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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Experience Innovation

March 11, 2013 5 comments

Moore observed, nearly a half century ago, that the power of computational devices would double every 18 months (based on how many components could be squeezed onto an integrated circuit). Therefore, it is not much of a leap to suggest that the functional capabilities and ability to advance productivity based upon these devices would follow suit. For the most part, this has been the case. Now 50 years in, the simple question is: ‘is innovation still about squeezing more components into a device, or capabilities into a piece of software?’ Or, is it time to refocus? Maybe we need to think about making the devices and systems we have work better and more strongly consider the experience of the person using it.

I am completely willing to be wrong here, but I would need some convincing. I am not so bold as to suggest something at the level of Clay Christensen’s disruptive innovation. I am not talking about new markets. What I am suggesting is something more along the lines of rethinking sustainable innovation; the ability to evolve what we have already. To accomplish this, I am of the opinion that it is time to start focusing on experience innovation, and take a step back from the sole focus on product innovation. It is no longer about how much computational power we can squeeze into a device, or how many widgets we can display on a screen. This type of innovation will continue, but there is more.

“The experience space is conceptually distinct from that of the product space, which is the conventional focus of innovation. In the experience space, the individual consumer is central, and an event triggers a co-creation experience. The events have a context in space and time, and the involvement of the individual influences that experience. The personal meaning derived from the co-creation experience is what determines the value to the individual.”

C.K. Prahalad & Venkatram Ramaswamy, MIT Sloan Management Review, SUMMER 2003 VOL.44 NO.4 The New Frontier of Experience Innovation

I am not sure what is more interesting, the content itself or the fact that it was written nearly 10 years ago.  It might suggest that I am on to something, or simply that I found a few bits to support my thinking. The concepts are extremely relevant, even more at this point in time as companies struggle to differentiate themselves on increasingly commoditized products and dare I say services as well. In fairness, differentiation on services still has some legs and is more closely aligned to experience innovation.

The way I see it, is that the objective is to create what Prahalad and Ramaswamy refer to as an experience environment. Though it is still important to differentiate between the digital interaction experiences and the much more vast customer experience. This is especially true in instances where the greater experience contains elements that are far removed from communications, think heli-skiing or windsurfing, versus checking-in via Foursquare.

It is Time to Mature from Just Product Innovation

If one follows the breadcrumbs a bit, there is a fun example that can be found from a 2008 InfoWorld article. It simply highlights that too often software – the front end of the user experience – simply works to leverage hardware advances in a way that is often lazy and unfortunate:

“[Microsoft] Vista and Office 2007 on today’s [2008] state-of-the-art hardware delivers throughput that’s still only 22 percent slower than Windows XP and Office 2003 on the previous generation of state-of-the-art hardware. In other words, the hardware gets faster, the code base gets fatter, and the user experience, as measured in terms of application response times and overall execution throughput, remains relatively intact.”

Many of us have spent time reading, writing or analyzing product roadmaps. These directory type documents or PowerPoint presentations are filled with features and functions. Sometimes, the ones that are well written will include a section on exactly why a feature is included, beyond simply that a Magic Quadrant requires it. For those who have been lucky enough to write these documents, we all know the debates between internal factions of what needs to be built first and why. These debates will continue to happen, but I would ask that the conversation mature a bit.

As Prahalad & Ramaswamy so eloquently state it:

The ability to imagine and combine technological capabilities to facilitate experiences will be a key success factor in experience innovation, regardless of industry.

In order to make progress, what is needed are programs that focus on the customer perspective. We need to consider the user experience as we build devices and design software systems. We need to focus on their experience, not just our profits. We need an environment that includes both organizational capabilities in technology and communications driving the capability to interact collaboratively internally as well as with customers, partners through community. These interactions, in order to be meaningful, need to have proper context.  When we have this in place, then we will better be able to understand what customers want and need and deliver products and experiences that do make a difference.

Your thoughts?

