There is a Big Difference Between Can’t and Won’t

July 18, 2013 3 comments

A series of recent experiences on the customer side shed light on what I believe is a growing problem, possibly made worse by the public nature of communications – or possibly just poor grammar.

Cannot or Can’t is an expression of inability or incapacity – “I can’t take the garbage out”

Will not, or Won’t is also deliberate choice not to act – “I won’t take the garbage out”

For those of you with kids, those phrases are really quite different if they are used in response to “hey, would you please take out the garbage”. My reaction would be (has been?) very different in each case. Yes, I realize that some kids will use improper grammar and use one, and actually mean the other, so please look beyond that point.

When someone in customer service says “I cannot help you”, I believe that what they often mean is that they won’t help you.  However, if those words are used, while they might be honest, they might incite a much stronger reaction. Think offering a hotel voucher due to a delayed flight, or a refund for a poor experience or some other scenario. Read between the lines of ‘ I could help, but I am choosing not to help, so I won’t’ – yeah, probably not going to fly.

The unfortunate use of “Can’t” is when a subordinate is acting as a face for a more senior person or larger organization. Is this an act of proper deflection, a way to defuse the situation? “My boss says I can’t” Which is a proxy for, my boss can, but won’t and I will get in trouble if I let you talk to him (this exact scenario happened to me last week).

This may simply be a game of semantics, but it is a bit more complicated when the social web becomes involved. I cannot think of many more examples, or maybe I simply won’t try🙂



Stop Thinking in Two Dimensions

June 25, 2013 4 comments

The language of computers is binary, it is ruled by ones and zeros 1/0. I fear that this has rubbed off on us humans; Yes/No, Black/White, Lager/Ale (I digress), the list gets longer and longer. In the land of the social web, it gets even worse; Like/<nothing>, +1/<nothing>, ‘Heart’/<nothing>, this is not even two dimensions, it is one!

It is not about Offline versus Online, it is not about Sales versus Service, it is not about User Experience versus Customer Experience, finally it is not about Mobile versus <what is the opposite of mobile?>. Is it about Public versus Private, Digital versus Analog? Maybe, but probably not.

If you are a business, your customers have already integrated the elements to their own liking (businesses are behind in this regard). This is why I struggle with ideas like a channel strategy or a social strategy. What is needed is simply a communications strategy and if you are a business a ‘provide our customers the best possible solution’ strategy. On a personal level it is simply about being you, wherever you are. As I stated in my previous post, personal and business are integrated, so this is about both.

If your true colors shine through online, then it is pretty likely that they shine through in person. This conversation is about being a person in a world that has more than 2 dimensions.  Maybe we should stop trying to think and act in two dimensions and start to think and act in 3 or 4.  Give individual elements proper focus, but consider the impact to the other elements – consider that 3rd dimension.

Categories: Personal, technology Tags:

No Beginning, No Middle and No End

June 24, 2013 3 comments

When I was growing up, my dad got up, went to the office and worked, came home put his brief case near the door, where he picked it up on the way to office the next day.  I work from home,  I never leave work and I do not have a brief case. My workday does not have a beginning, middle, nor end – this is not a complaint, nor is this a work life balance post. Work and life are “integrated” (thank you Paul G for the epiphany). Relationships are integrated, friendships are integrated, nothing is just one thing anymore, connection points just keep increasing – That is my way of thinking about the ‘Internet of things’.

My conversations on Social Networks channel hop; from Twitter to Blogs, Linkedin, Facebook, Skype, Phone, Text, Email and Real-life and back again. They can start and stop on one channel and simply move on to the next. Conversations no longer have a beginning, a middle nor an end. I take part in many conversations, with many people and the diversity of topics is awesome. Some people are part of 3, 4 or 10 different conversations. That said, I need something (aka software) to help refresh me in regards to a particular conversation with a specific person. This is my Internet of things.

Buying Cycle; Sorry, no Beginning, Middle or End

On the consumer side, I am in the market for a car the moment I drive off the lot with a new car. Why don’t car dealers realize this fact? I am the same way with Computers, Phones, Cameras and Watches – I admit it. Do I always act upon the ‘urge’ – no! I have my first new car (not minvan or family SUV) in 25 years. I get a new phone more often than most, not as frequently as some. On the camera side, should my wife be reading this, I will pass on this part of the conversation (hint: she probably wishes it had an end).

