dell, HP, IBM, Cisco and Apple. Listed on the 2016 Inc. 5000 of America’s fastest-growing private companies, GHA has distinguished itself with a long history of superior customer service.
GHA Technologies is also distinguished by its early embrace of cloud ERP. In 2003, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based GHA was among the pioneering companies to abandon on-premise software and servers in favor of NetSuite’s cloud offering to run back-office operations.
George Hertzberg, GHA Technologies founder and president, credits the move to NetSuite as a key enabler of the 175-person company’s phenomenal success. GHA has increased revenue five-fold over its 13 years on NetSuite while expanding the customer base to more than 30,000.
“There’s no way we could have grown as much as we have without NetSuite,” said Hertzberg, who is featured in the NetSuite customer video below. “NetSuite’s scalability to handle growth, its speed and stability and on-demand reporting have been very valuable in enabling us to manage and grow the business.”
Before NetSuite, GHA struggled with a Sage Peachtree system that crashed frequently because of file size limitations. Required daily backups were time-consuming and unproductive, and reporting was slow and painful. GHA made the leap to the NetSuite cloud after examining on-premise Sage MAS 90 and Microsoft Dynamics GP applications.
GHA found in NetSuite an agile, unified platform that improved business performance across the board, from sales and order management to post-fulfillment support. Robust analytics, real-time data access and automated workflows that GHA enjoys with NetSuite are key ingredients in seamless customer-centric processes that drive repeat business and profitability.
“It’s all about exceptional service,” Hertzberg said. “That’s where NetSuite comes in for us. Everything has to flow as smooth as silk and NetSuite is at the core of that.”
Flexibility in the SuiteCloud development platform is another value-add for GHA Technologies. Using the NetSuite open API, NetSuite solution provider partner Explore Consulting was able to easily build a direct API connection with CNET ChannelOnline, a supplier network that provides GHA with access to accurate pricing and product data for its largest distributors.
Through that automation, GHA has shortened its sales cycles and saves as much as two hours per transaction per sales representative on the 1,500 transactions that GHA reps process monthly. With the time-savings gained through automation, reps can focus on more value-added tasks that deepen customer relationships.
With NetSuite, Hertzberg is confident that GHA has a flexible, future-proof platform ideally suited to support continued rapid growth and innovation.
“Technology professionals tell us, ‘You don’t know how many times you’ve saved us,’” Hertzberg said. “We’ve become a behind-the-scenes type of partner for them. That’s very similar to our relationship with NetSuite — they’re a behind-the-scenes partner for GHA Technologies.”
by NetSuite filed under
SimilarTech crawls the web to analyze what technologies are popular among web site operators. The company can track all of the technologies that a web site uses, and it ranks the web technologies in order of popularity.
As an example, SimilarTech tracks 60 payment technologies used across 2 million web sites. PayPal is the No. 1 vendor in the space, used at more than 1.01 million sites. If you look at the top 10,000 sites tracked by SimilarTech, then Alipay is in third place behind PayPal and PayPal Subscribe. You can also look at the rankings by the top million web sites or the entire Internet.
SimilarTech indexes and tracks all of it. This becomes useful to sales people, recruiters, and business development professionals who want to size up the competition and help businesses find, qualify, and connect with new prospects, said Chen Levanon, chief operating officer at SimilarTech, in an interview with VentureBeat.
Overall, SimilarTech provides big data insights about technology adoption and usage analytics for the entire Internet, giving access to data that simply wasn’t available before. The insights are used by marketing and sales professionals for website profiling, lead generation, competitive analysis and business intelligence.
“What you’find is that everything changes when you go from the top 10,000 web sites to the entire Internet,” Levanon said. “We can show what the long tail looks like in the trends.”
With a single search, you can find out which publishers are currently using Outbrain’s plug-in, which recommends links at the end of web articles.
The SimilarTech platform can also provide you with leads, as it provides the names and emails of decision-makers.
The founders figured out that every web technology leaves a footprint. So it built crawlers that can scale massively and extract the data from millions of web sites every day.
Current customers using our insights include Facebook, PayPal, PlayBuzz and Google.
The platform has a free version that lets users search for any website and see which technology they use, market trends, compare market share among different technologies, plus look at their geographic distribution and generate limited reports of leads.
The paid version starts at $ 290 per month and the price scales up as customers need bigger lists, geographic segmentation, and more in-depth reports on tech usage. You can see one example that compares the market share of Magento versus Shopify.
Yaniv Hadad and Eyal Weiss started the company in Israel. Levanon was the founder of performance mobile ad platform ClicksMob, and she sold the company to AppGrade in March. She joined SimilarTech in August as a cofounder and COO in San Francisco, while the rest of the company remains in Israel.
“No other company in the world provides the level of detail we show on technology usage, which includes the ability to segment companies by geography, web traffic and compatibility with specific technology stack,” Levanon said. “There is an enormous demand for our insights, coming mostly from software companies that need to get more sophisticated when it comes to finding, qualifying and connecting with leads based on the technological DNA of their company.”
