Will Technology Alter the Customer Experience?


Shopping street, Amsterdam, Netherlands, EuropeWhat happens to “customer experience” when machines begin running our lives? Does it even matter when our machines deliver the experience that people provide to one another today?

Two years ago, executives at major companies began tinkering with what became known as The Internet of Things.

Cincom Systems (the company where I then worked) and Microsoft Dynamics collaborated on demonstrating at Hannover Messe a virtual smart fire engine that could download data onto a Surface Tablet in the truck cabin to prepare the fire crew to fight the fire while they were on their way to fight the fire. But that was just a concept, more imaginary than real.

  • The Artificial Intelligence factor had a turning point in 2011 when IBM’s Watson won the TV Show Jeopardy against the two all-time winners in the show’s history. Today, Watson is diagnosing certain cancers better than trained oncologists. For a cancer patient, that’s a pretty wonderful customer experience. The fact that Watson is also a terrific chef shows its versatility.
  • In 2015, Microsoft surprised the world with advances in speech recognition to enable Cortana to serve as an early-stage personal assistant and with the HoloLens, a virtual reality system that will change how we compute, learn and entertain ourselves.
  • Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are in a dogfight to win in the commercial spacecraft industry, once the domain of government agencies. Both men created companies to build rockets to go into space, dock to the Space Lab or launch satellites and return safely to earth—without astronauts aboard.
  • Our newest military jet fighters can fly themselves—the supersonic QF-4 is a modification of the F-4 Phantom fighter jet that can be remotely piloted. The future wars might be jets fighting against themselves.
  • Non-traditional auto manufacturers like Tesla and Google are creating breakthroughs in battery-powered, self-driving cars that have Ford, GM and BMW trying to catchup.

2015 was the tipping point in the global adoption of the Internet, digital medical devices, blockchain, gene editing, drones, and solar energy.  2016 will be the beginning of an even bigger revolution, one that will change the way we live, let us visit new worlds.[1]

These advances will alter what we think about customer experience. We will still judge the manufacturers of our smart appliances, cars, drone aircraft, medical devices. But it will be different because these devices will be learning from us about our likes, dislikes and our habits. We might just be responsible for our own customer experience.

In the meantime, we need to stay focused on understanding our customers—whether for products or for services–and provide value that exceeds customer expectations. Our interactions with customers are what really differentiate us from competitors. These interactions are promises. We must deliver as promised, every time to provide experiences that bring customers back and motivate them to be our best advocates as we seek to grow faster and more profitably.

If as Tech Crunch predicts for the 2016 technology revolution, we just might achieve the perfect customer experience.


[1] Tech Crunch, Vivek Wadhwa, http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/from-ai-to-robotics-2016-will-be-the-year-when-the-machines-start-taking-over/ar-BBobt5L?ocid=spartandhp

How Manufacturers Can Outsmart and Outperform Your Competitors

In a single word, manufacturers who want to outsmart and outperform competitors must be more responsive to customers.

Let me explain further. Being responsive is the new necessary when it comes to success in manufacturing—especially for companies that make highly engineered products used primarily by customers who need specialized, contract-to-order solutions. Things like pumps, cranes, emergency vehicles, long-haul trucks or components that go in aircraft or naval vessels that often have thousands of variations or are engineered one-off products.

For decades, manufacturers could pretty much make anything they wanted and sell it anyway they felt best for themselves. Send out a well-trained sales engineer armed with a set of spreadsheets to capture the specifications, turn these over to engineers to design the spreadsheet specs and then send it into production. Life was good.

Two Things Changed the World of Highly Engineered Manufacturing:

(1) increased competition from companies that can replicate almost anything you make before you get your return on the investment, and (2) the Internet that enabled customers to find alternative solutions at lower prices before you even knew they were looking for what you manufacture.

A partial solution came with Toyota’s much-copied lean manufacturing process that included in it the concept of demand manufacturing. This was designed more as a means of controlling inventory than actually responding to demand created by customers. But it was the first real solution to cause manufacturers to monitor the marketplace before committing to full-blown responsive manufacturing.

Why is Change Needed Right Now?

You may or may not fall into one of these statistics, but the wind has definitely changed:

  • Project manufacturers today are not as successful as they could be [1]
    • 61% win less than half of pursued engagements
    • 91% lose three out of four pursued projects
    • 41% utilize less than half of their billable resources
    • 35% indicate creating initial bid is one of the top reasons they fail to win projects
    • 42% cannot accurately capture billing expenses

Research on a Solution to Outsmart and Outperform Your Competitors

Just to establish credibility to recommend a new approach to serve customers who need highly engineered products, Cincom Systems has been in business for half a century serving manufacturers of highly engineered projects, all over the world. Cincom has worked with thousands and thousands of manufacturers of complex products—more I dare say than any other company like them. Cincom watched many of its customers struggle with delivering exactly what their customers needed to run their businesses better. Recently, Cincom has invested heavily into finding why so many companies fail to win and grow more successfully. Their conclusion is that too many manufacturers are not yet centered on accurately and effectively delivering what customers want. This sounds crazy but the numbers indicate they have put a thumb on the answer that can most help manufacturers improve dramatically. While the answer may be counter-cultural, it is relatively easy to accomplish.

What Needs to Change?

It is the ability for manufacturers to develop flexible, agile business processes and supporting systems that enable them to respond rapidly to customer needs and competitive threats so they can grow faster and more profitably.