Maybe We are Using the Wrong Words to Describe Collaboration

February 12, 2013 Leave a comment

When we attempt to describe something we are often judge based upon the words we use. Choose certain words and we are considered buzzword compliant or worse, SEO compliant. Choose the wrong words and we are considered out of touch, old school or not ‘cool’. On the other side of the coin, if we try to consider new ideas, or think forward a bit we might be considered too academic or a purist without a strong sense to technological or cultural limitations. What then is the right balance? How do we effectively communicate and at the same time be sure to be heard and found?

Specifically, say or write the words “Social Business”, “Enterprise 2.0” or even “collaboration”, “innovation”, “co-creation” or “design thinking” and many people roll their eyes. “Oh, great another buzzword fest”. I suppose we can still possibly save “innovation”, just a hope. But, aside from that, the rest are too often fodder for power point presentations, executive motivational speeches and fancy conference track titles. That said, the core concepts are very important and we should not allow the hype cycle to get in the way of what we need to get done. The question is, when we write or present these topics, who are we talking to, who is the audience? Are we trying to convince the senior executive or the people in the field, boots on the ground?

I am not going to start throwing around generational monikers (X, Y, Z, C) in an attempt to further confuse. If the goal is to be creative and build something new (as in product, service or concept) and we are trying to describe the value of doing that to people of many ages, backgrounds and job roles, maybe we need a new way to communicate the message. Everyone understands the ideas of teamwork, creativity, working together. When we enter the corporate world is it required to change the names and labels? The following may  not work for everyone, but I believe there is a crowd who might just appreciate the effort.

Remix and Mashup

Say the word Remix to most people under 40 (even some older, but not as many) and the mental image – or mental sound bite –  is clear. A remix is a song that has been edited to sound different from the original. The remixed version might have changed the tempo or pitch, made the song shorter or longer. There is more to it than that, but that is the basic idea. A Mashup is similar in concept, but includes more than one song or instrumental from one song overlaying on the vocals from another. In the digital word, a mashup is a combination of different media, pre-existing creative, all put together. The ideas are similar and well understood, add creativity and originality to someone else’s original work.

(One area I am not going to cover is the legal parts. One, because I am not qualified and Two because I am talking specifically to internal collaborative efforts, ie, one company owns the original works, so it is all kosher.)

Now that I just stated that I am going to ignore the legal issues, the example I am going to use and the basis for the use of Remix is HitRecord. This is a public place to do this and illustrated the example very well. Again, for the sake of discussion, all creative are assigned to HitRecord, thus, no legal issues. The whole idea of working with anyone else internally at your company is to meet a business goal. It might be a new product, a project, a problem or something else – all towards a common goal. We could take a manufacturing / assembly line approach; you do your part, taken from someone who did theirs and hand it off to someone else. Yes, but thinking linear will only get you so far.

We need to Help Everyone to be…

Adaptable, resourceful and make it easy to change. In the world where many grew up (parents and grandparents) people went to work for big companies and stayed there 30 or 40 years. Those days are gone, but nor forgotten. The way I believe that Remix and Mashup can fit into the modern work culture is to allow creativity and fresh ideas to permeate the atmosphere of an organization. In the future, a person’s career will involve many employers, as well as periods of self-employment as part of an ecosystem. Of the modern company is going to survive, it will need to become more like an ecosystem. This approach will give people the opportunity to follow their interests, even as they change over time. The person working for you yesterday, with you tomorrow may be your boss tomorrow. You might one day call this a career Remix, or Mashup, I am not sure. You will take what you know, change the speed, tempo, add a new song or two and dance another day.

Helping means communicating in a language that is understandable, in and on channels where everyone is comfortable – or least willing to learn to adapt. Give permission to others to take your ideas and run with them – Remix them and add their own creativity. When someone helps someone else to learn something or to see it from a new perspective, this may be referred to as mentoring. Mentoring is age independent, anyone can teach, anyone can learn (ie, there is no such thing as ‘reverse’ mentoring). The goal, as a mentor, teacher, friend, peer, co-worker is to help others and help help yourself –

Enjoy the Remix

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)

A Mashup, is it Possible?