As the popularity of Google Maps, Snapchat and Pokémon Go has made clear, location-based technologies have revolutionized how people use mobile phones. By 2018, there will be 2.5 billion smartphone users worldwide, according to eMarketer Inc. They will be navigating to restaurants, Snapchatting their vacations, checking movies playing at the nearest cinema, RSVPing on Meetup or looking up product availability at area Walmart stores.
According to the Pew Research Center, 90% of smartphone owners use them to get information related to their location. Now, companies are starting to tap the location-based services (LBS) on consumers’ phones in order to send them relevant offers and messages. According to the Location Based Marketing Association’s (LBMA) latest trends report, 75% of marketers agree and believe that location-based marketing is an important business issue for 2016.
Location-based technologies use wireless transmission, such as between a smartphone and a beacon or Wi-Fi access point, to pinpoint a user’s location. A mobile app that has access to a phone’s location services can provide navigation as well as location-specific content, like coupons or product reviews. In fact, there are myriad uses for LBS in marketing, advertising and customer engagement.
MEPLAN GmbH, a German trade services provider, created the expoNAVIGATION app to help conference attendees find their favorite exhibitors faster. A user searches a database of exhibitors and enters a list of those he wants to visit. The app uses beacons to plot the shortest route around the floor, thus optimizing the customer’s time and, hopefully, boosting sales for exhibitors.
The Aquarium of Western Australia (AQWA), based in Hillarys, Australia, has a mobile app that guides visitors along several themed tours (like the Shipwreck Coast or Animal Extremes tours) with interactive activities for kids. Created by Apps Ppl, a developer of cloud-based mobile apps, the AQWA app is part of a larger mobile app — “Everythere” — that tourists use to research activities around Perth and to get directions.
Location is the only piece of data that lets you know where people are throughout the day so you can engage [with] them. Asif Khanpresident, Location Based Marketing Association
But it’s the ability to combine location data with other customer information collected from a mobile app or store loyalty program that has the biggest potential for personalizing how businesses engage with their customers. People often use smartphones to browse the web, make online purchases and pay at the checkout counter. That information, and more, can be accessed and used to understand the buyer’s habits and shopping preferences.
“[LBS] can tie your entire marketing strategy together,” said Asif Khan, president of the LBMA. “We’re using location to blend brick and mortar with e-commerce and digital.”
The data can also be aggregated and combined with other consumer information and used to analyze consumer behaviors and trends.
Investment in location-based technologies will rise significantly in the near future, according to Juniper Research Ltd., based in Hampshire, England. The firm expects the LBS market to jump from $ 12.2 billion in 2014 to $ 43.3 billion by 2019, with context-aware mobile services being the main driving force.
Potholes in the road to location-based technologies
Nevertheless, businesses have been cautious about adopting LBS, despite their interest. Forrester Research’s report “Make Smart Wireless Location Technology Decisions” found that just 3% of businesses surveyed were actually using beacons, while another 11% were piloting them.
This is because location-based services are actually a collection of technologies — some old, some new and others still in research and development. It’s a rapidly developing market, one that can quickly confound an unsuspecting marketer or business owner.
The most common technologies are the following:
GPS: GPS systems are commonly used for maps and other outdoor navigation. They can’t penetrate walls and aren’t accurate enough for use in small spaces, so they’re not used for indoor tracking.
Wi-Fi: Already generally offered free to customers, Wi-Fi is often used for simple tracking of store traffic. One downside is it can’t identify unique individuals if they’re using an iPhone, and accuracy can vary.
Bluetooth beacons: Used primarily for indoor navigation, beacons have an accuracy range of one to several meters, depending on the product and whether fingerprinting or triangulation techniques are also used. Available in sizes as small as a matchbook, they can be hidden behind pictures or in lights. According to Forrester’s June 2016 report “Make Smart Wireless Location Decisions,” some beacons can send only basic data and can’t accept updates, while others are more flexible. Beacons also require maintenance.
“You have to place them, manage them, change batteries in them. They’re operationally intensive,” explained Andre Kindness, principal analyst at Forrester, which estimated an annual maintenance cost of $ 240,000 for keeping beacons operational in a 1,000-square-meter store versus $ 60,000 for Wi-Fi. On the other hand, Wi-Fi nodes run $ 900 a piece, according to the same study.
Two emerging technologies are visible light, emitted via smart LED lights and potentially capable of tracking with an accuracy of a few centimeters, and ultrasound waves, which send out chirps that are picked up by a phone’s audio receiver.
Both are promising technologies, said Bruce Krulwich, chief analyst at New York-based Grizzly Analytics Ltd., which specializes in mobile technologies like location-based services and IoT. However, both have their drawbacks, as well. For visible light, businesses have to replace their lighting with smart LED lights and controllers. Meanwhile, ultrasound may trip on other ambient sounds.
With more work, however, both may achieve performance better than today’s Bluetooth-based solutions, said Krulwich.
Fear of big brother
Consumer concerns about privacy are another challenge for location-based technologies. To work well, the apps need access to the phone’s location services, and consumers can deny apps access. According to the Pew Research Center, over one-third of adults and 46% of teenagers turn off location services due to fears over privacy.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s (LACMA) mobile app requires both Bluetooth and location services to be fully functional. To encourage participation, the museum pre-empted the usual terse system messages users get asking if they want to share location data with one that asks, “Would you like to receive location-based data?”