It is very hard to figure out exactly where in the buying cycle a person, prospect, buyer might be, why is that? Likely, because they do not know! As buyers know a whole lot more about you than they used to in years past, I am not so sure they know any more about themselves. Buyers are really well informed on what you can do, but I am less convinced that they equally aware of what they need. Their needs are driven by what you can do, until they really think about it. Because, this is backwards and it is a vicious cycle.

A byproduct of the consumerization of IT is that IT are starting to act like consumers!

(The best image for this post would be Esteban Kolsky’s‘s infinity loop / continuum, but too many others have borrowed it without giving credit. I will just give credit and not use it)

Rethinking the Customer Journey

Funny thing about customers, they do not seem to follow a Map.

In the good old days, if you wanted to plot a course, you needed a map; a physical piece of paper with roads, highways, streets and avenues written in different colors, big fonts and a picture of a compass near the corner. Unfolding a map was easy, closing it back up the same way was really hard.

When you traveled to a new city, you needed a new map. When you visited that same city again four years later, you needed a new map again (because the previous map was carefully put in a spot you would not lose it — it is still there).

When traveling with the family, the course was carefully plotted; stop here, visit there, spend the night … right about … here! Somehow it became a journey an adventure, more than just a trip.

If you commute to work every morning, you do not need a map, well, not usually. The route is the same each day, unless there is traffic, then the commute becomes an adventure, with plan B and C close at hand. There are highs — a hidden restaurant or rainbow out the window, and lows — traffic, construction, a snowstorm. Some things can be predicted, some cannot.

Customer Journeys are not Static

A funny thing about customers, they do not often follow a map. The customer relationship with their vendor or service provider, from first touch, to purchase and support is a journey. Some portions can be predicted, some are hard to predict. Even if you had all the correct data, personal information and preferences, what would you do? Is it possible to manage the customer journey?

Each customer has a unique channel preference, web search, community, social media, talking to friends, talking on the phone, sending an email or browsing through the store. Some like one of the above, some like all of the above. Do you plot their course, push them in a certain direction? It might be easier for you, but is it easier for them?

We as individuals like to be treated as, well, individuals! Today, we live our lives in a high gear, always running and fighting against the clock, time never seems to be our friend. We hate to read long emails, but we like blogs (why is that?). Listening to telemarketing calls is annoying and we skip commercial ads by time shifting. When we go out to the store talking with shop staff is not a priority.

So, if we feel that way as individuals, why do we assume in our professional role that things will be different? Why don’t we follow the basic “don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you”?

Planning the Journey Versus Adapting to Course Correction?

With volumes of data available to you, telling you and your team exactly where customers went, how long they stayed on a page, what they searched for, giving insights into likes and dislikes, the question should be, “what are you planning to do?” [with all this data]. The information collected through all the touch-points with all the customers and all the transactions that they have with you must be leveraged to get into one point of personalizing the experience and get the most out of the relationship. This, however, is not managing the journey, nor the experience.

This is simply trying to make each journey, each experience along the way better and more meaningful.

In the past and unfortunately in the present the CMO and CIO do not quite understand each other. It is a bit like the CIO is building the roads and the CMO are building the attractions. What good is one without the other?

CMO and CIO should be close partners, friends, allies and peers. They should both work together to get the personalization of brands and the to leverage the experience of their customers. They can only achieve that by combining the communication channels with the right information at the right point in time — this is called context integration. The communication should be tailored to each customer, based on all the information that the brand collected about each customer. And the information should be stored and worked in every experience that the brand has with its customer.

It is not about managing the experience or controlling the journey. It is about understanding your customers and the roads they like to travel. Brands can only be successful in the future if they adopt new strategies to provide value along the journey at each step and enhance the experience for their customers and they can only achieved that, by listening, learning, engaging and understanding.