Will this work? It turns out that responsive, market-driven companies are:

  • 31% more profitable[2]
  • Twice as fast to bring products to market[3]
  • Twice as likely to lead their markets[4]
  • Enjoy 20% higher customer satisfaction rates.[5]

What would improvements such as this make to your very own bottom line? Do the math. You will be amazed at what being a third more profitable even if you do not grow twice as fast will do to make shareowners happier with your business performance.

There was a time we could all afford to fake delivering a great customer experience—and sadly most executives did just that. Now it is essential to deliver, as promised. It is essential because it keeps customers coming back for more. It is essential to run a better, more profitable business. It is essential if you are going to outsmart your competition. Time to become a Responsive Business!


[1] Forrester: “How to Profitably Win and Deliver Projects” by George Lawrie, 2014

[2] George S. Da and Parkash Nedugadi, “Managerial Representations of Competitive Advantage”, Journal of Marketing

[3] SoftwareMinds Best Practices report ©,www.softwareminds.com/pm.asp

[4] SoftwareMinds Best Practices report ©,www.softwareminds.com/pm.asp

[5] Summarized from Pragatoc Marketing’s interviews with 30 technology CEOs

Dem bones gonna walk around your value chain

The Journey to Market Responsive Manufacturing Hangs on a Connected Value Chain Strategy

An old folk song says a lot about today’s way of doing business:

The toe bone’s connected to the foot bone, The foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone, The ankle bone’s connected to the leg bone, Now shake dem skeleton bones! Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

Since the recession, most manufacturers had to take a good hard look at their value chain strategies. Disconnections were occurring everywhere. Blackouts were common. Inventories of the wrong items were bulging while key components needed to build what their customers were seeking could not be shipped in time. Project deadlines were out of compliance. “Customer is King” fell way to “Cash is King” and business strategies that had worked since Toyota made “demand manufacturing” were suddenly upside-down. Dem bones were shaking loose.


The journey back to being a market responsiveness manufacturer was murky, at best.

Teachable Moments are a way of life for Advanced Industrial Manufacturers, but the leaders are always ready to go back to class. The essential path was to reconnect the tradeoffs between nimble responsiveness and supply constraints. This constantly changing balancing act could make the difference between a profitable year and and a graveyard.

Gartner did a study in the midst of the recession to help manufacturers better understand how to sense market and customer change. This clarified how so many manufacturers got surprised by the impact of the recession. On average, leading manufacturers were able to sense changes in channel demand within nine days. But it took longer—a lot longer, to turn the battleship—four to five weeks to communicate up and down the business and out to the supply network. A lot of damage can happen in a month’s duration when most everyone in the system was still humming along, thinking things were just fine.

The repercussions are like dominoes.

The order backlog creeps up fast, especially for the largest orders in the pipeline, replenishment of materials and spare parts, new product plans and engineering changes for existing projects get jumbled, mergers go on hold or fall through, customer RFPs cannot be met because the right materials are not in the pipeline. None of these repercussions are good for business.

The Real Lesson

Sensing the signals of change must be faster—even continuous—manufacturers responsive to customer needs make more revenue. If it takes two weeks to sense change and another month or more to get the supply chain to respond, the manufacturer has lost flexibility and agility to serve the market.

Customer needs drive our actions; not the other way around. We want to make it easier for customers to do business with us. We need, in short, to better understand what customers are doing to grow their businesses and how we can help them do so with speed, agility, and quality. Manufacturers need a method of gathering and interpreting the voice of the customer. This is especially true when you are selling through an indirect dealer or distributor network that tends to isolate you from first-hand knowledge.

You want to know how to design products that enable you to provide a perfect order. You want to know if the customers are aggressively seeking deals or are conserving cash. This knowledge can, in turn, help you better serve your indirect sales channel with programs to ensure these sales channels have the technical knowledge and business intelligence to represent you as a market responsive manufacturer. This puts you in a position to form a stronger partnership with your supply chain so together you can now react faster to market changes that previously came from left field—leaving you and your channel unable to respond when change comes.

Build Value into Your Supply Chain

Your suppliers often produce 60 percent (or more) of the components that are configured from inventory to make your finished products. Sure you want to negotiate the best price for these components to improve your competitive position and better serve your customers. But best price and fair price are different.

If you want a responsive channel that can move with agility to meet customer needs on your behalf, you will want to nurture a good relationship with members in your supply network that adds value to your business. Then you look out for each other and you help each other to be successful. You look for ways that each of you can sense market changes ahead of competitors so you are constantly building a reputation for being best at meeting customer needs with high product variety delivered in short time frames.

Consider, for example, all the effort you put into your own company to make it the best provider to your customers mpacts just 25 to 40% of what you actually manufacture. The rest comes from your channel but it gets no benefit from your internal process improvement training because they are not considered a real part of your business.

A customer-responsive engineer-to-order or configure-to-order manufacture must have a responsive value chain. The two are interconnected. You know, like “dem bones” are connected.

The customers care only about your ability to respond to their needs as rapidly as possible; they don’t care about the internal and supply network systems that create flexibility, agility, speed, and quality to make end products that can often have millions of product variations. But you care. And you need a supply chain and business systems that can help you to earn the reputation as the most responsive competitor in your market.

  • That’s when you realize you should be spending as much time walking the floors of the companies who supply you as you spend in your own plants.
  • That’s when you realize the need for common business processes and mutually integrated business systems that can sense together when threats or opportunities spring up from somewhere in the marketplace.
  • That’s when you realize that your supply chain is a relationship built on trust and sharing in an open-book approach.
  • The result is increased flexibility, agility and a singular approach to responding to customers that increases revenue for all involved.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around!

