Forrester Research CEO George Colony recently blogged:
‘We are now in the age of the customer – with buyers using technology to gain control over institutions. That power flows from customers’ newfound ability to seamlessly price, critique, and direct their purchases. What does this mean? At the risk of being overly dramatic, the future belongs to customer-obsessed enterprises.’
I could not agree more, but clearly this observation is neither new nor does it come from some moral obligation but simply from a consumer backlash that the businesses feel. Yes, in future all businesses will either be digital or fail. ‘Software will eat the world.’ as Mark Andreesen put it. But what will the software actually do? Big Data predictive analysis or customer interaction via the web or mobile?
In business interactions the commonly used distinction is C2C, B2C and B2B, with C standing for consumer or customer and B standing for business. There is also a C2G acronym, which is often used for Citizen-to-Government. I think that these distinctions are truly outdated. Also a business consists of humans. There is only one interaction that is H2H or human-to-human and while one can create a substitute web presence, it kills the emotional connection that good business needs. The rise of the Internet has brought us H2W human-to-Web and H2M human-to-mobile, because it is believed to be a simple way to cut costs by reducing the number of people a business needs to support customers. These acronyms are born from the customer process control illusion in CRM and BPM. Not true you say?
Real world example: On the Air Berlin website the call center numbers used to be right on the front page and now you will only see them one you have gone through at least seven support pages and FAQs. The booking website is an absolute mess of silly rules and restrictions. I tried to book a flight and I could not get the seating I wanted so I cancelled. Once you have booked you pay for any change. So I went through the lengthy FAQ which had no relevance to my problem. I finally got to the page with the call center numbers and I called. I had to wait for a long time and then the lady told me to book the flight online and then call back and she would do the change. I did so and after an equally lengthy wait time, another lady told me that she could not do the change. She asked me to cancel the flight and then do the booking via the call center. I obviously went berserk and she finally agreed to cancel the booking and make a new one. All the details I had entered online, including the credit card details that are stored at the airline I had to provide again on the phone. Each digital and human interaction stands alone. No one knows anything.
CRM and the Big Data control illusion
So clearly, Web (H2W) or Mobile (H2M) are NOT the best way to create a great customer experience. Not only are they dehumanizing and businesses are unable to manage the multiple channels. Web and Mobile presence become additional silos that are not connected to their CRM or call center software. It will be years before any large business is able to change the related software silos. Expect worse to come! A multi-channel process can no longer be encoded and enforced because even with BIG DATA it is impossible to judge upfront what kind of customer interactions will happen where. Utter nonsense. The true relationship challenges are not addressed by a CRM customer database and some service processes. They are adressed by people!
You might say that there are good examples of web interaction such as Amazon as a pure web merchant. Amazon does only one thing via the web as its encoded processes in its portal make up the business. Without the people who select products and the customers who write reviews, the complete Amazon website has little value. The automatic recommendations are no more than a nuisance. Without the shipment centers and a customer service department who efficiently deals with customer problems and a ‘no questions asked’ return policy, those processes are worthless. The human factor still makes the difference. The one company that comes reasonably close to consolidating the channels as well as Web and Store shopping it is Apple.
Fact: While the Internet was supposed to be the great equalizer, it has until now given more power to the large enterprises such as Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple and all who offer cloud services. They have just taken the advertizing business from the media and thrive off the data that we willingly hand over. Big Data as a concept is purely about consolidating YOUR data to make YOU more predictable and controllable.
The only way to change is to look at it through the customer’s eyes. And I am not talking about the ‘Outside In’ process design concept, but truly understanding what customers are looking for. One aspect of this is goal-orientation to define why certain tasks are being performed and to measure if they are reached individually.
Customers really want:
- Finding answers/solutions for problems
- Finding enough trusted information and vendors
- Finding vendors who value the customer
- Finding a solution that empowers and improves the customer
- Finding a value proposition that fits needs and budget (not just the cheapest)
- Simple and relevant communication and interaction with vendor
- Building a quality service relationship between vendor and customer
The above is the reason that for longer than a decade I have been vocal against CRM and BPM as software solutions. They are focused on internal problems and not the customer. What I propose with ACM Adaptive Case Management is to consolidate not just data but communication and processes into a single customer interaction that is driven by the humans on both ends and not by silly rules. Some call it a customer engagement hub. I do however know that the problem cannot be solved by software from the inside alone. In the long-term view it does need a communication approach that is supported by a larger customer-driven concept from the outside.