This post was written with the help of Jorge Teixeira da Silva, Head of BI at DRI, has over 20 years of experience working in CRM and BI. Jorge spent time at TMN, Portugal’s largest mobile operator. Jorge adds a layer of analytics to several projects, directly via BI and also embedded in CRM and BPM based projects. It is reposted from a submission to CMSWire

The Simplest Thing I Ever Had to Write

This is a personal post, but as the title of blog notes, I am not limited. On May 1, 2012, a Father, Friend and Grandfather to many was lost. Below are the words I shared at the memorial service.

Dad_MeToo often we wait to reflect upon something until after it is complete, done and the last chapter is written. I often wonder why that is the case. Is it because we need to evaluate an entire experience as one thing? It is important to remember that the perception of experiences is skewed by that which is most recent.

If we stop to consider the moment, is the moment gone? During the past few months I began to reflect upon on my dad. There were things I wanted to understand and a person I wanted to know better.

There is no one way to describe who Arthur was to me; Father, Fan, Friend, Critic, all of the above. My experiences with dad covered the spectrum, it was not one thing, they were lots of things. These experiences are mine, what I am left with. Many I will cherish, some I will consider for years to come. Near the end, dad and I came to an understanding – that we really did not totally understand each other – do not confuse that with our love, caring, nor mutual respect; just we are each complex. I am good with it, it was decided with a laugh and we moved on.

About the Man       

If you really want to understand the man, look no further than a deck of cards. Arthur was a poker player – not a gambler, a poker player – there is a difference. There are some very interesting life lessons hidden inside the game of poker.

Poker requires focusing on making decisions based upon incomplete information. It is the quality of the decisions, not the outcome of the hand that matters. (In the year since I wrote this, I find this to be more and more true everyday)

Poker challenges you to deduce information and recognize patterns; peoples behaviors, habits, body language and tendencies, deducing what they want you NOT to know. The more complete the information, the better the decision making process.

Luck is part of the game, but out of your control. It is about the discipline that is required to ignore bad luck and move forward to the next hand and never to dwell on lucky or unlucky outcomes.

Finally, poker is fundamentally a social game, centered around group dynamics in a competitive situation; playing with a diverse group of people, some skilled, some not. Looking sometimes for the weakest at the table, exploiting the weakness, capitalizing on an opportunity – it is a metaphor for entrepreneurship.

Dad treated many facets of his life like a game of poker; no disrespect meant, quite the opposite.  It worked to great effect in his ability to negotiate, litigate; and dare I say, intimidate. My memories of dad include riding the train from Westport to NYC, watching him play. It was never about the money, that just made it a bit more real and a bit more fun – it was about something else.

Poker was dad’s social network – no Facebook or Farmville for him. It is where he went to relax and learn. Looking back, there is no doubt in my mind that he took the lessons from the poker table to the board room, court room and living room (the original version had a few other rooms, but there were kids in the audience).

I began to write this many weeks ago, as I sat with my younger brother while he worked through the final months of law school. I have spent time with all of my siblings during the recent few months and given the distance of our homes, this in itself is a worthy feat, and worth every moment. We were united in the beautiful things, St. Maarten, Sam and Jeff’s wedding – as well as the not so fun, his illness and …. Other things.

A Contrast of Simple and Easy

The author Robert A. Heinlein stated: “Do not handicap your children by making their lives too easy”.

This is the balance that dad tried very hard to keep. As I parent, I can assure you that this not as ‘easy’ as it seems, it is different for each child and grandchild. His efforts to abide by this sometimes caused dad conflict; as he always wanted to provide, according to need, but the needs were not always clear.  As a parent we always want things to be ‘equal’, but what if the needs are not equal? I am not talking about money, rather something much more valuable – time.

To his grandchildren, grandpa did not always have the time to let things take a natural course. Where he tried to lead and guide his children; your parents, aunts and uncles, he began to run short of time and took a much more direct approach with many of you. He wanted to, needed to, get his point across in a sometimes uncomfortable way.  To extend the poker metaphor, he did not know you as well as he would have liked – another conflict. He loved each and every one of you, in a way only a grandpa could.

Albert Einstein is credited with saying “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

What Einstein was getting at is that when describing something one should reduce it to the smallest ‘pieces parts’ required to make the point. Any less, and the point does not come across, any more and complexity is reintroduced. Few people can walk the fine line, Dad could.

