The next major battlefront in technology will take place in your living room… and your dining room, kitchen, bathroom, garage…. The major players in both hardware and software – Apple, Microsoft, Google, Samsung, Amazon – are all taking position in the field, getting ready to square off. All of these big guns have already made their way into the home through gaming and entertainment, whether on console platforms or via the mobile device that never leaves your side. This has created a beachhead to give access to the whole home ecosystem, enabling them to drive deeper into the home and providing them with deeper customer insight they can deploy across their entire relationship with the consumer across every kind of device.

The major players in both hardware and software are aiming to gain access to the whole home ecosystem and deepen their relationship with the consumer across every kind of device.Let’s look at some of the recent moves the combatants have made that are changing the game of customer experience:

  • Apple announced HomeKit, a set of tools that will let users easily control home devices (heating and cooling appliances, refrigerators, lights, webcams, security systems and so on) from their iPhone or iPad.
  • Google acquired Nest’s sleek smart thermostat system, and is moving rapidly toward an integrated strategy that will extend its presence across the home ecosystem through Google Wear, Glass and Watch.
  • Samsung just announced the acquisition of home automation start-up SmartThings.
  • Amazon is buying Twitch, an online video platform and community for gamers where people discuss games or watch others as they play.

What is all this activity really about? Context. Individually, products alone provide singular features and offer value within their respective functions, whether that is a thermostat, security, time, or gaming. But combined, the way the parts work together create sources of customer value far beyond their individual use. In a way, these tech companies are trying to avoid themistakes made by the U.S. railroad industry in the mid-20th century. Railroad companies focused on their product (trains) rather than on the context that customers had for them (transportation). As a result, railroads were basically kicked to the curb as people flocked to the cars and highways that still form the main transportation arteries throughout the U.S.

To succeed, companies need the ability to create customer value in a multi-contextual world. Simply put, context is king. The ability to create more and more channels to enter the ecosystem, whether via mobile apps, home sensors, and games, creates a competitive advantage and, as a whole, a frictionless customer experience. Crucially, these services need to be designed with a holistic view, as the value of the ecosystem is both a competitive necessity and an emerging customer expectation of seamless integration. Moreover, you will see that many of these services come at a very low price point as free mobile applications allow companies to create a hub of customer value and, just as important, opportunities for ecosystem end to end value for businesses.

In this battle, there is another front opening as well in terms of whether this will evolve via open standards, such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) – with many services supporting multiple platforms – or be tightly woven to the provider’s ecosystem. Samsung has clearly opted for theopen integration model, while other players are experimenting with both approaches.

How will this affect enterprise customer experience strategies? An ecosystem of various capabilities, seamlessly linked, has the potential to break down both product focused siloes, increase customer value and create greater top line revenues than the disparate parts. Perhaps most important, it could create a competitive barrier, or at least an innovation stop-gap, to keep up with the continuously changing customer technology landscape.

The lines in the sand are taking shape!  Where do you want to be?  Most important, which side is vital for your success?

(Note: this post first appeared on TCS Enterprise Insights)

From Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR to Apple’s acquisition of Beats, major tech companies have been making headlines this year as they buy into new technologies more closely associated with gaming and entertainment than with their core businesses. What’s the play here and what can enterprises – which can seem so far removed from consumer tech – learn from it?

The enterprise industry can learn a lot about customer engagement from from the gaming world.The answer lies with the customer. Gaming-focused tech is creating new consumer expectations that go far beyond just playing games. It is offering businesses new ways to engage with customers, learn about their needs and desires and better meet their changing demands. This customer insight, in turn, provides new business opportunities outside of the gaming sector. For example, Oculus is a wearable technology that offers a more immersive gaming experience, but it can also show Facebook what consumers look at and how, in a particular context. Beats uses sophisticated algorithms and curation to present listeners with personalized music playlists – while simultaneously gleaning insights into consumer preferences and crucially, the hundreds of millions of iTunes user credit card accounts that Apple can leverage for cross-sell and up-sell.

Clearly these technologies have broader consumer applications beyond their originally-intended purpose. But exciting possibilities lie ahead as consumer-led strategies impact the enterprise space. As consumers become more familiar and comfortable with gaming technology that tracks their every move or anticipates what they want, they are increasingly going to expect the same sort of immediacy when dealing with all kinds of businesses. For example imagine how virtual reality technology could transform the brick-and-mortar retail experience so that customers could ‘show-room’ and shop online simultaneously. When applied within the enterprise, gaming technology, alongside rapid consumer adoption, could fundamentally change go-to-market strategies, redefine customer engagement principles and open up a whole new world of data to drive customer experience for businesses.

Another recent move in the use of gaming technology went more under the radar, but is just as interesting. Microsoft announced in May that it will decouple the Kinect motion sensor technology from its Xbox One gaming console. While some analysts view this as an admission by Microsoft that consumers are not interested in paying for motion sensor technology, I see it quite differently. It’s a step towards a broad Microsoft home ecosystem, similar to what Google hopes to accomplish through its Nest acquisition, centered around technology that can understand your physical context and use that knowledge to determine what your needs are or will be. Being able to anticipate what a customer wants, before they know they want it, will be a customer engagement game-changer.

