Companies Need New Levels of Engagement to Win Over Customers

Technology is putting more power into the hands of consumers, but it can also help companies win them over.

tech helps win customers

HALF MOON BAY, Calif.—The holy grail of sales is the satisfied customer, who not only buys your product or service, but is likely to come back for more and refer you to others. Technology designed to help companies capture sales is rampant, but can be overdone, said Joe Hughes, Ernst & Young principal-IT advisory digital and emerging technology customer lead.

"Everyone can scale and everyone wants to write responsive UIs [user interfaces] like Salesforce Lightning, and have mobile apps and be on the Web and leverage a big data backbone," Hughes said during a panel discussion here at the Connected Enterprise conference on Oct. 27. "But let's get at least two channels right."

Omnichannel, the idea that you can market and service customers via multiple channels, such as the web, mobile, email, phone, is overdone, Hughes said.

"Feedback is critical. The most frustrating thing for a customer is to go from one channel and then to another and they [the second channel] has no record of your earlier interaction," Hughes said. He referred to an earlier session at the conference when a Comcast executive detailed how the cable company has consolidated customer interactions so that service agents have a complete record of the customer's history. "Comcast can see what you did on the web and that now you're calling. It shows you're paying attention, and that feels better to the customer."

Ken Finnerty, vice president of IT at UPS, said technology is key to greater customer engagement. "As Einstein said, 'You can't solve today's problems with the same thinking that created them,'" Hughes said.

And UPS clearly has problems and challenges that are far different today than those the century-old delivery company faced earlier. "The degree of packaged deliveries being shipped to consumers is rising exponentially. At UPS, 6 or 7 percent of the GDP [Gross Domestic Product] is in our hands," Finnerty said.

Last year up until Dec. 1, UPS had only a single day where it tracked as many as 100 million packages. In December 2015, it tracked more than 100 million packages every day of the month. "This year, we'll top 200 million in December easily," said Finnerty.

While that increase might seem to lead inevitably to more impersonal automation, UPS has striven to get closer to the customer. For example, the UPS My Choice membership service gives customers the ability to change their delivery options online—everything from asking that a package delivery be delayed to another day, to asking that it be delivered to a neighbor or retailer.

UPS has signed up 25,000 retailers worldwide so far to participate in the program. "It takes the friction out of delivery for the consumer, and local retailers benefit by having another reason for the consumer to come to their stores and maybe they'll buy toothpaste and other items while they are there," said Finnerty.

Nitin Badjatia, who heads global market strategy for Oracle's Service Cloud, said we are entering a new era of customer engagement.

"We've entered the third decade of what we call CRM [customer relationship management]," said Badjatia. "The first decade morphed into the rise of customer experience and what we're going into now is customer engagement. The CRM acronym was correct, but I couch it as customer records management that lets companies operationalize their relationship with customers. Then there was the rise of customers seeking control of those records and social and mobile took conversations that were the dark matter of the industry and the enterprise and exposed them so we got customers we didn't have before.

Now Badjatia said new technologies like blockchain, internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence leave enterprises poised to see "everything" about the customer and prospects. "I think there's a fourth element to all this, and that's 'how can the customer become an active partner in all this?'"

He says the challenge today is not so much connecting with customers, but having the right information as part of the engagement. "You better have the right information. That's where AI comes in. For CRM to dance, it needs a dance partner."

David Needle

David Needle

Based in Silicon Valley, veteran technology reporter David Needle covers mobile, bi g data, and social media among other topics. He was formerly News Editor at Infoworld, Editor of Computer Currents...