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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.

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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)

The Fine Line Between Personalization and Creepy

Setting the Stage

“Hi Mitch,  I saw you were searching for sales organization and sales strategy information information on the web..…<insert 2 inane invented facts>… Are you available for a quick 5 minute chat today?”  Yes, I received this in the body of an email. The email was from a person who works for one of the larger CRM vendors; I will leave it at that. Interestingly, the individual actually had my name and contact information from a recent conference and it had nothing to do with search.

Adding Perspective

A highly respected blogger and friend Brian Vellmure wrote an insightful post a few days ago titled “When our Neurons are Connected to the Net”.  The full post is worth your time. Plan to read it twice, worth it each time. One point that struck me is the following:

“It is predicted that in just a few years, the processing power of IBM Watson will be contained in the size of a smartphone. We can and likely will have a super human intelligent friend with us.”

Brian does a great job circling some key points, touching on influence, friends, information and it is a bit a view towards the future.  A key point here is that Brian accepts influence from friends and people he trusts. He has an expectation that his friends know him and are able to provide information in context, even add an emotional element, knowing Brian more than a machine could. If a computer made the some recommendation, would Brian listen?

Lessons from TV, Film and Video Games

The more human a robot acted or looked, the more endearing it would be to a human being. However, there is a point where the likeness would be too strong and acceptance would drop shifting to a powerful negative reaction. These are the thoughts of a Japanese roboticist, Masahiro Mori stated in 1970. When this happens the term created is “Uncanny valley” (which looks amazingly similar to the Gartner ‘trough of disillusionment’).  The effect also goes beyond looks, but to extend to sounds as well. Therefore, it not much of a leap to suggest that the written word, or advice, influence given in the wrong way could easily cause discomfort as well. UncannyValleyChart

My Own Perspective

I am a strong believer in proper context. I stated as much in a predictions post earlier this year, that 2013 is the year of context. If a person or company want to understand my needs at a particular point in time then relevance needs to considered. Amazon, please know that I just bought a 32inch monitor and stop sending the emails.

I am fickle and so are your customers. Present me with an accessory or add-on to my current online purchase and I might just go for it. However, if I think the suggestion is because of something I do not think you should know about it, I will leave without buying anything.

Make a person too robotic, and I will become annoyed, Make a robot too human and I will become annoyed. Is the line drawn in stone or in sand? Great question, it is not in stone, as it changes with the tide, sorry, I am just human. Where is that line for you?

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Enterprise Customer Experience, A Convergence

January 22, 2013 5 comments

Customer Experience is the superset of sensations, emotions and perceptions felt by your customers before, during and after product or service use. Enterprise Customer Experience represents the people, internal processes and technology required to listen, guide and engage your customers in the digital world; all towards creating better and enhanced experiences. Designing positive experiences begins with understanding needs and wants. Seems logical right? How else can you understand what your customer’s wants and needs, if you do not listen first?

The very next part is to prove that you are listening, if actions do not result, then it is not really listening at all. Yes, in this day and age, you do need to provide proof. For, example, if you do not plan to take any actions based on what you hear, are you really listening? That said, there are many ways to show that you are listening. The first is transparency, allowing people to see inside the organization where they can witness what you are doing, often at their bequest. The second, more interesting way is to specifically give people what they are looking for, as in information, service or a product enhancement.

To customers, being open means more than simply looking through the window, but being able to walk through the front door and participate. An engaging conversation is one where all voices are heard and respected and no one is simply listening, waiting to talk. In order to improve customer experience, you, your team and the whole organization needs to convert the listening to information that can be used to collaborate, co-create and engage at a personal level with your customers. This will take analyzing the data, providing relevant, consistent content, where and when your customers want it, need it and are expecting it.