“We created it to be less intimidating,” said Tomas Garcia, digital media product developer at LACMA. He added that it’s also faster than using individual service prompts.
In fact, users will give up their location data for the right incentive. A Forrester brief, “Fuel Contextual Marketing with Location Data,” found that most phone owners would do so in exchange for benefits like discounts, a loyalty program, rewards for visiting a store or to get navigational aid in a store.
A location-based future?
Location is rapidly becoming the most valuable piece of information for consumer marketing.
Social media platforms and many mobile apps, like weather and news, already collect a user’s location information, said Khan, and they make it available in aggregate form to advertisers.
“We describe location as the cookie for the physical world. Location is the only piece of data that lets you know where people are throughout the day so you can engage [with] them,” he said.
Behavioral data, such as location, is fast becoming more important in marketing than standard demographics, said Maribel Lopez, head of mobile marketing research firm Lopez Research, based in San Francisco.
“Behavioral demographics are much more interesting,” said Lopez. “You may find that Android users do this, iOS users do that, people who are in my store 10 minutes do one thing, while those who stay much longer do another.”
But that also means marketers must think through their messages to target customers’ preferences without making them feel stalked.
“The greatest challenge will be to figure out what messages you want to send and where,” said Lopez. “It’s the most contextual engagement you can have, and people expect engagement, not a generic message or coupon.”
Posted by Ranga Bodla, Industry Marketing Lead, NetSuite
Staying ahead of the competition demands innovative thinking and speed in adopting new strategies and technologies. It often means being among the first to envision a new market, rethink a business model, or implement a strategic new technology. Successful companies welcome intelligent changes in their business. But it’s likely that few companies would embrace the range of technology changes quite as whole-heartedly as Maclaren, a British-based global manufacturer of baby strollers and accessories.
For the past eight years, Maclaren has reduced costs and improved productivity through the implementation of “disruptive” technologies – those that remake markets and shakeup the status quo. To Jim Ramsey, Maclaren’s global head of technology, the main motivation for this approach is simple: efficiency.
“The more digital you are, the more efficient you can be,” Ramsey explained to Dirk Beveridge of UnleashWD. “We’ve become a very technology-oriented company. Everything we do is based on today’s technology. We’re a digital company, and that’s the way of our future.”
An example of how Maclaren leverages disruptive technology to be more efficient are its telephones. Like most corporations, Maclaren had a corporate land-line phone system. But that changed when one executive jokingly suggested Skype, and the others agreed. After an evaluation showed Skype could meet Maclaren’s needs, at nearly zero cost, the $ 100,000 phone system was out and free Skype applications were on everyone’s desktops. Today, only 15 percent of employees have a telephone on their desks. It’s a change that saves them $ 75,000 a year.
Maclaren has been a technology leader since its beginning 50 years ago, when its founder, a British air force pilot and aeronautics engineer, invented the first foldable umbrella stroller using aviation grade aluminum to make a strong but lightweight frame. Today, it fosters a corporate culture that embraces technology change as a crucial foundation for success.
“It’s constantly changing, trying to stay ahead of the curve, and we’re doing what we can digitally to enhance the business—whether that’s enhancing the customer experience, or improving the way staff work,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey credits the company with foreseeing the cloud computing trend early on, first using hosting providers, then moving to software-as-a-service (SaaS) and, in 2014, migrating everything over to NetSuite’s cloud-based ERP and ecommerce platform.
Today, the company’s B2B and B2C ecommerce, inventory management, order management, marketing, warehouse management, manufacturing, customer support, sales management and financials are in the cloud. With everything in one integrated system, employees can work anywhere in the world, on the same applications with the same version of data. No data to input or reports to reconcile —and no need to get to the office to access important projects or information.
Having a virtual, mobile desktop boosts productivity as well as customer service. For executives like Ramsey who manage global organizations and deal with multiple time zones, it’s become an essential capability.
“Whether I’m sitting here in California or in Hong Kong, or the U.K. or Moscow, I can get to work. Everything I want is at my fingertips,” said Ramsey, pointing to the nearly round-the-clock collaboration that can occur between Maclaren’s four product development teams, all located in different parts of the world: “They’re all in different time zones, so when they work on an engineering document, it’s saved to our system and any of them can get to it when they need it.”
Cloud computing also relieves Maclaren of the cost of maintenance.
“Everything we do is outsourced. Costs are a lot less, the maintenance is a lot easier, support is easier, because you’re not always customizing things,” he explained.
And contrary to how IT normally handles a new ERP implementation, Maclaren uses everything “out of the box” and discourages departments from requesting alterations. There’s no reason not to adjust your old processes to fit the new – possibly better – ones in the software, he believes. So only obvious or critical customizations are allowed.
It not only simplifies the monthly updates but makes training virtually cost-free. “You can point them to YouTube and say ‘Here’s your training’. I don’t need to pay for trainers to come in,” he explained.