Dad believed in both of these concepts, and could walk the line; but they are sometimes at odds, a paradox.

In this family simple is not always easy, and easy is not always simple.

Dad – these words are a reflection of you, for you, for me, my siblings and your grandkids. It would not be fair to stand here and say you were perfect; I might have a credibility issue if I did; that said perfection is not something you sought. What you wanted was to live life on your terms – it was a hard fought negotiation, the terms nebulous at times, but true to form, you won.

This is what I learned; some from you and some from the person you helped me to become. In more ways than one,  physical and logical, you taught me how to put the pieces together:

Reflect upon the past in as much as it can help us to prepare for the future. Take from the past what we need to move forward. Dwell on the past, and it will be like a 4-wheeler tied to a tree.

Most important – I have a great family and when push comes to shove I know my back is covered, and my siblings know I have theirs.

Dad, this was simple to write, but it was not easy.

Categories: Personal

Context Integration, the Future of System to System Interactions

April 22, 2013 1 comment

Context integration is the future of system to system interaction. By prioritizing relevance, customer needs and jobs-to-be-done, context is the reason to operationalize big data.

Definition: Context integration is the instantaneous combination of information and process integrated at a point in time, location, to the right person, on the right channel and on the right device.

During the past 20+ years, the way in which system and/or application integrations have been conceptualized has not really changed all that much. Sure, it is possible that I am being overly simplistic, but up until now, there have been only two types of integrations process and data. Yes, the protocols have changed, APIs, REST, SOAP – pick the acronym, and designs changes (spoke and hub, point-to-point, bus,etc.,..). However, what is often assumed is that a person will make the determination as to why a particular data element is on a screen, or not. Now, there is too much data, too much information it is time to refine the process.

Data Integration

Data movement in one direction is the easiest (not always easy, mind you) type of integration. Yes, there are nuances, but overlooking these nuances puts the complexity on the low end of the spectrum. One directional data integrations are typically read-only (or a copy). For example, taking data out of an operational system and putting it into a reporting system (I am not talking about transforms just yet). If you desire the data more quickly, say real-time, slide the complexity to the right a bit. Want to be able to write/update and have this reflected in the source system; bidirectional, slide the scale bunch more to the right.

Action item: we need to progress from data integration to information integration, there is too much data, people need information.

Process Integration

Process integration often require detailed use cases, user scenarios and can often be quite complicated. Process integration is best described by old school triggers. Something happens in system A, but the users on System B need to be both alerted, they need to do something and hey need to know what to do. Too often, this type of integration ‘channel jumps’ and the recipient receives an email, text or page in order to go take some action, in some other core system. These types of integrations take place in everything from sales, to support, operations and marketing, as well as everything in between.

Similar to the data integration conversation, when it is one direction and the originating system does not need to be notified upon completion, complexity is reduced. Now, if there are multiple process flows in the secondary system, and each is complex and the originating system needs to be aware at each stage (think credit check, for example), slide the complexity scale a bit to the right some more.

Action item: We need to move beyond the task list of things to do, to being told what to do, how to do it and when to do – why? only if asked.

What does Context Integration Look Like?

As stated above, context integration is information plus process, it is real-time, but may or may not be bidirectional. What I mean is that communication is bidirectional, but it might not be operating on the same data. Delivering the right information to the right person at the right time is hard, just start by sliding the scale way way to the right. For starters, there is now a third system involved within each integration scenario, the analytics engine. Breaking it down further:

  • Information equates to ‘what’,
  • Process equates to ‘where’ and ‘how’;
  • Context equates to ‘why’, as-in ‘why is this important to me, now’?

In order to accomplish this feat, we need more insight. We need to spend a bit of time translating data into information, processes into specific tasks and actions and help the user to understand why something is displayed or being done. In a very real way, right time information may also be considered to be proactive, as expectations are low in this area, but changing rapidly.

The two primary systems and their users need intelligence, something that has been done by humans, until now. The possibilities are awesome, the complexity enormous, the risks, very real. The intelligence comes from the aggregation of social data, combined with filtering, analysis and direct (ie predictive) insights. The salesperson wants more than just new information, he/she wants the question they forgot to ask – don’t only tell me something new, suggest what I should do.

