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CRM evolution 2017 - Customer Experience via AI

Just on may way back from CRM evolution 2017 it is time for a little recap. The conference, once more chaired by CRM Grandmaster Paul Greenberg, was again co-located with sister conferences Customer Service Experience and Speechtek. Why there is a separate – and smaller – conference for Customer Services co-located with a CRM conference is beyond me, as Customer Service is an integral part of CRM. But be it as it is.
CRM Evolution attracted around 500 professionals, being second to Speechtek. The main topics this year seemed to be Customer Engagement, Customer Experience, and AI, nothing of this coming as a surprise. The size ratio of the conferences and the topics were also confirmed by the exhibitors in the Customer Solutions Expo. We saw an abundance of little booths with AI- and bot-vendors. The mainstays of CRM had fairly small presences, notably SugarCRM, which had a big presence last year.
Both keynotes dealt with delivering to maximize customer experience and to measure the result. In the opening keynote Gerry McGovern answered the question what great customer experience is in a digital world and then how to measure it. His premise is that customers want to get something done and that it therefore is imperative to help them getting it done as fast and easy as possible. That begins with page load times, goes on with simple check-out processes like Amazon’s famous one-click or Uber’s payment process – hint there is none at the end of the ride. Things are as easy as saying good-bye to the driver and opening the door. Throughout his keynote Gerry made the point that it is the relentless pursuit of customer convenience that drives customer loyalty and retention, and ultimately revenue growth. The true measure for this is the company’s ability to shave off time that the customer needs to spend to get her job done.
From here on I concentrated on the ‘Filling the Pipeline’ track for the day. Michael Fauscette from G2Crowd started the day delivered his view on the state of digital marketing and Steven Ramirez of Beyond the Arc gave a practical guide on how to implement and use predictive analytics to improve marketing.
The most intriguing session of day one that I attended was sadly also one of the least attended one. Lora Kratchounova presented Account Based Funnel Management, her extension of Account Based Marketing that brings a more seamless integration of the marketing- and sales departments.
Paul Greenberg on day two brought in his perspective on how to properly deliver good customer engagement. He started off by identifying the current ‘breed’ of customer, followed up with what this means for engagement and gave a framework for delivering.
Today’s customer differs from the one of about 20 years ago – a theme that I brought forward in my own presentation, too – good to be confirmed by the grandfather of CRM. Today’s customer is digitally savvy, connected, impatient, and expects information and responses nearly instantly. Delay is not an option. Customer engagement according to Paul is “the ongoing interaction between the company and the customer, offered by the company, and chosen by the customer.” The resulting experience is the “customer’s perception of the company over time”. I tend to disagree with the over time part but else this definition seems to nail it. Based on this he suggested a framework for delivering that bases around the ideas of expectations, knowing the customer, relationship, resources, value and culture, backed up by two case studies. The most important insight to me seems to be that it is important to treat the customer as a partner and a subject of an experience rather than an object of a sale and merely a client.
The remainder of the day, with the exception of my own presentation on helping customers to a good experience through improved engagement, was more or less about AI. We started off with a breakfast with the influencers, an informal panel discussion with thought leaders Denis Pombriant, Ian Jacobson, Josh Greenbaum, Michael Wu, Brent Leary, Sylvana Buljahn, and myself, moderated by Esteban Kolsky. Reflecting the state of the worldwide discussion we more or less immediately arrived at the topics of trusting the machine and ethics. A discussion, under the participation of all attendees, that surely needed and deserved more time than we had.
Later the day Brent Leary explained how voice activated conversational interfaces will change the ways of customer engagement, which I sadly couldn’t follow through due to an appointment. It was followed by a vendor panel about AI’s role in shaping customer engagement and Esteban Kolsky delivering his insights into the new reality for automated interactions in an AI world. The panel was set with representatives of SAP, Microsoft, Salesforce, Oracle, and – the only REAL subject matter expert – Michael Wu. Both, the panel and Esteban agreed that the use of AI/machine learning for optimization purposes is a little short but that there must be a significant engagement improvement coming with it. Esteban, in his customary way of driving the point, taught the audience that AI affects the enterprise in an O P A way: Optimize, Personalize, Automate.
Day three somewhat returned to the engagement and experience topics with an interesting presentation by Sylvana Buljahn on how to reach the next level of customer engagement by becoming both, a customer- and employee-centric leader. It is certainly worth while listening to Sylvana.
In the course of the conference I had the opportunity of speaking to SAP and received a deep dive into Thunderhead, which for me is also the vendor of the conference. The company has a truly amazing solution to improve the omni-channel customer journey by linking the customers touchpoints through their way – from first contact to retiring the purchased solution. They do this based on the ideas that the journey belongs to the customer, not to the company, that a customer can be on any given number of journeys at the same time and that it is of highest importance to integrate systems. More on both in other posts.

My Take

CRM Evolution in my eyes is still the vendor independent go-to conference of the year. If the intention is to get insight into the state of the art of things CRM rather than getting deep into any vendor, it is the right conference. The networking events are vibrant and one can discuss a lot of interesting topics, getting hit by many differently valid points of view.

The conference, however, somewhat suffers from the artificial distinction between CRM and Customer Service. Customer Service is an integral part of CRM and they cannot be treated in isolation when customers shall get a positive experience: Customer Experience is the Customer’s perception of the Company (over time). This involves the collaboration of all departments, especially marketing, sales, and service, So, I hope that this distinction gets removed again.

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