The latest technology change is a new B2B ecommerce portal, which enables Maclaren’s partners to place orders and manage their accounts online. That has helped to free sales staff from having to input orders coming in over the phone, fax or email, which was the usual way that small and midsized customers—about 80 percent of all Maclaren’s partners—placed orders.
The new portal includes account management features ranging from account status, product tracking, real-time inventory information, product returns, and, for those that need live help, a click-to-chat feature. That frees up time spent answering simple questions and allows more time for cultivating new customers.
“For the most part, there’s really no need for [customers] to talk to somebody. We’re a digital world at this point,” he said.
All of these technology adoptions have made Maclaren more flexible and able to respond quicker to problems or market changes, and enabled leaner and more efficient operations… so much so that Maclaren’s employee headcount is only a third of what it was eight years ago.
“We’re doing things today with much less staff than what we were doing years ago, and the reason is, we took that chance on doing things digitally,” said Ramsey. “We produce more, we sell more, and we do more with fewer people because of the changes we’ve made.”
The lines between the digital and physical customer experience today are largely artificial. Customers shop in retail stores with their devices at the ready. They expect online-like personalization and recommendations in the aisles. They’re looking for instant gratification and better sensory experiences from digital channels. It’s an omnichannel world and companies must figure out how to live in it: delivering a superior customer experience regardless of the entry point.
Luxury fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff, for example, opened its first three retail stores with the intent of taking customers’ best online experiences and bringing them to life. “In the past, you had this brick-and-mortar experience, and you had the online experience,” says company president Uri Minkoff. “There were such great advantages and efficiencies that emerged with shopping online. You could get recommendations, see how something should be styled, create wish lists, access user-generated content. In the store, it was still just you and the product, and maybe a sales associate. But [unlike online] you had all five of your senses.”
Rebecca Minkoff’s new stores still stimulate those senses while incorporating some of the intelligence that online channels typically bring to bear. Each store features a large interactive screen at the entrance, where customers can browse products or order a beverage. Shoppers can interact with salespeople or they can make purchases on a mobile app without ever talking to a soul. Inside a fitting room, RFID-tagged merchandise is displayed on an interactive mirror, where customers can request new sizes or the designer’s recommended coordinates (a real-life recommendation engine).
The company has found that 30% of women ask for additional items based on the recommendations. It has also sold three times more of its new ready-to-wear line than it anticipated. “We were an accessories-dominant brand,” says Minkoff. “But we’ve been able to build this direct relationship with our customers, helping them with outfit completers and also getting a better sense of what they want based on what’s actually happening in our fitting rooms.”
Each piece of technology adds to the experience while capturing the details. Rebecca Minkoff’s integrated systems can remember a customer’s previous visits and preferred colors and sizes, and can enable associates to set up a fitting room with appropriate garments. On the back end, the company gets the kind of visibility into in-store conversions once possible only in digital transactions. “The technology gives us the ability to create the kind of experience each customer wants. She can shop anonymously or be treated like a VIP,” says Minkoff.
Build Around a Big Idea
Rebecca Minkoff’s approach is a bellwether. It’s not enough simply to provide continuity or consistency from one channel to another. Customers don’t think in terms of channels, and neither should companies. Rather, it’s about defining the overarching experience you want to deliver to customers and then building the appropriate offline and online elements to achieve that intended outcome.
As more goods and even services are commoditized, companies must compete on the experiences they create (see The ROI of Customer Experience). That means coming up with a big idea that drives the design of the customer experience. “Every great experience needs to have a theme,” says Joe Pine, consultant and coauthor of The Experience Economy and Infinite Possibility: Creating Customer Value on the Digital Frontier. “That’s the organizing principle of the experience. It’s how you decide what’s in and what’s out.”
For example, Rebecca Minkoff serves as an image consultant to its Millennial customers, who expect personalization, recognition, and tech innovation, using a mix of online and offline techniques. To stand apart, companies must come up with their own unifying idea and then integrate data and systems, rework organizational models, and rethink key strategic metrics and employee incentives in order to integrate the physical and digital worlds around that idea.
Here are some examples of companies that have created a theme-driven experience using online and offline elements.
Nespresso: Imparting a Sense of Luxury
At the most basic level, Nespresso is a manufacturer of coffee and coffee machines. But the company has successfully turned what it sells and how it sells it into a very specific type of experience. Nespresso strives to impart a feeling of quality, exclusivity, even luxury in a host of ways.
The company has created the Nespresso Club, which maintains direct relationships with thousands of customers. Its customer service centers are staffed by 1,000 highly trained coffee experts who don’t just push products but offer advice and guidance as a sommelier might do with wine. Its 450 retail stores (up from just one Parisian in 2000) are called boutiques; the largely inventory-free showrooms are built around tasting and learning.
Online, the focus is on efficiency and service. Customers who prefer digital interactions can order through the web site or mobile app, which offers the option of courier delivery within a two-hour window. The company also recently introduced a Bluetooth-enabled coffee machine, which when paired with a smartphone app, can track a customer’s usage, simplify machine maintenance, and as Wired pointed out, enable remote brewing.
Success didn’t happen overnight, but today Nespresso is one of Nestlé’s fastest growing and most profitable brands, according to Bloomberg.