Introducing a new consumer technology always challenges companies to make the jump from “wow, that’s cool,” to “hey, this is useful.” But there’s a history of technologies developed for one purpose developing applications far beyond the original. Look at your smartphone to see many examples: an accelerometer originally intended as a gaming option has become the basis of fitness and many other apps; voice recognition that has languished in the PC world has found a home in the smartphone; and the smartphone itself is the descendant of a simpler device that, believe it or not, was once intended only as a way to make voice calls. Some innovative technologies take a while to find their destiny, while others catch on immediately. The clear lesson, however, is that a forward-looking company needs to consider each new capability to explore if and how, it can help the company meet customers on their own terms.

In future posts I will consider other ways in which consumer tech innovation, like Nest and the high-profile Google Glass, will impact the enterprise. For now, I’ll leave you with this parting thought. Gaming technology is creating a new set of customer expectations across the board – can you afford to ignore it?

(Note: this post first appeared on TCS Enterprise Insights)

The emergence of the social customer, business, and partner value chain, alongside the rapid growth of social media channels to enable businesses to extend their customer engagement operations in ways never available before has also caused as many problems as it has generated significant new benefits.

The market has witnessed multiple vendors with various Social CRM solutions without a deep focus on current enterprise CRM investments from prior waves. New social analytics tightly woven to the vendor offering to determine sentiment, influence external to business intelligence enterprise tools, the rise of new social work flows gaps inside the business to link community and content search optimization, category aggregation, tablets, mobility, technology connectors, propriety lock-in platforms for businesses strategically navigate in their customer IT strategy, and so on.

Ironically, all the above new complexity and noise (and there is more) can be boiled down to two simple trends we have witnessed in the last decade:

1. Enterprise CRM operations from earlier waves have remained fairly static or have become fragmented organizationally by channel or unit, leading to the growth of technology, business, and data silos internally and a decrease in enterprise coordination around the end customer needs and channels.

2. The networked customer increasingly influences a larger portion of the business relationship across sales, service, and marketing outside of the current enterprise customer operations and expects the business, in turn, to interact in a unified fashion, without regard to channel or business touch point.

These two mega trends have ignited a firestorm of activity across the vendor landscape, be it in software (legacy and start up), platform exchanges, tablets and smart phones, developer partner communities and collaboration, new SI and vendor alliances, and more.

Unlike the CMO driven Social Media initiatives that are in various stages of deployment, the market for Social CRM and associated enterprise CRM intersections between social and operational is still in its nascent stages. Identification of the most suitable solutions, best-in-class practices, silo avoidance, private and public cloud architectural implications, and the appropriate enterprise hybrid technology mix for organizations remains greenfield (while Gartner pegs this sub-sector in CRM to be 1B in 2011, data on the ground appears to indicate otherwise).

This hesitancy has a solid rationale. Unlike the current initiatives creating Social Media COE’s and such, Social CRM has much higher implications for enterprise front office operations, involving thousands resources, organizational constraints, business and legal implications. Its what happens once an enterprise acts on the social insight.

There are a few pioneering vendors that have been able to prove their capabilities and are pursuing a ‘suite’ position in this market. Yet there is a lot of duplication (and major gaps) in the functionality, and, more important, none can claim to replace existing enterprise CRM with new social CRM solutions for the existing enterprise CRM market (that is without creating yet another Social CRM silo). Rather, an integration, hub-spoke, division based, or combination of the above is the sales model approach witnessed, with low risk POC or assessment types of engagements occurring alongside.

Moreover, there is no one vendor that ‘does it all’, unlike prior ‘feature wars’ from the earlier CRM era. As a result the entire evaluation process is fundamentally different, involving stakeholders from Finance (CAPEX vs. OPEX), Technology (Multi-Tenancy, Off Premise vs. On Premise, and SOA implications), Business (Field Adoption, Mobility, and Time to Benefits Realization), and other units, such as PR, reviewing against a completely new set of parameters.

The above considerations are critical in the Business and IT investment decision (or lack thereof, with often today a preference to postpone given the state of the market). Yet, business leaders navigating their future customer strategies, full due diligence is required now more than ever before to be positioned now for rapid execution. Businesses are completing due diligence efforts as the recognition of the need for change, even with the highest ‘noise to signal’ ratio seen in the CRM sector for years, will not abate in the coming years and competitive attrition is around the corner. Rather, indicators on ‘noise to signal’ are that it will only increase.

Without new customer engagement models envisioned that can be operationalized in the enterprise front office, and a plan to harness the benefits of change, sitting on the sidelines, ‘waiting for the dust to settle’, is not an option.

Traditional CRM tools could previously claim to capture most of the customer interaction channels, whether it was a face to face sales visit or a call center call to the 1-800 number. This data was then used in forecasting and analysis on front office effectiveness analysis.

Today, what was perhaps 80-90% of the customer interaction is rapidly shrinking as customers moved to external customer support blogs and sales insight is derived from the latest networking analytics tools.