It is time to move beyond what needs to be done and why it needs to be done.  Some parts of your organization are more advanced than others, some are ready and some are not.  The starting point should be clear. What is less clear is exactly HOW to progress in a uniform fashion from understanding what needs to be done, to actually doing it.  It is time to progress from departmental Social Media initiatives to organizational digital communication programs. These programs should have defined and coordinated objectives. As the team and understanding of the technology mature, Social CRM is next logical step, with both business and technical integration and a digitally aware customer data model.  Internally, CRM will have certain objectives, but it is time to add customer centricity, directed individual engagement and customer collaboration to those objectives. Finally, the end-game, Enterprise Customer Experience. Just my name for it, I suppose, but it seems to fit.

I put together a few slides where I tried to visualize some of my thoughts. The copy is taken from a white paper we just released as well. If you would like a copy of the white paper, please just send me an email mitch.lieberman – at – dri-global.com and I am happy to forward it along.

Social Media Initiatives are too often:

  • Departmental and Uncoordinated,
  • Loosely defined and with soft qualitative objectives,
  • Lacking strong guidance that aligns with corporate vision
  • Have little or no Governance or Oversight
  • Driven by metrics with unproven value (like, follow, +)

Now to progress from disjointed efforts to coordinated and structured efforts,

Social Communication Programs that are characterized by:

  • Multiple, linked digital initiatives,
  • Defined and Coordinated goals (across departments),
  • Agreed to processes for Content,
  • Modestly Mature Governance,
  • Data Capture and Burgeoning Analytics,
  • Tighter agility to act upon lessons learned.

It takes maturation of the organization to make this progression. It is important to not that up until now the discussion is much less about technology than it is about people and process.  Once the organization has matured, it is then possible to reach enhanced customer experience through Social CRM by further integrating more baseline technology, carefully and methodically.

Social CRM sets the course for creating better Customer Experiences, through:

  • Coordinated Customer Facing Communication Programs,
  • Both Technical and Business Level Integration,
  • Advanced Analytics that Improve Customer Insights,
  • Mature, Modern, Customer Data Model,
  • Personal, Customer level Interactions and Engagement.

Now things start to get very interesting. Just when everyone was comfortable with the buzzwords, we are now ready to dump the term ‘Social’. The team realizes that social is a characteristic of people. The term is dispensed with and for the purposes of Customer Experience, the CRM platform is now in charge of the digital data and used for specific purposes.

It is time to execute CRM, across the Enterprise:

  • Data, information and knowledge is universally accessible,
  • Content and digital assets are consistent and shared,
  • Back-office to front-office Collaboration creates efficiency,
  • Customer facing processes are repeatable and embedded,
  • Community and Customer Collaboration are part of the platform.

Finally, it is time to complete the

Enterprise Customer Experience vision:

  • Customer centricity is a reality,
  • Directed engagement at the level of the individual
  • Analytics are predictive,
  • Customer expectations are understood and met,
  • Communications are conversational and collaborative,
  • The organization is highly collaborative,
  • Organizational culture is mature and ready.

Context, the Difference between Information and Knowledge

January 18, 2013 Leave a comment

In my weekly routine, I try to strike a balance between academic thinking, practical thinking and the balance between the two.

Living in northern Vermont gives me the opportunity to create fun metaphors to think through complex topics, allowing me to add a bit of local color. December is typically a cold, dark and ‘stay inside’ kind of month around here. Yes, there is a little bit of last minute shopping to be done, but often the keyboard and Amazon suffice. However, there is typically little snow in December, thus no real good reason to go outside. As luck would have it, this year has been a little different, with 30 inches (75cm) of snow directly before New Years, kids sledding on the hill, me able to hit the slopes with my boys. This December was indeed, different.

What is the Right Amount of Information?

I am driving my daughter to gymnastics and present to you the following: it is 25 degrees Fahrenheit, snowing and there is 3 inches (~7.5 cm) of snow covering the road. I am traveling a meager 20 miles per hour. I ask, via twitter of course, if my foot should be on the accelerator or the brake, how would you answer me? Skipping the obvious, a stop sign or a car stopped ahead (It was a voice activated Tweet). Is the simple Tweet enough for you to answer my question?