QVC: Using Online to Complement the Experience
The theme that has driven television-shopping giant QVC’s customer experience for decades has been “inspiration and entertainment.” Traditionally that was delivered through the joy of spontaneous discovery while watching the channel.
Matching that experience online has been difficult, however. At a digital retail conference in 2015, QVC’s CEO explained that in the past the company had failed to deliver the same rich interactions online that it had developed with its TV audiences, according to Total Retail. So the company decided to rethink its use of digital tools to focus on complementing the experience it delivers through TV screens, according to RetailWire.
For example, after enticing TV viewers with products, QVC introduces the next step in the buying journey—“impulse to buy”—in which viewers are spurred on with televised countdown clocks or limited merchandise availability. Online, the company has been experimenting with second-screen content (for instance, recipes that compliment a cooking product being sold on TV) to further propel purchases. The QVC app features the same item that is on-air along with a prompt that reveals all the items featured on TV in recent hours. On Apple devices equipped with Touch ID, customers can check out in less than 10 seconds with the fingerprint-enabled “speed buy” button. The third phase—“purchase and receive”—is complemented by a simple and reliable online browsing and purchasing platform. The last stage—“own and enjoy”—is accompanied by follow-on e-mail communication with tips on how to use products.
Last year, the company reported that 44% of total QVC sales came from online channels (up from 40% in 2014), and nearly half of those were completed on a mobile device. In fact, QVC is currently the tenth largest mobile commerce retailer in the United States, according to Internet Retailer.
Domino’s: Focusing on Speed and Convenience
Domino’s Pizza built a fast-food empire not necessarily on the quality of its pies but instead on the experience of getting hot food delivered quickly. What started out as a promise to deliver a pizza within 30 minutes to customers who phoned in their order is now a themed experience of efficient food delivery that can be fulfilled a number of ways. Domino’s AnyWare project enables customers to order pizzas from their TV, their Twitter account, their smartwatch, or their connected car, for starters. The Domino’s app features zero-click ordering functionality: Domino’s will start fulfilling the usual order for customers who opt in 10 seconds after opening the app.
Domino’s Australian stores are piloting GPS tracking whereby employees begin working on an order only when the customer enters the “cook zone”—a dynamically updated area around a given store that results in the customer arriving to a just-prepared order. The tool builds upon previously developed GPS-based technology for tracking delivery drivers, according to ZDNet. And the company that came up with the corrugated pizza box and the Heatwave Bag to keep pies warm is now building the DXP—a delivery car with a built-in warming oven. All in the name of the fast- and hot-food delivery experience.
Mohawk Industries: Using Social to Streamline Customer Interactions
Mohawk Industries grew to become a US$ 8 billion flooring manufacturer by relying on customers to visit its dealers’ retail locations to see, touch, and feel the carpet, hardwood, laminate, or tile they planned to purchase.
Today, instead of waiting for customers to find Mohawk, it has redesigned its experience to find them. It has adopted new technology and reworked its sales processes to reflect that new focus. The company’s 1,200 sales representatives have access to a 360-degree view of each customer, complete with analytics and sales tools on their tablets, enabling them to capture and follow through on leads generated through social media engagement.
By analyzing online discussions in real time, representatives can jump into the conversation and help customers find the product they may be searching for and direct the consumer to a retailer to finish the sale. In one episode, a woman was posting about her interest in a particular leopard rug on Twitter. Mohawk’s team surfaced the tweet, passed it on to a channel partner who contacted the woman and closed the sale within two minutes. Today, the company boasts an 80% close rate on sales started and guided in social media and has made $ 8 million on 14,000 such social leads. Mohawk Industries expects an increase of $ 25 million in sales year-over-year, thanks to its new customer-centric approach.
Customer Experience Design: Where to Begin
Developing a unique, valuable, and relevant customer experience that combines the best of offline and online capabilities is a huge undertaking. All corporate functions, including marketing, customer service, sales, operations, finance, and HR as well as product or business lines—all of which typically have competing metrics and agendas—must buy into the experience and collaborate to make it happen. And the ideal mix of digital and physical components will vary by company. But there are some best practices to get companies started on their own journeys.
Start at the Top
Without leadership buy-in, changes will not happen. “Customer experience is not a feature, it’s not a shiny button. It’s a concept that sometimes is tough to grasp. But we believe that if done right, it will keep customers loyal. And so we put a lot of effort into it,” says Kevin Scanlon, director of total customer experience at tech company EMC. “That’s why having that top-down support is paramount. If you don’t have it, you’re spinning your wheels. It’s going to give you the resources, the focus, and the attention that you need to design that consistent experience.”
To demonstrate its commitment, every VP and above at EMC has a customer experience metric as part of their quarterly goal.
Begin with the End in Mind
Companies can take a page from the design-thinking approach to product development, starting with the experience they want customers to have with their company and then putting in place the people, processes, and systems to make that happen across various touchpoints. Uber didn’t start by buying 1,000 cars. It started with a completely new customer experience it wanted to deliver—straddling the digital and physical—and then built the organization around that. Uber ultimately leveraged people, process, and technology to bring that to life, but it started with a unique customer journey.