New Definition for Marketing

The American Marketing Association rewrote its official definition of marketing. The old one was focused on the 4P’s and it left a lot to be desired. “Marketing,” the AMA once said, “was the process of planning and executing conception, pricing, promotion and distribution of goods, ideas and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational goals.”

The new definition of marketing is: “Marketing is an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders.”

The 4P’s was a useful toolset, but as a definition for marketing, it was far short of being useful. The new definition shifts marketing from a departmental function to a corporate function. This makes everyone in the company responsible for creating and retaining customer relationships … everyone in the company works for marketing. At most companies, there are miles to go before this becomes reality. Adopting contextual communications is at the heart of the transition.

Lean Marketing and Toyota

From Lean Manufacturing to Lean Marketing

The first upheaval introduced by the Toyota Production System came more out of Japanese culture than from the world of process control. It is a philosophical sense of unity with reality that forms the foundation for Lean Manufacturing — a methodoloyg that has revolutionized assembly lines around the world. This runs counter to the command and control mentality of American assembly line production. It is a “giving in” to a reality that is larger than life. Without this, there can be no big change in existing systems.

Genjitsu, Gembutsu and Gemba are a reflection of Asian culture. They are not tasks to complete. Instead they are a mindset to be absorbed. Like Nature, the 3 Reals cannot be manipulated. They are what they are and those of us in marketing must learn how to flow up alongside them and to be absorbed into them. If you miss these simple truths, you will miss Lean Contextual Marketing.

It reminds me of learning algebra as a kid. The first set of theorems sounded so simple that they were just common sense. So I never mastered them. And for the next year, I never understood algebra. In the summer, I went back to the beginning and built a stronger understanding of things like “if a=b and b=c, then a=c.” Suddenly, the rest of the book made sense and I could do algebra.

The 3 Reals are just like algebra. They need to be absorbed and practiced before the Lean Marketing can be delivered effectively. Skip Reality and you will still be practicing Traditional Marketing and placing a heavy burden on your company.

The 3 Reals in Lean Manufacturing are quite different than The 3 Reals of Lean Marketing. But nonetheless critical. They are the whack along side the head needed to stop doing traditional marketing where the marketer is in charge and pushes products and promotions at customers.

Content is the New Currency for Improved Customer Experience

Content is becoming the cornerstone to effective customer experience marketing. The content we publish online or offline will help pull prospective customers to you. That is, if the content is relevant and establishes how the customer’s experience will be more positive if they select you rather than another customer.

Why is content so critical to the customer experience?

Simply because no matter where a customer is in the buying cycle, it is your content that is telling them what to expect if they select you as a provider. Your content establishes a bond, it is a promise.

The big change in marketing in recent years is that customers are learning how to use the internet to find the kind of content that will help them understand their situation more clearly, will help them see new potential issues to their business problems, will reveal the passion that drives your business and your solutions in such a way that they can sense that they will get a better experience if they select you over a competitor.

In the years to come, we predict that prospective customers will aggressively seek out content that is useful. If they are in an early stage where they are just trying to understand what problem they have and why they have it, your content must guide them toward a better understanding of their situation. You are teaching them; not yet selling them. Too many marketers cannot wait to get their brand story into the hands of prospects … and at some point in the buying cycle this is important. But not at the start of the buying cycle. This is a key element in designing a content strategy that will gradually pull customers into your arms. Listen before you teach. Teach before you sell. Gain trust and credibility. Then begin to present how your brand uniquely resolves the kinds of problems they are experiencing.

This kind of content strategy will lead to a better customer experience.

The First Five Seconds of the Customer Experience

Getting a Better Customer Experience at the Start of the Sales Cycle

As promotional marketers, we all want fatter pipelines. What happens, however, when telemarketing qualifies a lead and turns it over to a sales team not ready to open the dialogue using contextual relevance? The lead gets off the hook and the rep reports back that the lead was not qualified. Now, it might well be that the lead was not qualified. But it could also be that the rep was not prepared to take the qualified lead forward.

We can all imagine the scene on the other end of the phone. The prospect accidentally takes the phone call instead of dumping us into voicemail. It’s not that they are rude, but just that the people we want to talk to are rather popular with all vendors. They get 25 calls a day from vendors and that could be a waste of their time. When we get them on the phone, they are immediately doing their best to get us off the phone. It is a gargantuan struggle of wits.

The critical success factor is to explain quickly how we have improve the experience of our customers by delivering successful results — economic value.

What we say in the first few seconds will determine if we can take a warm sales lead from telemarketing or a cold call that we are making into the pipeline.

There are two immediate paths – a product path or a solution path. Either way, should go through a relevant reference that proves we can address the customer’s situation and earn the right to get the first face-to-face meeting.

“Hello, my name is (Charles Dickens). Thanks for taking my call. I’ve been looking into the comments your CEO has made about improving distribution productivity being a high priority for the coming year. Do I have that information correct?

“Yes, distribution is one of our major initiatives.”

“We have done a lot of research in this area ourselves, including some interviews with agents who sell your services. We helped XYZ Company with solutions that improved their processes by 15%. I’d like to share some of this information with you. I will be in town next week. Would Wednesday or Thursday be best for you?”

“What company are you with?”

“I’m glad you asked. I am with Technology Systems. We have been bringing process improvement solutions to hundreds of clients around the world for the past 15 years. We are just coming off a record profit year. We’re doing great because we have clients who value the solutions we offer.”

What happened there?

We thanked the prospect because we genuinely appreciate it these days when a busy person takes time to pick up the phone. We did not start off with our company or our product, but instead tried to establish empathy and dialogue. We established a key metric along with an example of how we fixed a similar problem. Get them to tip off what their pain really is. Get the appointment.