What does this mean to business? Most that have not begun to look into closing this gap will increasingly be ‘running with blinders’. Forecasts will inaccurate, and support issues managed in the external support sites will be unseen to the business. From the business’ perspective, this could be seen as a shortening of the sales cycle, or a rapid ‘fire drill’ to a support issue.

This is an incorrect viewpoint. What has really occurred is a transfer to the same activities to other tools, forums, and sites. This transfer has moved to the control of the customer.

To close this current CRM gap, companies will need to how best assess integrating Social CRM into their CRM infrastructure so that they are engaging the customer where the interaction is occurring. While the Social CRM niche vendor landscape has changed, the metrics remain the same. What is critical is how best to navigate the new landscape to realign metrics and regain business benefits.

The traditional sales pipeline model no longer holds in the new socially networked sales pipeline. What was once a well defined funnel of prospecting, needs evaluation, and solution selling has now become a networked sourced sales activity within many companies today prior to initiating contact with vendors. This had lead to both shortening of the sales cycle and a disconnected sales, sometime frustrating, interaction for both parties. For those companies not understanding the new networked customer and engaging where the conversations are occurring externally, the traditional pipeline building activity of buyer and seller alignment has collapsed.

Combined with the current global economic environment, this loss of forecast predictability only adds to uncertainty in sales management.

The net result of this trend has implications for both buyers and sellers. Companies that cannot connect with the new socially driven sales process will be in a poor position to respond to perceived ‘last minute’ customer inquiries when in fact due diligence has been completed on the buyer side. As the networked customer has assumed more aspects of the traditional sales cycle than has been the historical precedent, businesses must also adapt. Those companies that can bridge the current disconnect and engage the customer wherever the social sales conversations are happening, will be best positioned to win.

I ran into another lively CRM definitional debate, the kind that seems to pop up every six or nine months or so.  This write up from Focus last November seems to have covered it fairly well.

The unrelenting spread of social networks, with its ability to entice the masses to supply vast amounts of personal data (knowingly or not), has generated a corresponding spike in demand for social software and services to manage an organization’s “social identity”. Not surprisingly, this mandate has landed on the CMO’s desk for the most part. I would argue that positioning Social CRM as a Marketing owned and led initiative has the potential to create more issues, both internal and external, that far outweigh the shiny new SCRM tools and services available.

To put it in context, I can understand the desire to run fast waving the new “Inbound Marketing” flag. The first wave of CRM solutions neglected, to some degree, the marketing functions. First and foremost, it focused on enabling SFA (it’s the pipeline stupid!). Service came next, but usually with another CRM silo bolted on (it’s the ticket stupid!) or web self service. During this phase, Marketing was supported via CRM campaign management, web analytics, etc. but often the critical effectiveness data often came from within the internal CRM Sales and Service systems (or internal marketing tools and external data providers).

That’s not to say customer alignment across front office units was not the most critical enterprise goal from above during this period. It was always the mandate, required for the ever elusive 360 degree view. Various initiatives were kicked off to do just that, with some successes here and there, some failures, and lots of internal cross-unit complexities to manage.

Does anybody think the end customer cared during this phase of business activity? While corporate front office business units and IT were sorting out their differences between tools, data, systems, and business languages – - the customer moved on. The technology cost curve made it possible for individuals to invest their own set of Sales (research), (self) Service, and Marketing (platforms) reaching millions in a nano-second. Many of these customers now aim this newly acquired arsenal directly back at the company (rightly or wrongly).

Or, in other words, inside out processes turned outside in, customer relationship management turned into customer managed relationships.

So where are we today? Even now, most companies are in a reactionary mode. For organizations that exist in markets where there is individual choice, it’s simply matter of time before the new customer arsenal hits their turf (and of course there are always – two – ways to learn).  For others trying to be proactive on the wave, it has been mostly directed as a mandate for “Inbound Marketing” or “Social CRM/Twitter” based initiatives (side note: I have a problem with the “Inbound Marketing” term as its seems just as flawed as “Outbound Marketing” – last time I checked customer conversations and engagement are bi-directional, no?).

This is a start, but will still miss the end goal as we are repeating the past. Creating a truly customer centric operating model that is cross Sales, Service, and Marketing is a bigger imperative now more than ever. If anything, the new drivers should seek to empower Customer Service agents as much as it does Marketing.  And Sales, always looking for the most complete customer profile and activity data, needs to be in sync with Service and Marketing now as well. Revenue generation (or loss) activities on an account can occur at any touch point (so long pipeline and tickets!).

So what’s my point? Unleashing Social CRM initiatives via a Marketing-only silo has the potential to repeat historical failures if not properly planned and synchronized. Deployed in isolation, Social CRM can make the company look even more flat footed and less connected. In the first phase of CRM much of these miss-steps were, for the most part, invisible to the end customer.  Today, it can be blasted with all the world to see.

So really, this should be a mandate for real culture change within the front office first (the change that didn’t happen during the first wave), integrated strategic planning across Sales, Service, and Marketing second, and then deploying and managing the shiny new Social CRM initiatives, tools, and services last. #scrm #crm