Design for the Customer, Not the Company
To date, most corporate processes have been designed for internal efficiency or cost savings with little consideration for the impact on the customer. Companies that want to design for consistent experiences have to reexamine those business processes from the customer perspective. In order to deliver a standout and consistent experience, enterprises must bring together an assortment of data from a variety of systems—including POS transactions, mobile purchases, call center activity, notes from sales calls, and social media.
The average retailer has customer data in more than a dozen different systems. But it’s not just the front-end customer-facing systems that need orchestrating; back office systems and processes, from your supply chain to fulfillment to customer service, must be designed to deliver the intended experience. For example, Nespresso has to orchestrate a number of back-end and front-end systems to offer customers premium courier delivery within two-hour windows.
Put Someone in Charge
Companies that are truly invested in creating integrated, standout customer experiences often create a centralized function that can bring together the people, processes, and technology to bring them to life. Sometimes there is a chief customer officer or head of customer experience. But unless these people are really empowered, they’re toothless.
EMC’s Scanlon is empowered. He heads up a function that has been transformed from focusing on product quality into a centralized customer experience center of excellence staffed with 60 full-time professionals. The center has translated into “more focus, more energy, more insight to our customers,” says Scanlon. “And we can deliver that insight to our internal stakeholders, which trickles down to our account teams and lets them have more meaningful conversations that benefit our customers—and benefit the company over time.”
Centralize Customer Data
Even if there is no central customer experience function, there needs to be a central data repository and analytics system: a digital foundation that everyone can use to improve their piece of that experience. EMC’s customer experience group has a data governance function that maintains a single source of customer truth. “They’re able to pull all relevant data sources into one location and get past the typical customer data challenges,” says Scanlon.
Invest in People
Companies that care about the customer experience invest in the people who deliver it. Human beings are the clearest signposts on the customer journey. Companies must hire the best, train for desired outcomes, and reward based on experience metrics: for being brand ambassadors and for going above and beyond on behalf of the customer.
Rethink Metrics and Incentives
One major bank was having trouble driving adoption of its online banking tools. The customers that used the tools loved them, but the tools weren’t getting traction. The problem? The branch managers had no interest in promoting digital banking. They wanted to drive as much traffic as possible to their physical branches because this was one of their key performance metrics.
The solution was to change the compensation approach in order to reward employees for the entire customer experience, including online banking adoption. Branch managers were measured on online and offline customer behavior in their regions. That became a single and critical KPI, and it boosted the desired behaviors and improved overall customer satisfaction.
Create a Single View of the Company
For years, companies have talked about the importance of understanding the customer. And that remains true, particularly when it comes to delivering a valuable customer experience online and off. But successful customer experience design is just as much about giving customers a clear understanding of the company through coordinated experiences that deliver on the brand’s theme and bring it to life in various ways in bricks and mortar, through devices, in online interactions, and everywhere in between. D!
Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.
Heartland Business Systems, LLC (“HBS”) has entered into an agreement to merge all assets of Avastone Technologies, LLC, including name, physical assets, resources and customers. This is an exciting time for everyone associated with the two companies, as the consolidation officially aligns the HBS brand vision for accelerating innovation and enabling the digital enterprise for all customers in all markets HBS currently supports.
Avastone Technologies’ customers are expected to benefit greatly from this acquisition, as it will provide expanded service offerings into the full solution set from HBS. For HBS, customers previously unfamiliar with Avastone Technologies, LLC will now have enhanced visibility into the application development, data, and Microsoft solutions stack. HBS intends to preserve and enhance the customers’ investments in the solutions historically provided by Avastone Technologies, LLC as they have done with other acquisitions.
As we continue to support and service our loyal customers, it’s important we’re viewed as one company — a single source for consulting, design, resources and delivery. HBS is dedicated to maintaining and increasing the quality of innovation, support, and service you have come to expect from Avastone Technologies, LLC. We will continue to post educational and resourceful information on this blog under the Heartland Business Systems name.
To learn more about Heartland Business Systems, LLC, please visit www.hbs.net.
For assistance with any IT Solutions or Services contact Heartland Business Systems at 800-236-7914
by Heartland Business Systems
There’s a new opportunity for business analysts, data scientists, and big data engineers happening right alongside Microsoft Ignite in Atlanta this fall.
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SugarCRM Inc. co-founder Clint Oram recalled discussing the potential of CRM systems to predict sales with machine learning more than 15 years ago.
“Sitting around as a product manager, kicking around the ideas that are coming out today, the limiting factor back then was technology was really hard to deploy and extremely expensive,” Oram said. “What’s changed? Software as a service, mobile and social all became prominent.”
Back then, CRM systems were mostly on premises and operated as Excel replacements and static data-entry systems. Then, cloud-based CRM entered the scene and opened the door to modern tools underpinned by machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies.
Now, as industry leaders like Salesforce acquire data intelligence companies, there’s a move toward creating cloud-based CRM systems that act as digital assistants, rather than data input tools.