This calls for doing the right research before the call. Get the story right. Get the approach right. Get the call objective right. Know your value proposition. Stay contextually relevant from beginning to close.

A Primal Strategy: Contextual Marketing and Customer Experience

What is the role of context to the customer experience?

Context is the connector to the customer. It establishes relevance to what the customer needs or is interested in. If we deliver a marvelous experience at every touchpoint, our chances of being listened to go up rapidly. The customer experience is often both emotional and realistic. It takes some research about customer needs to make sure you are capable of delivering a better experience than any other competitor.

What is Context?

Context is the interrelated conditions in which information or activity exists with other situational events that impact decision making and the final outcome. All consumption occurs within a context. The more you understand my context, the less information you have to give me while serving me more efficiently and effectively. All significant decisions occur within a context. Every action occurs within a context.

What is Contextual Marketing?

Marketing is contextual when it is made relevant to each individual prospect’s situation (the prospect’s fine-grained profile of demographics and informational interests, location, timing, needs and decision process) while also addressing the needs of the sponsoring enterprise (awareness, positioning, qualification, barrier identification, trust, closure). Contextual marketing brings customer and seller together so that customers can make better decisions, faster and easier.

  • Mass Customization – (Dell Computers, Levi Jeans, Reflect.com) – contextual applications increasing the personalization of production based on individual end-user requirements. Increased customer satisfaction while lowering production inventory and manufacturing cost and eliminating need for clearance sales.
  • Personalized Services – (UPS, Delta Airlines, Charles Schwab) – contextual applications increasing the flexible delivery of logistics based on individual end-user requirements. Improved customer service at a lower cost.

What is the Contextual Internet?

Marketing where both content and functionality address the prospect’s individual context – who the user is, where the user is located, what environment surrounds the user, where the user is coming from, what the user is trying to do today. Understanding the context and developing campaigns that serve context is where the Internet is headed. Align information and functionality with the end user’s situation (the decision environment) and end user’s requirements (workflow, points of leverage, decision flow, decision triggers).

  1. Technology tracks content selected by each visitor
  2. Builds profile of each site visitor
  3. Uses this knowledge to present content that is in context with who the visitor is and what she wants and what our client wants to talk about
  4. Determines which products the customer is most interested in exploring
  5. Evaluates the customer’s “readiness to buy” level for each product
  6. Presents catalysts to move the customer step-by-step toward a purchase decision

What are Contextual Profiling Methodologies?

There are a variety of means to determine customer requirements that then help achieve relevance and improved customer experience:

  • Site Traversal History. Watch instead of ask. Present various contents and build customer profile based on implicit interests.
  • Registration. Complete a short enrollment form requiring some explicit information about the customer.
  • User Configuration. Customer accesses configuration tools to help simplify navigation, personalize screen layout, design product specifications.
  • Audience Segmentation. Navigation options that allow customers to self-allocate themselves into market clusters.
  • Collaborative Filtering. Group similar kinds of customers who are more likely to select the same kinds of content offerings; when someone selects a particular kind of content that person is sent additional content that other similar customers found useful.
  • Satisfaction Surveys. Complaints, compliments, questions and suggestions reveal individual needs, wants and expectations.

Lowest Common Denominator Messages

Re-evaluate Branding in a Divided Society

In the 50’s and 60’s we were a more homogenous society just when television consisted of three major network options for the “Leave it to Beaver” nuclear family. Companies spent vast fortunes instilling brand messages into our minds. They did it with such effectiveness that four decades later we still remember the slogans of brands no longer on the market.

Today, such brand efforts need to land on infinite family structure types all moving in a blur through their lives and all accessing an infinite number of media that fragment delivery of marketing messages. Today, creating a single brand message, while important, is more difficult and less sustainable. A single message watered down to its lowest common denominator (what we call an LCD Message) is too often true for all customers; but not true for any one particular customer. In the fragmented society, that one particular customer is unique. It is that one customer who buys.

In the future, marketers will add context to their product branding to create brand propositions that are more relevant to what each individual is doing. This is particularly true in e-commerce where new technologies are emerging to enable reaching individual customers, wherever and whenever they are ready to buy.

The Neighborhood Grocer Mentality

The Role of Content in Customer-Relationship Marketing

Customer-facing technologies are about content and transactions. Most have focused on the transaction part and ignored what in the end will be more important. Content is the part that creates relationships. CRM is all about re-creating or re-inventing relationships – the neighborhood grocer on a bigger scale.

The clear and present danger is in not locking on basic principles that drive success.

Each CEO’s field of dreams is loaded with options that did not align with what customers were looking for. Concentrate on meeting the customer face-to-face. Companies selling through indirect channels are especially susceptible to neglecting end-customers, often never having real conversations with the people who buy and use our products.

How can you change customer behavior if you don’t know what they need, want and expect?

Let Your Customer Be Your Guide

Building a Contextually Relevant Website

The way decision makers make purchasing decisions depends on the complexity of the problem they are trying to solve and the complexity and risk involved in each step in the decision process. This will affect how we manage website communications.

If their needs and the decision-making processes are simple, all we need to do is make our website visitors aware of us, build confidence, differentiate ourselves, demonstrate value and guide them through a very simple shopping and buying process.

This is the process a prospect makes when considering accessing a white paper, a Webinar registration, a free software download. In fact, we place such offers on the website precisely because they are low risk decisions that can lead toward an eventual purchase … hence we call these offers catalysts (they speed up the buying process the same way some reagents speed up a chemical reaction).