VRM and the Personal Cloud
Therefore I am not just addressing this problem from the inside, but I have another software business offering the VIPorbit Contact Manager on Mac and iOS. Our medium-term target is to empower the individual and provide a much better connection with the humans inside a business.
As a consequence I had a few days ago a really interesting phone call with David ‘Doc’ Searls. Doc is an icon in the Linux and Open Source movements. In 2000 Doc Searls, and his co-authors Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, and David Weinberger converted their blog into a book called ‘The Cluetrain Manifesto: The end of business as usual‘.
Among Searls’ contributions to the Manifesto was its first thesis, that markets are conversations between human beings and not businesses that market into statistical demographic sectors. The networked individuals in the market will know a lot more than vendors do about their own products and that information will not be controllable by the business. Even the media will loose the information distributing monopoly. Other customers are a much more trusted source. Social networks require an expanded business strategy because the technology has given the customer a voice that the business cannot control. No amount of mass advertizing can drown out the few voices of unhappy customers!
Doc Searls published last year a follow-on book titled ‘The Intention Economy – When customers take control’ in which he also reiterates his work to create VRM Vendor Relationship Management. In this book he describes an economy driven by consumer intent, where vendors must respond to the actual intentions of customers instead of vying for the attention of many.
Rather than the acronym VRM he uses now the term ‘Personal Cloud’.
In the Respect Network that he participates in, you find a consolidated drive to create a ‘Personal Cloud’ infrastructure, which provides for the individual consumer the following:
- Control the flow and use of personal data
- Build their own loyalty programs
- Dictate their own terms of service
- Tell whole markets what they want, how they want it, where and when they should be able to get it, and how much it should cost
The Personal Cloud will be the consumer counterpart to vendors’ CRM systems and ideally make them obsolete. The most basic benefit will the ability to change your address once to inform all vendors you deal with. There are other opportunities in combining services from multiple companies in real time, for example making your choice of carrier for a shipment or for service or insurance. Amazon is actually a vendor who provides a similar kind of service to its customers as it also acts as a sales channel and payment intermediary for other vendors. Airlines try to cross-sell hotels and rental cars. But the process is still hardcoded into the vendor’s website and locks out sensible human interaction.
Also vendors will like the Personal Cloud because it will do away with having to keep the customer data accurate and with running senseless anaytics across the data to try and figure out what each customer might want. The customer will actually tell the vendor and remain anonymous until he decides to purchase.
So what does customer obsession mean? I propose that businesses will need to manage processes as free-flow communications with customers and ideally embrace them as empowered collaborators. The CRM and process control illusion will have to go. Trying to leverage typical marketing on social networks will fail eventually. A citizen living in the urbanized areas of the Western world is pounded by 3-5000 marketing messages a day. The time will come where prospective customers will only turn to those vendors who do not pester them with meaningless ads, but to those that listen to them. The business returns from social networks will be equivalent to the quality of interaction offered.
It may seem to some that addressing those customer relationship issues with a new collaboration, process or case management approach is overkill, but the market pressure will eventually demand it. What other ways are there to create opportunities for prospects with relevant information that allows fast lead conversion into opportunities? How else can those prospects find the channel for meaningful conversations and allow the business to qualify if the prospect has profitable potential? How else will the customer feel that the business listens to him/her? Predictive analytics driven ‘If You Buy Now’ messages are the same as the ones on late-night infomercials: ‘… and you get a second unit free.’
And at some time in the future the customer will be the one to initialize the communication and control how and where his personal data are used. While I come from inside the business, Doc Searls and I have the same vision. Empowered customers need equally empowered contact persons inside the business. No matter how clever software will be at some time in the future, it won’t be ‘listening’.
PS: The digital infrastructure has also given governments an immense power of supervision and control, the least one being speed cameras on the roads and the worst being access to our private communciations. As a consequence, I use encrypted mail where possible, I have on my Mac ‘DoNotTrackMe’ installed, and I only search via ‘DuckDuckGo’. But then I am also not watching TV or listening to radio unless it is ad-free. I use YouTube a lot less since they force me to watch advertizing, Let me pay a fee to watch it ad-free.