“Gone are the days where CRM is just a database,” said Jon Lee, co-founder and CEO of ProsperWorks Inc., based in San Francisco. “There has to be some inherent value. Managers know what the general practices in sales should be through decades of doing it, and tuning your algorithms around those best practices gets you 80% there. I think the big opportunity to optimize is using the data available to us to notice things we haven’t noticed before to get us the other 20%.”
AI technologies driven by data
Artificial intelligence (AI) is booming. According to research by Gartner, 20% of business content will be created by machines by 2018, and 6 billion connected devices will require the ability to connect and share data with other devices.
Gone are the days where CRM is just a database. There has to be some inherent value. Jon Leeco-founder and CEO, ProsperWorks
CRM professionals point to two primary developments that fuel the increase of artificial intelligence technologies. First, there’s the increase in vast amounts of data that needs sorting and understanding. Then, there’s the move to cloud CRM systems, which enables the intake and dissection of data from dozens of digital sources.
“You can’t draw machine-based learning conclusions off small data sets,” Oram said. “We’re at the front end of massive data sets and big data driving the next evolution of CRMs. You can see the need for AI coming on the heels of that.”
There are dozens of sources online from which CRM companies can draw information, including social sites like Facebook and Twitter. They can also utilize public records, including police reports, court records or property-ownership records.
With all the information across devices and platforms available, it does a company little good if it doesn’t have a way to integrate the data into its CRM. That’s where the advancement in cloud CRM tools helped set the stage for the need for AI.
“In the past, it was on-premises software, and there was more friction and larger wall between data and third-party apps,” Lee said. “The access to data increased dramatically, and, in the past, that required a lot of integration. The world moved to the cloud, and now you have the opportunity to analyze not just your company’s data, but data from other companies and different categories. You start finding patterns.”
Security concerns in the cloud
The conversion for companies to cloud-based systems is ongoing. According to Gartner, the software-as-a-service industry has grown more than 20% from 2015 to 2016, ballooning into a $ 37.7 billion industry.
The growth is spurred by customers’ increased comfort in the security of cloud-based services, according to David Schmaier, CEO and founder of Vlocity Inc., based in San Francisco. Schmaier has worked with CRM systems for nearly 30 years.
“There was a big fear of data security on the cloud,” Schmaier said. “People weren’t sure if you could scale these cloud systems for hundreds of thousands of users. We proved we can.”
That’s not to say issues with security will be nonexistent in the cloud, but Gartner predicted the majority of security failures — 95% — will be the customer’s fault, not the service provider’s.
By building up cloud-based services and demonstrating they worked, the industry laid the groundwork for heavy investment in artificial intelligence technologies.
“Cloud technology needed to provide all the capabilities that on-premises systems provided. It takes a while to build out that capability,” Schmaier said. “The plumbing and infrastructure are making [artificial intelligence technologies] work.”
While the technology was built out to support artificial intelligence technologies and cloud-based services in the 2000s and 2010s, it also took a sociological migration to adopt these services.
“Customer-facing professionals in 1999 and 2000, they hated using tech,” Oram said. “Now, we have a workforce that has grown with technology at their fingertips.”
With the changes in the market in full effect, companies that invested in on-premises, legacy software are playing catch-up.
“The only reason companies still have on-premises is the legacy of thousands of dollars spent and decisions made,” Schmaier said. “It’s a technical debt that needs to be paid.”
‘Everyone sees it as the future’
AI technologies are becoming more important to the world of business applications each year. And with more integration, data sets and machine learning capabilities, the technology should continuously get more advanced, which could be concerning for sales reps whose job it is to make decisions that now are left to software.
Industry professionals say the concern of artificial intelligence technologies taking over entry- or midlevel positions is overblown. Some form of human interaction, whether with the customer or with the software, will be necessary.
“AI is only as good as the way you train it, and it requires a human to train it to get smarter and smarter,” Lee said. “AI needs all that data, but it also needs a seamless front-end and human experience to actively train it.”
Oram dubbed the current period the age of data, and said there’s no turning back from the mass amounts of information consumers have voluntarily and involuntarily made public.
“Between the massive data explosion, coupled with internet of things, we’re in that era right now in a big way,” Oram said. “There’s an amazing wealth of personal data we’re consciously and unconsciously publishing. We’re squarely in the age of data, and [artificial intelligence technologies] are coming right along.”
With AI comes the need for machine learning, or the capability for artificial intelligence technologies to learn the best practices from the information it has captured.
“There’s an AI and machine learning bubble going on,” Lee said. “Everyone sees it as the future. You’ll see machine learning applied across a number of industries — CRM being one, [human resources] being another. It will transform how we work. The use cases are ongoing for what specifically can we apply this capability.”
As companies strive to simplify and modernize team communication and content sharing, new technologies have emerged…
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in the collaboration software space. These tools aim to fill historic gaps in user-friendliness and adoption.
Slack Technologies has been one of the collaboration software tool vendors to rise to the top of the heap. Users like Slack because it poses fewer obstacles in the course of team communication — a common complaint about other software tools. Tools that require many steps to complete a task are often dead on arrival. Users tend to avoid applications that require unnecessary work to collaborate — they want collaboration tools to make work easier, not to layer on new tasks just to enable communication.