If the decision-making process is leading toward the potential purchase of an expensive product, this process becomes highly complex. Then we need to make visitors (usually many different individuals or teams within the same organization) aware of us, build relationships and educate them. We need to show sensitivity to the different decision-makers, influencers and groups so we can move each decision maker along in their buying process.

Wherever possible, we insert catalysts to help us understand their stage in the buying process, triggers that can move them further and catalysts to incentivize them to tell us who they are so Telemarketing can make an initial qualifying contact.

The content architecture of a website should address the key steps of the buying decision process. Content is structured around a linear path. It begins with general information about the visitor pains and at this stage we help the visitor gain a better understanding of what is causing the pain. It then progresses to strategies to resolve the pain and then to best practices and tactical ideas that enable better execution of the strategies. Each step feeds and leads to the others. Although the process initially is linear, there are feedback loops within the content as visitors reevaluate information.

To successfully get visitors to take action, the website must see the world from their "buying" point of view. Address their myriad of needs. Motivate them to identify themselves and to interact with us.

Social Technology Can Boost Delivery of Improved Customer Experience

Microsoft CustomerIn 2006, Accenture began experimenting with what they called digital mirrors–technologies that interpreted behavior to cause self-improvement. For example, they could monitor your phone calls to determine how often you interrupted your caller to talk about yourself. We all know people like that, but the seem unable to control this irritating habit. But if an interrupter suspected his friends were drifting away, he might be ready for self-improvement.

The digital mirror would give factual data to make the behavior more apparent and more motivating to the person to improve his interpersonal relationships. Soon it became apparent that digital mirrors could impact selling, as well. Persuasion is the business we all are in, in one way or another. Can a digital mirror tell us if we are talking with an indifferent prospect who simply will not change his mind so we should move on to the next prospect? Or do we have a chance of changing a prospect’s point of view so we can help them see how our product or service can provide her a better solution and an improved customer experience?

cortana phoneMicrosoft’s Cortana is likely moving in a direction where she can detect signals in a situation so that she can guide a salesperson to conduct a more relevant conversation or even motivate a buyer to select one recommendation over another option.

Cincom has recently launched a new version of it Configure, Price Quote Solution that now has a unique recommendation engine. This enables dealers using the Cincom CPQ Solution to determine customer needs and to factor those needs into a product selection that fits exactly the needs of each different customer. This makes a dealer easier to buy from and it makes for a far superior customer experience.

Dan Zarrella created a Twitter tool called TweetPsych that analyzes Tweets from you, or anyone else (such as a prospect) to determine important qualifies about the Tweeter. His technology compares your Tweets against dictionaries that are based on various psychological profiles that reveal inner attitudes. Are you positive or negative about a product? How do you make decisions? And how can you turn this psychological profile to your advantage?

When you look at the amount of digital data Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have about everyone using their social services, you can begin to see the potential they have of moving visitors to advertised products that can better meet customer needs.

The result–if used in an honest manner–can improve customer experience instead of the social service’s bottom line. In time, marketers and sales people will learn how to adapt their persuasive conversations with new insights. We all need to be wise in how to do this to make sure we are always putting the customer’s needs first

Is the Middle of Your Company Happy?

By Dale Wolf

Happy Employees. Why they so important to the customer experience? That answer is simple if you have caught any of our postings on the role that employees have on customer experience. The rule of thumb: employees that have a great employee experience deliver a great customer experience.

Caught in the Middle” — an article published on Knowledge@Wharton confirms that managers are often referred to as the “glue” that holds companies together, bridging the gap between the top management team and lower level workers. They implement strategy and organizational changes, keeping workers engaged during both good times and bad. Yet according to a recent survey of middle managers around the world, 20% report dissatisfaction with their current organization and that same percentage report that they are looking for another job. How do middle managers fare in an uncertain economy, and what should companies be doing to keep them happy? Middle

If middle managers are so valuable, why would they report dissatisfaction and leave their companies? A primary reason is lack of advancement opportunity, says David Sirota, co-author of The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want. “When companies downsize, they will often cut middle management ranks. But even if companies just stagnate, advancement opportunities are limited. This hits people very hard, particularly people in their late 30s and 40s.”

Shaun Smith, CEM Consultant, author and contributor this blog, considers the employee experience as one of the three main legs in his tripod of Customer Experience Improvement.

Align your people to deliver your experience

The question, Shaun points out, is how do you electrify and energise people in your organisation? How do you align them with your customer-focused strategy? The answer lies in the following four key factors that are critical to successful employee alignment:

  1. Recruit people with the right fit
  2. Train employees to deliver experiences that uniquely deliver your brand promise
  3. Encourage employees to demonstrate the right behaviours
  4. Drive and reward the behaviours from the top of the organisation

The big puzzle to those of us who believe that delivering a customer experience that is unique, relevant and valued have such a difficult time retaining middle managers. Here they are, the glue to a business. And yet, they feel caught, under-appreciated and in peril for their jobs.

Like so many aspects of CEM, the employee experience is cultural. Companies seem to have a hard time changing cultures — even when they know the culture is hurting their performance. Does it really take a whack along side the head with a 2 x 4 to get the CEO’s attention?

Credibility, Trust and Risk — Customer Experience is Up to YOU

fist pushing thru wallB2B buyers realize that they are making decisions that carry a risk to their companies, and to their careers.  Everyone in your organization needs to stay aware of this buyer attitude and work diligently to build both credibility and trust in you as manufacturers of these products that, on one hand, hold such promise and potential for your clients and, on the other hand, are so critical to their success that these decisions are incredibly difficult for them to make. In fact, you could look at these three factors as the sides of an interconnected triangle—trust, credibility and risk—with value being the center of the triangle. The core to everything your people do is to deliver customers value, made of three components that guide their perception of what your business stands for.