What I am getting at here is that their are a few parts, first we have the data (temperature for example). Information then comes from assembling and analyzing the data. In this case, we have temperature, precipitation and road conditions. Knowledge comes first from putting the information together and adding context. It is snowing, the roads are covered and the temperature is not going to melt the snow. There is probably hard pack snow, on the roadway, underneath the freshly fallen snow. Wisdom is then applying experience and acting accordingly. I will try hard not to drive off the road, remembering that four-wheel drive is great for going, it does nothing for stopping.

In this situation, I am actually traveling up a hill, one way, (and down a hill on the return). This is an important piece of information, without it, an answer should not be given. So, it does depends which direction I am driving. If I am trying to make it up the hill, I need a little more speed. If I am going down the hill, I am hoping that the breaks do their job.

Translation to the Digital World

In the digital age, the difference between information and knowledge is important and it is going to become even more important. This is in no way an academic debate that I am trying to jump into, 20 years late. Many people, smarter than me, have given this discussion much more thought. What I am trying to suggest is that context is a critical piece of information, and without context all you are giving back is data, information at best. In order to present knowledge, information, data, insights and experience need to be in a continuous loop. This is especially true in the digital age of rapid communications. Teams need to think through as many scenarios as possible and make sure the context is carefully considered.

Looking at a Tweet, a Post, a Blog, a Picture or a Status is only one bit of information, usually in isolation and not enough. Some would say it is only one bit of data not even information. The capability to respond, engage or communicate on social channels requires access to information (what is the right answer), but beyond that is ‘How’. It requires experience, insights and, yes, context. What has not changed is that answers, right or wrong, travel far and wide. Context is the idea that the information shared is relevant, in both time and situation to meet the needs of the person asking. In the scenario above, telling me that the car is certainly capable of 140 miles per hour is not an incorrect statement, but it does lack relevance.

The call to action is to make sure that your people, processes and technology are up to the task.

Who is the Clutch Player on your Team?

January 17, 2013 1 comment

In sports, a “clutch” athlete is one who performs well in pivotal or in a high-pressure situation. This includes many instances where a good performance means the difference between a win and a loss. There is a bit of debate as to whether the player is acting above what they can normally achieve, but we can skip that for the moment. Whether it is a penalty kick, a three pointer, the winning putt or a diving save, the situation presents itself.

JW

In the business world, this is the master presenter, the sales person you bring in to close the deal, the cool, calm and collected, person who does not sweat and is able to withstand the most hostile beat-down and walk away with the the deal and their pride intact. The common thread is that given the chance, does an individual seize upon the opportunity of a pressure situation and ‘kill it’.

Now, here is where I take a little poetic license and change gears, literally. The mechanical use of a clutch is to match the transmission and power or motion needs between a power source and something spinning. Most of us know this as the 3rd foot pedal in a car (which if you are in the US, your parents or your younger self, drive). The key here is that there are two things moving at different that need some help to match speeds. If done properly,  the car does not feel like a bucking Bronco.

You need a Person who can do both

The pace of change in technology is moving faster than the pace of change of your teams ability to manage or adapt to it. Technology is moving so fast that Enterprises are struggling, culturally, to keep up. Often, it is a rough ride.  Your customers are also moving fast, their expectations are outpacing your ability to deliver. ClutchWho can bridge the gap?

This person will understand both the technology and your customers, they can make the diving save (think customer service and disaster avoidance).  This person can also help to match the speed between the technology and the culture, soften the blow. In the corporate world, matching speed is not easy, it takes a lot of patience. The gears will grind every once in a while, but we all need this person, and it may not always be the person you expect.

No one like to ride a bucking Bronco – well almost no one.

(First Image: http://www.nba.com/history/legends/jerry-west/index.html)
(Second Image: http://wannaspeed.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=83_97)