By Rob Preston
Nowhere is the pace of technological and operational change accelerating faster than in a company’s customer relationship–building activities. AI, virtual reality, IoT, facial recognition, data analytics, social media, and a range of other new technologies and channels require companies to anticipate and cater to ever-changing buyer expectations and behaviors.
At Oracle’s Modern Customer Experience (Modern CX) conference in Chicago April 10 to 12, Oracle executives as well as customers, partners, and other experts offered their insights on how all of the above innovations are turning marketing, sales, customer service, and other CX functions on their head.
In a world in which buyers can speak into their smartphones and get instantaneous responses, have productive conversations with AI-powered chatbots, and make payments by gazing into a camera on their phones, “what experiences will they expect from you today, next week, next month, next year?” asked Des Cahill, Oracle’s head CX evangelist, during his opening keynote at the conference. And how will your company respond, especially as data privacy and other regulations muddy the waters?
“You’re either winning or you’re losing. The pace of change in commerce in relentless,” say Des Cahill, head evangelist, Oracle.
Depending on where your customer-facing teams sit within your organization, they feel the pressure differently, Cahill said.
Sales leaders must generate revenue in “the most cost-effective, predictable, and sustainable way possible,” he said. “Sales organizations are so ‘over’ sales force automation tools. They were used only to critique the performance of a sales organization anyway. Now it’s about engaging and empowering the sales force.”
Customer service leaders understand their role in generating revenue and customer lifetime value—but they want their senior management teams to perceive, measure, and staff them accordingly, not view them as a cost center, Cahill said. Their challenge: “Knowing when to automate and when to augment service agents, and when to leave customers to self-service,” he said.
On the commerce front, meanwhile, companies now measure performance “by the hour, not the quarter,” he said during his keynote. “You’re either winning or you’re losing. The pace of change in commerce is relentless.”
|There was lots of action on the show floor, including a guest appearance by a sloth.|
In a separate keynote, Shashi Seth, senior vice president, Oracle Marketing Cloud, noted that for the first time the top priority for many CMOs and their organizations is to meet company revenue targets. With the launch at Modern CX of Oracle Infinity, a data analytics platform, and Oracle Customer Experience Marketing Audience (Oracle CX Audience), an audience segmentation platform, Oracle aims to help marketers build deeper, more profitable customer relationships by eliminating data silos and providing real-time insights into rich behavioral data. (See the Shashi Seth Q&A.)
In order to deliver measurable results, however, it’s critical for modern CX professionals to take risks, help cultivate a vibrant company culture, and set clear priorities, other conference presenters said.
Keynoter Casey Neistat, a producer of short YouTube videos who has nearly 10 million subscribers, said he learned the most valuable marketing lesson of his career after creating a video for Nike about six years ago. The sports footwear and equipment maker had hired Neistat to produce three videos for a campaign for a fitness tracker the company was launching. Neistat delivered the first two videos pretty much as he had pitched them, pleasing his Nike clients, he recalled.
But by the time he was on to the third video, Neistat was a bit dissatisfied with how formulaic his work was becoming, so he came up with a zany idea that had little to do with the campaign: He decided to go to the nearest airport with his friend Max and buy two tickets for whichever flight was headed out next. And then they kept doing that over and over again in each city they visited, bouncing around the world and shooting the local environs until they exhausted the rest of Neistat’s budget.
After missing a couple of deadlines, Neistat finally—and reluctantly—delivered to Nike the fruits of his travels. The lead account executive’s first reaction? “I don’t know what this is, but I think it’s good”—at which point he let Neistat distribute the video on his own YouTube channel rather than on Nike’s, with very subtle branding. That video, Make It Count, went insanely viral, attracting more than 27 million views to date.
Back to that marketing lesson Neistat learned: “I don’t know how to sell products and, more importantly, I don’t really care about selling products,” he said. “What I do know how to sell is ideas. More often than not, when a company sells me an idea and does that effectively, I will show up and buy the product.”
Neistat, who went on to produce videos in the same vein for Mercedes-Benz and Samsung, reasons that if consumers are curious about a product—whether it’s an iPhone X or an AMG GT C sports car—they’re going to be able to find the information they need on other, more mundane channels. “So why don’t we focus on the ideas instead?” he asked.
Data Journey Insights
During an on-stage Q&A, Magen Hanrahan was asked for the top three insights from her “data journey” at Kraft Heinz, where she has served as head of media and marketing services since March 2017. Hanrahan, who oversees those services for more than 60 brands, including Planters nuts, Oscar Mayer hot dogs, and the iconic Heinz ketchup, offered Modern CX attendees three nuggets:
You do need to open up to new ideas, whether it’s new media channels or marketing channels or applications. Really test and learn.”– Magen Hanrahan, Head of Media and Marketing Services, Kraft Heinz
Focus on executing a manageable number of priorities—over the next 6, 9, and 12 months. “Some of that was just cleaning up our data, working on our infrastructure, having a standard set of KPIs across our brands,” she said. “Then we also asked: What is it that we want to learn? But we didn’t pick too many things.”
Leave room for risk. Hanrahan acknowledged that taking risks can be hard, especially for small brands that don’t get a lot of marketing support and need to make every dollar count. “But you do need to open up to new ideas, whether it’s new media channels or marketing channels or applications,” she said. “Really test and learn.”
Embrace marketing and advertising as fun. Enough said—this is marketing, not actuarial science.
Carolyne Matseshe-Crawford, vice president of fan experience at sports-merchandise e-retailer Fanatics, emphasized the importance of company culture—especially when it comes to putting your distinct mark on customer service. (Fanatics is using Oracle Service Cloud to modernize its contact centers and Oracle Marketing Cloud to get closer to its customers.)
When Matseshe-Crawford joined Fanatics in late 2017, the company already had a thriving culture, “but there were a few things we needed to tweak,” she said.
First, the customer service team expanded its profile of an ideal job candidate, putting a premium on service fanatics, not just sports fanatics. Second, it changed how the team’s performance is measured, evaluating each customer service agent in the same way a customer would evaluate them—that is, based on service metrics, rather than on whether each agent adhered to a long checklist of what to say on each phone call, email, or web chat.
“That was an exciting transition,” said Matseshe-Crawford, who noted that the company’s customer service ratings are up considerably.
Live Your Dream
On the final day of Modern CX, Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild: From Lost To Found On The Pacific Crest Trail, was asked for advice on how to make your dreams come true. Strayed, who comes from humble beginnings in northern Minnesota, acknowledged that there’s no recipe but offered the following perspective:
“The first thing is that nobody is going to live your dream for you, which seems kind of obvious, but sometimes we forget that. We allow ourselves to be held back by waiting for permission from other people. Affirmation is important for some people. . . . If you’re fortunate to have other people believe in you as well, that’s wonderful, but the core truth is that you have to stand with yourself.
“The other thing is that you have to always challenge yourself to be brave, to say, ‘I’m afraid to fail or fall short,’ but then do it anyway. Courage to me is not success. Courage to me is doing what’s hard regardless of the outcome.”
Photography by Bringintobeing
Rob Preston is editorial director in Oracle's Content Central organization, where he provides insights and analysis on a range of issues important to CIOs and other business technology executives. Rob was previously editor in chief of InformationWeek. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @robpreston.