  • Credibility is how your people demonstrate the expertise of your company and its products. 
  • Trust is how you align professionally with the collective interests of the prospective customer.
  • Personal Risk (Psychological Safety) is reduced by increasing credibility and trust.

Selecting you to manufacture products for any client should be seen as a smart decision that will better enable the organization to achieve its future aspirations and eliminate challenges to this vision. 

Getting Close to Customer Needs

Brian Papke, CEO of Mazak, “We need to make products that match particular industries. We established, for instance, a technology center in Houston that enables us to cater to the oil service industry. Today we’re probably the largest supplier of equipment to the North American market for oil service equipment.”  “We try to understand the needs of customers in the industries we serve. We make machines today for manufactures that make things like hips and knees. We provide machines that sculpture those parts from hard metals like titanium. For the aircraft industry, we make machines that specialize in producing landing gear and aircraft engines and structural parts for the aircraft.” “We have found that we need to adapt and make machines that very closely match to the requirement of the customer. You have to have the right kinds of equipment and you have to be very productive to be successful.” “Actually our goal is not to sell a machine tool to a customer. Our goal is to be partners with our customers. We want them to come back and buy lots of machines from us. There are many companies now that buy machine tools only from our company because they have such a high level of trust with us.” Barry-Wehmiller as another example: This diversified global supplier of manufacturing technology and a partner with Cincom has a strong cultural understanding of the importance of people who in turn deliver value to their customers. Their statement is more than words, it is how they do business. “We build great people who do extraordinary things. Our leadership commitment begins and ends with a focus on the input we are making on the lives of people. By recognizing and celebrating the goodness in others, we let people know that they matter. At Barry-Wehmiller, continuous improvement is a natural by-product of engaged people. We believe that each of us has the ability to lead and inspire others through our actions. Our challenge is to create great leadership in every dimension of our personal and professional lives—to move beyond management to truly human leadership.”

The Giant Sucking Sound: 10 Insights on the Customer Revolution

New Oracle President Mark Hurd Addresses Oracle OpenWorld ConferenceBusinesses that fail to focus on customer experience will hear a giant sucking sound from their vanishing profitability–Mark Hurd, President of Oracle.

My favorite of Mark’s 10 Insights: What makes consumers fall in love with a brand? Among the top factors are friendly employees and customer reps (73%), easy access to information and support (55%), and personalized experiences, such as when companies know precisely what products or services customers have purchased in the past and what issues those customers have raised (36%).

See all 10 Insights.

6 Processes to Help Manufacturers Improve Customer Experience

Modern Manufacturing 1Modern manufacturing makes modern life possible. It provides manufacturing executives with tools to accelerate a growing, stable economy out of the failures of the recent global recession.

Basically, modern manufacturing focuses on six business-critical processes:

  • Better decisions  – apply knowledge and data across your enterprise to make smart decisions that attract and retain customers and improve operating results
  • Simplify operations — Complexity can be crippling; dealing with it effectively can create competitive advantage when all business-critical processes add value to employees, channel members and customers
  • Improve quality – develop modern manufacturing processes and technology to make products that better serve the needs of customers
  • Reduce waste – reduce inventory, labor and time wasted  by producing just enough product to meet predictable customer demand
  • Accelerate production – increase speed to market by decreasing the time to manufacture products and increasing responsiveness to customer opportunity
  • Grow revenue – remove the internal impediments to closing more sales and respond to customers faster and with more accuracy

Together, these process improvements will give functional leaders the opportunity to think and operate more strategically than they did in the past. They are rewarded for their effectiveness and discernment, for emphasizing the activities that differentiate the company in the market, and for finding less expensive or more effective ways to operate the business.


Image from http://www.fivesgroup.com/fivescinetic_logistics/EN/Pages/Home.aspx 



B2B Buyers Kick Your Tires INVISIBLE to you … What you can do about it!

ID-10097640 (2)B2B buyers are great at kicking the tire well before they are ready to talk to your sales team. We’re all familiar with the new fact that B2B buyers are often 60% of the way into their buying process before bringing your sales team into the process. But all along the way of getting half way to a buying decision, they are online checking you out. It’s their way of kicking the tire to see who they want to do business with.

If a company is considering a purchase that involves several people to collaborate on this purchase, they will be in team conversations, often guided by content that one or more of them happen to find while searching.

Their online behavior when accessing our content provides indicators of motivations and interests. We need to provide both inspirational and factual content. We need to realize that mindsets are hard to change unless while in the formative stages. Consider just how locked in we become to a particular point of view … 50% of Americans are conservative and 50% are liberal. Instead of changing their POVs, come to them with content that they want to read and reinforces their point of view.

Also need to realize that buyers retain information to read or view later, when they have more time or when they are moving closer to some sort of decision. I can see that articles on CEM blog are accessed months and often years after it was written. I save tons of content that sounds useful by putting it into topic folders on my laptop and access it later. I may think that there is a potential need my company will have in the future so I curate a library that might be accessed later, or sometimes is never accessed because as time moves along, either no purchase is considered or because some entirely different solution made a purchase no longer needed.

The fact that any buying process I might enter in the future is pursued at my own pace and that I am not moving through a traditional or progressive “buying funnel” but instead I am hoping all over the place. It may appear that I have fallen out of a company’s “sales funnel” when really all I did was work on other priorities, many of which have no relevance to buying anything.

One thing, however, is certain. When I am involved in purchasing something, I do go through some repetitive behaviors online and I look for different kinds of content as I move forward. If I am unaware of a vendor, then I am not likely to have that vendor in my path.