January 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Clearly guided by a few musical mashups that I have been listening to recently, I wondered if it would be possible to create a mashup blog post. Thinking out-loud here, this could just be one long, run-on sentence that will make little sense in the end. It might be fun, or a bit of a waste of time. I suppose, you will be the judge of that – after all, the experience is yours to have, not mine to give. What it does for me is illustrate that as much as we would like to believe that things are getting simpler due to technology, they are in fact getting much more complex.

What was old is new again and the Internet of things is leading the charge in 2013. Everything is connected including people. Pretty soon a Facebook post by my wife, complaining about the cold weather, will turn up the thermostat in my house. Of course, if we move this the collaborative enterprise, then analytics and bigdata would need to be involved, and the temperature the office would need to be decision set by voting through streaming software, such as Yammer, Chatter, Connections or Jive. If we are talking about the temperature of the store, say Walmart or BestBuy, then of course, the voice of the customer would need to be integrated with the personal preference, the collaboration software as well as the input from Lithium, GetSatisfaction or Telligent. Thank you to Nest for making all of this possible, though I am not sure this is what they had in mind.

While we are on the subject of collaboration, it seems that email has nine lives and that the death of email has been a bit premature and/or greatly exaggerated. The amazing thing here is that the moment a new email thread is created with more than one person on the ‘To’ or ‘Cc’ line (no ‘Bcc’ here, please) then you have created an ad hoc collaboration event, which we have all been doing for years, little did we know (what is old is new again!). Another fun form of an adhoc collaborative event is the #hashtag. Now, these are not always ‘ad-hoc’ as TV and the movies are trying to push some out there, but during sporting events some do spontaneously pop-up, which are fun.

Now, if I want to make a conversation public, then I can share some of the thoughts Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ (where I can Like, RT or +1, respectively). If I decide to create more visually based sharing, then the sharing would need to be more along the lines of Instagram, Flickr or Multiply and if I am really adventurous then maybe even YouTube. I am not only thinking about the workplace, we are collaborating at home as well, think about music and movies, YouTube, NetFlix, Hulu, Pandora, Spotify; each an entertainment play, with stickiness coming in the form of, yep, social sharing, community or whatever your favorite name might be. Myspace fits in here somewhere, making a comeback of its own, though I am not so sure we will see a lot of Napster nor Friendster.

I do need better filters (sorry, not photo filters), so that I do not suffer from information overload. This filter will of course be cloud based, as a hybrid solution will not work, nor will a complete on-premise solution. As my information needs grow, the elasticity of the cloud will make sure that everything is just fine and all of the information will be seamlessly stored in either Box, DropBox, SkyDrive or a Google Drive. Once all the information is stored and I decide I want to write a crazy blog post (yeah, sorta like this one) I will be thankful that Evernote is close at hand, then I can transfer my thoughts from there to WordPress, Posterous, Blogger or Tumblr where I will link to from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and schedule all of this through Buffer – did I leave anything out? Yes, if I want to comment, Disqus is an important part, I suppose. funny that I have made it to this point without even a mention of the most popular protocols of all, Skype, Chat, IM and SMS. Where do they fit into the conversation?

Something I forgot is that I need something to create my word cloud for all of the topics that I hit in 2012, otherwise, my infographic will not look very professional! Going back to email, I need something to organize my inbox; you know, the 3 Gmail accounts, the 2Yahoo accounts, Live, Hotmail and the AOL account I will never admit in public that exists. The question is, in 2013 is it going to get better, or worse? Are we going to invent more terms, more niche platforms, more things to remember – yeah, probably, but it will be fun, right? Finally, we will be doing all of this, on a daily basis from at least 4 devices each, with form factors from 3×3 to 48×72 and operating systems including, but not limited to Android, iOS, Win8 and a few others, as well.

Excuse me, I need to run, the phone is ringing!