The following are just some quick ideas, there are so many more and if you would be willing to add your own, I would appreciate it!

Example – Sales

  • Data – The CRM (SFA) application has a copy of purchase and/or case history, maybe event data, purchase history and company financial information

  • Process – The Marketing Automation System responds to a visit by a lead to landing page a task is created to make a call or send an email

  • Context – The intelligence platform creates a set of tasks, based up information from Linkedin (say through InsideView integration) that certain people are active on Linkedin and have changed jobs, company purchase history and trends are used to suggest tone of message and 3 independent tasks are created. If the CRM system notes the user is accessing information on an iPhone, the tasks are delayed a few hours, as the emails and tasks are better done on a larger screen. Tasks and reminders are created and scheduled.

Example – Service (Customer Support)

  • Data – The Contact Center has account service history, household purchase history, number of claims displayed on the screen (or a couple clicks away).

  • Process – Add to the above, notifications of device recalls, health alerts, community posts, credit checks, invoice verification, payment verification, (think billing and finance).

  • Context – In financial services, think fraud alert. For example a user social check-in in New York and credit card use in Paris. In travel, make agents aware of weather or flight delays, tell client new flights are booked. Help systems should be product and location aware as well as being proactive.

Example – Customer (Me)

(There are too many customer examples to count, feel free to add your own)

  • Data – Give me access to my account information through a portal or smart device

  • Process – Notify me of potential fraud, account balance issues, credit issues, ask and wait for response. If an application is incomplete, point me to the place to complete it. If a doctor or hospital is too busy ask me if I want to reschedule.

  • Context – Notify me of weather on my travel route, give me options: car; a new route, plane; a special number or email address, finance; tell me my bank account is low before the rent check is due. Tell me to watch out for an issue, before I have it – the customer side of proactive support.

The Evolution of Customer Community

Community: a group of people sharing common characteristics, common history or common social, economic, or political interests, often located in close physical proximity to other members; interactions are usually face-to-face. 1

Online Community: Same as above, with two big caveats, the proximity is virtual and interactions are digital. The small caveat is that online the commonality among members might not be as significant, but are just as real (like shared product, service or technical interest).

It is not New, but it is Different

What should be evident is that the idea of a community is not a new concept. What is new, however, is the transition from physical proximity to virtual proximity. In the purest of context, virtual communities began about as quickly as the Internet itself, predating the Web or fancy graphical interfaces. Virtual communities progressed from bulletin boards to forums and now we have something even better. What we have now are enhanced graphical capabilities and multiple device support; the user experience is better. One problem remains; integrating communities with the rest of the business. Too often, communities are sets of isolated conversations lost in the vastness of the web.

           Communities should be used to bridge the gap from social media conversation to digital interactions with a purpose? Today many organization are trying to figure out how to leverage social conversations and these new connections to deliver a better customer experience. Customer communities are great way to accomplish this goal. As much as we would like to do it, taking  the online conversations people are having about your company in Facebook and Twitter and dumping them into a CRM system just does not provide a whole lot of value. As you have learned with forums, your customers really do want to connect with you and while the basics have not changed, customers expect more as does your business.

But. In order to really leverage the benefits from social, you have to bring together people, processes, and technology necessary to listen, guide, and engage your customers in the digital world. That means paying attention, understanding who your customers are, and providing them with relevant information for the appropriate stage in the customer lifecycle. In that way, you can truly leverage the capabilities of social media to deliver the kinds of customer experiences that will keep them bringing their business back again and again.

Communities provide a smart way to build engagement in a way that provides your customers with navigable issue resolution, as well as to provide feedback and insights to you and your team.

A customer community allows you to collect and analyze data, derive insights about your customers that will then allow you to provide them with relevant, appropriate information at key points along the journey. Today’s forums, or customer communities, can be strongly linked to social networks in order to maximize insight, streamline campaigns, and drive organizational shift to bring your company into the social age. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

(This post is written as we announce our recent work in building a bridge between SugarCRM and Get Satisfaction)