How do we make sure buying stage content will be consumed at the right time? We need to create and post content for all stages and as they consume content it can tell us where they are in process of looking for a solution to a need. When they access content that address aspirations or challenges we can assume they are in an early investigative stage.

At the end of each piece of content, include links to more similar content and links to content more helpful to a buyer who has more advanced information needs. These calls to action or CTAs need to be a standard part of all content created. If they are unknown prospects, seek to capture their email address and name in your CRM or Marketing Automation database … it they are a known prospect already in your database, then use progressive profiling to learn something new about the prospect.

Either way, return an email with links to relevant content.  Set an alert if they click through to content that is pulling them forward in the buying process. Move from an abstract relationship to a more well defined one. Leave a voicemail message that introduces your telemarketing or inside sales representative and encourages the prospect to call for assistance. Have your sales representative send a personal email from Outlook and track if the email is opened and if it creates a click through to additional content.

Start by talking about generic solutions that are relevant to customer behavior. Gain the prospect’s trust by being helpful before you launch into selling your solution to the customer’s issues. If the prospect falls silent, they may have decided timing is not right for advancing in the buying process. Use this behavior to launch a pre-programmed nurture campaign of four or five steps, each step offers new content and a CTA.

This approach works when there is trust between marketing and sales. Marketing moves prospects from awareness or mildly interested stages and hands the prospect off to sales. Anticipate that the prospect will move in and out of the process; seldom is buying a linear flow from beginning to close. If you understand how buyers buy, then anticipate their behavior and have content or CTAs that re-capture and re-engage.

Photo from debspoons and freedigitalphotos.net 

Knowledge Technologies and the Customer Experience

Knowledge-enabled CRM, ERPPeter Drucker knew it and said it in 1999. Not the first. Not the last. But his voice sure does count. “knowledge is the most important resource of the twenty-first century.”

It surely is important in providing a perfect customer experience.

And it is essential that the technologies we all use to help deliver such customer experiences enable us to use knowledge to improve our work and our processes to satisfy customer needs, wants, motives and passions. We rely on all sorts of technologies, especially when the work we do is complex and the scale is huge. The good social networks help a lot—especially in collaborating to design better ways of doing our work so that it satisfies others. But they generate so much “Big Data” that even the biggest companies have trouble monitoring them and converting the data into useful knowledge.

We need a corporate business view for utilizing knowledge for effective customer relationships.

Such knowledge is a critical company asset but too often it is trapped inside the minds of just a few internal experts. These people become the gears around which all decisions must flow. Good for job security but not all that helpful in turning this knowledge to work on behalf of customers across the corporate spectrum.

So somehow, this knowledge needs to be captured, translated and automated so it can improve the entire company and help all the customers that seek solutions that can make their lives and their work better and more satisfying. When this works correctly, then it is more likely that company and customer can learn to trust one another to work for the good of one another.

30 Years Ago — Knowledge-enabled coupons

Thirty years ago, the promotion agency I founded with two partners ran a program for P&G and for Kraft where we mailed recipe booklets to millions of households. The content in the booklets encouraged homemakers to see new uses for our clients’ products and at the back of each booklet was a set of six coupons coded to the household. As these coupons flowed through the redemption process we were able to analyze the results and alter the offers to stimulate purchase and to minimize the cost of the next purchase. Given technology back then, this was tough work. But we were able to see when a customer bought toothpaste at a 15 cent discount and would then shift the next coupon for toothpaste to 10 cents, or if they did not purchase at 15 cents then raise the next coupon value to 25 cents. This was using knowledge to reward customers and grow the market.

My focus here is on the technologies where knowledge-enablement is especially important because these technologies touch virtually every process in every company of any decent size—Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). When enabled with knowledge, they can maintain a balance between corporate investments and customer experience. When these systems are dumb (and I think too many are), they make us humans using them look and act dumb.

Two technologies evolved to help executives manage the investments in sales and marketing that most impacted revenue, profit and customer value. Sales Force Automation (SFA) and Marketing Automation (MA). Initially, SFA was misnamed as Customer Relationship Management, a name that over-promised what the early stage systems could deliver that actually slowed adoption by businesses.

Eventually, they have begun to merge into a new vision of a true Customer Relationship Management approach to business—and as knowledge-enablement begins to impact CRM and ERP, both company and customer will benefit.

Sales Force Automation Technologies

SFA evolved more from a focus on sales relationships with prospective and current customers than on actually looking forward to customer needs. It was a sales management tool that handled explicit customer data better than implicit data. Explicit Knowledge About Customers– who the customers are, where they live, education levels, job function and job department … their role in making decisions. This tends to be explicit knowledge and is relatively structured for easy usage.

The SFA system tracked who the prospects and customers were, and where each customer was in the sales cycle. It helped assure that the sales team was responsive to customer needs at each step in the sales cycle so there was a continuous forward movement from sales lead to closed deal. Helpful, as far as it went, but corporate-centric instead of customer-centric.

Marketing Automation Systems

Marketing Automation Systems initially hovered over corporate websites and email to acquire, update and keep track of customer activity and to automate campaign building and sales lead tracking. These MA systems handled implicit data better than CRM. Implicit Knowledge from Customer Behaviors—such as what their histories and connections reveal, what customers do on our websites, how they respond to various promotions, and how customer requirements, expectations and interests impact purchasing patterns. This tends to be implicit knowledge and is relatively unstructured and a bit more difficult to apply.