Launched in 2013, Slack Technologies has grown substantially. As a venture-backed startup with valuation of nearly $ 4 billion, the company is disrupting the communication tools market, taking central aim at email as the primary team communication tool.
Slack was inspired by Internet Relay Chat and started by expanding on the IRC user experience, including both modern client apps and the IRC bot model. Slack includes Slackbot, for example, a bot that’s helpful in getting started with and configuring a Slack team environment. Slack also incorporates modern social features such as the ability to “like” posts — or otherwise react to content, with an extensive emoji palette — and @mention other users.
Here’s a snapshot of the Slack interface:
Figure 1: The Slack desktop experience.
Anyone familiar with other chat tools is likely to find Slack easy to understand and use. It is a superset of familiar chat and instant messaging tools that offer options to organize topics into channels, along with support for group-based chat and a variety of enterprise integration options. In another boost to its viral adoption, Slack is free for small teams — with a limited, but useful range of capabilities; see the Slack Pricing Guide for details on its Standard, Plus and Enterprise (“coming soon”) licensing levels.
There is likely to be increasing competition to integrate and control the user experience.
Slack incorporates a powerful integration and extension architecture, and can be used in conjunction with a variety of apps (see the Slack App Directory for examples). It’s easy to set up Slack integration with file sharing services such as Box and Dropbox, for example, and to use Slack for sharing and having conversations about files managed in those services. Slack can also be used with a slash command interface — for example by entering, /who to list the users in the current channel or group context — and developers can use the Slack application programming interface, and Slack apps, to add commands, making it possible, for example, to use a simple slash command in a Slack channel to query and display a given customer’s current status from Salesforce or another cloud-based app. Ironically, it seems an old-school command line interface is a primary part of modern collaboration tools.
Slack is especially popular with software developers and technology-driven companies, in part because it supports source code snippets — and retains formatting for a variety of programming languages — and also due to integration options with developer-oriented tools and services such as GitHub and New Relic (see the developer tool section of the Slack app directory for more details).
Slack takes a crack at the communications stack
Slack is often seen as directly competitive with email, offering a way to reduce email overload and misuse. Many Slack users have found it to be a productive alternative to email for many communication needs, although there are open questions about how effectively its team and channel model can scale to address enterprise-wide groups.
In the broader landscape, Slack directly competes with other group chat offerings such as Atlassian HipChat. It also overlaps with communication and collaboration tools and services that include activity stream-based user experiences, such as IBM Connections, Jive and Microsoft Yammer.
Slack also overlaps with real-time communication tools such as Skype. Slack Technologies is adding real-time voice and video services — based on its 2015 acquisition of Screenhero. The Slack/Skype integration is an interesting complement/compete case study, as Slack also supports integration with Skype.
The combination of communication tools and services included with Slack is clearly resonating with a large user community, as captured in the growth chart below.
Figure 2: Slack’s growth is incredible, with 2.3 million users after two years.
What does Slack lack?
The market landscape model as described in a recent blog post by Asana co-founders Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein, captures an approach that’s likely common to many Slack users: leveraging a combination of tools and services from providers for file creation and sharing, messaging and communication, and work tracking.
As customers consider existing Slack features and request new ones, there is likely to be increasing competition to integrate and control the user experience across all three communication, collaboration and coordination domains. Slack may work to provide more extensive file creation and sharing capabilities in the future, for example, and is also likely to expand to address more general-purpose collaborative application development. Slack and six of its investors have also created an $ 80 million Slack fund “to support and encourage developers to build apps that interact with Slack,” according to the company’s website.
Atlassian, also a collaboration software tool, is another leading indicator in this context, as it offers Confluence, for wiki- and document-based collaboration, and JIRA, project and issue tracking, along with HipChat and other related tools and services. Although not aggressively promoted, Atlassian had its initial public offering in late 2015 and, as of April, has a market capitalization roughly $ 1 billion larger than Slack’s valuation.
Where else could Slack attack?
While the reciprocal customer/supplier relationships among Slack and other vendors such as Dropbox and Asana may represent widespread deployment patterns today, a strategic question for Slack’s senior management team pertains to the company’s positioning relative to Microsoft, Google and Facebook. Microsoft was rumored to have considered an $ 8 billion dollar acquisition offer for Slack, for example, and there is significant competitive overlap between Slack and Microsoft offerings including Yammer, Skype and Office 365 Groups. The “organization-wide reporting, metrics and analytics” in the forthcoming Slack Enterprise edition will further expand competitive overlap with Microsoft.
Google is also likely tracking Slack for its fit relative to the Google Apps for Work suite of services. As Google continues to regroup after Google+ proved unsuccessful as a general-purpose collaboration environment, it too may find Slack an attractive acquisition candidate.
The imminent release of Facebook at Work looms large for all competitors focused on enterprise communication, collaboration and coordination. It could make Slack more acquisitive to flesh out its portfolio or make it a more attractive acquisition candidate.
Slack Technologies started by providing more effective team communication with an IRC-like model and then rapidly expanded its scope, partner ecosystem and customer base. It has established a large and enthusiastic user and partner community and is likely to continue to have an impact on the future of enterprise communication, collaboration and coordination.