Customer Relationship Management Systems

CRM 2Finally, it seems, CRM systems are becoming what their name implied years before they were capable of delivering on the promise. It is taking a merger of Marketing Automation, Sales Force Automation and the addition of Customer Service Automation to arrive at a vision that can now revolutionize how business and customers can respond positively to one another. But they still rely more on data input from the sales organization and are not yet using knowledge-enablement of various CRM processes to help sales or customer in making smarter, faster decisions.

Enterprise Resource Planning Systems

I jumped right over the oldest of these technology systems—Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), mostly because these systems in the past were isolated on running complex manufacturing businesses more efficiently, with little impact on customers. Gradually, ERP solutions have grown to manage just about every kind of “back office” process, from procurement and supply chain management to human relations and finance.

jeff immelt GEAccording to Jeff Immelt, General Electric CEO, who recently wrote on IdeaLabs: “A major driver of future manufacturing is speed and simplification because the only way to serve our customers better and compete in a complex world is by working faster and smarter.” That’s exactly where knowledge-enablement becomes a powerful competitive advantage and has as its goal to serve customers better.

Thinking back to the recipe booklets with smart coupons, it was dark ages compared to what can be done today.

smeal fire truckConsider a fire engine manufacturer such as Smeal Fire Apparatus. When you see a fire engine, red lights spinning and sirens blasting, a big red truck passes  you on the street. But fire engines are incredibly complex machines to build—often with 50,000 variations in components. In the past, just configuring the right mix of components and pricing out the fire engine took weeks and weeks. Today, we are able to embed a CRM system with knowledge to dramatically accelerate the speed of such decisions, down to hours. We are able to put all the knowledge of the company’s internal experts into a knowledge configurator that pushes all the information needed to build a fire engine with 100% accuracy right onto a sales person’s tablet computer where sales and customer can make rapid decisions.

Jeff Wegner, Regional Sales Director for Smeal Fire Apparatus said,  “Knowledge management gave us an 83% reduction in order processing time. So much has improved with the use of this system. We’re not only saving a tremendous amount of time, but our costs have been drastically reduced, as well.”

This is the kind of knowledge enablement that Jeff Immelt alluded to. And it is an example of how knowledge enablement of complex business processes is already leading to greater speed to market, lower cost for customers and an overall  better customer experience.

“Graduate Owl” image courtesy of Theeradech Sanin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net




Zero defects. Absolute accuracy. All the time.

Knowledge on cart in warehouse-300x167Worldwide, up to two-thirds of all customers leave due to poor customer service; a level that fails to meet promises made during sales. On average, most corporations lose half their customers every five years. High defection rates are the clearest sign that customers feel they are receiving less value from their providers, and therefore switch to another provider.[1] This needs to be replaced with a business model that understands customer needs, wants and expectations so you can make better decisions. Zero defects. Absolute accuracy. All the time.

Customer relationship activities have the most impact on customer retention. Every customer encounter has the potential to gain repeat business—or have the opposite effect. The expectation of personalized, relevant offers and service is becoming a primary driver of customer satisfaction and retention. That is why now, more than ever, executives must take extra care to consider the needs, wants and interests of the people they would like to have as customers. Today, business leaders must understand the changing needs of different customers and respond with relevant decisions as new conditions appear.

Customers select the solutions that meet their needs and wants; nothing more, nothing less. Hard-to-understand rules and various options can leave customers perplexed, annoyed and uncomfortable. If you don’t know your customers’ needs, how can you offer solutions that meet their needs? Configuring adequate solutions, pricing them accurately and failing to deliver exactly what they order will either cost you the sale or increase your cost for production. The typical reason is that your processes are so complex that you simply cannot deliver for your customers. This is further aggravated when the knowledge needed to fix these situations is trapped inside the heads of your experts and they are too busy to respond in a timely manner.

Success relies on gathering customer data, leveraging it as information and seamlessly integrating it across all possible customer touch points. This combination of data gathering, integration into decisions now becomes the foundation for both culture and a core business strategy that differentiates you in the minds of your customers.

Customer knowledge resides in all sorts of places and formats. Some of it is structured for easier understanding but knowledge mostly comes in unstructured formats that need to be configured to maximize usefulness. Ideally this enables the knowledge of many experts with insights into enormously complex issues to rapidly configure a decision that is simple, executable and absolutely correct for a specific situation.

You can see how essential knowledge configuration is in designing a fire engine, for example. Knowledge from firefighters, from managers of firefighters, all impacted by budget constraints, the laws of physics, new materials, new processes, diverse range of engineers, experts from law, finance, marketing and sales. Then consider all the other companies making enormously complex, advance products. Or the companies with complex processes, complex supply chains, complex services. All require knowledge—structured and unstructured—to deliver exactly what the customer needs.


[1] Harvard Business Review, Learning from Customer Defections

Is Your Customer Profitability a Broken Engine?

woman with broken car ID-100114167Customer profitability is a fragile thing. If not maintained, it can go the same way as a car breakdown.

Have you seen a decrease in customer retention or new customer sales? Or conversely, maybe you’re seeing an increase in customers, but not a proportionate increase in profit? Not knowing your customer needs will not only influence customer retention and new sales, it can cause you to introduce the wrong products for the wrong reasons, and affect your overall profitability. In essence, not understanding your customer base will have a direct impact on your entire business.

  • You have increased number of customers or market share without a proportionate increase in profitability
  • You are getting strong pressure from analysts and shareholders to increase your stock value
  • You seem unable to create products, programs or sales channels that encourage customers to behave profitably
  • Your existing customers do not purchase additional products that you offer
  • You  lack a clear view of customer value across operating divisions


Image courtesy of “anankkml” via FreeDigitalPhotos.net