Guest Post: Get to Know Your Customers Better with This All-In-One Tool

Whether you’re a business owner or marketing expert, you understand the importance of knowing your audience inside and out is key to attracting prospects and retaining existing customers. Fortunately, there are a number of tools on the market that can help you do just that.

Through cloud call center software available from companies like Aspect, you’re able to get a more complete picture and understanding of your customers, from their search behavior and purchase patterns to their history of interactions with your company.

Here are several ways this tool can help you achieve that highly-desired, 360-degree view of your customers.

Personalization

Aspect’s cloud call center allows for businesses to get a more personalized look at each and every customer. In particular, the software can provide insights into customers’ purchase and spending history, as well as the frequency with which they do business with your company. Indeed, gaining these insights will allow you to retarget specific customers — based on their specific desires — with similar products or must-have accessories, which will keep them coming back time and time again.

Furthermore, call center software in the cloud gives you the ability to recall every customer’s recent interaction history with your company. For example, when a specific customer calls your support line more than once, your live agents will already have a number of tools at their fingertips — this may include who the customer initially spoke with and the details of their previous conversations — to more seamlessly resolve any outstanding issues.

Based on this information, your live agents will be able to determine the customer’s needs and anticipate any problems or questions they may have.

Convenience

Another great customer-focused aspect of cloud call center software is its omnichannel capabilities. Of course, not all customers prefer the same methods of communication. But by providing omnichannel options, customers can reach your live agents through a number of different mediums, including voice, email, text messaging, live chat and social media.

For example, if a customer prefers to be contacted via text and requests a status update on their most recent purchase, your live agents can text them in real time with the requested information, allowing the customer to respond when it’s most convenient for them.

But perhaps one reason why employing omnichannel options can be valuable to your company is the ability for customers to reach support agents 24/7. No matter the time of day, employing a cloud contact center gives you the ability to offer live chat support via your website, where customers can ask questions at any time from virtually anywhere.

Ultimately, this allows your company to fit the individual needs of a variety of different customers around the clock, even outside of normal business hours.

Satisfaction

Last but not least, cloud call center software allows your company to track customer satisfaction scores by deploying surveys to gather important feedback. Simply tailor your questions to your liking and specific needs in order to gain crucial customer insights and gauge which areas of your business need some fine-tuning.

Cloud call center software can help you achieve this through both stand-alone and post-call surveys that can be deployed after a voice call or via text message. For example, you can deploy a post-call survey to use for training purposes or to simply gain additional feedback from your customers.

You can also deploy an in-app survey to gauge user experience, mobile-friendliness and overall satisfaction with your company. Gaining these types of insights are valuable, as the feedback comes directly from the customer, which can then help you make the best business decisions with their interests in mind.

Capturing a More Complete Picture

By using cloud call center software to aggregate customer data, your company will be able to gather a more complete picture of each and every customer. In the end, better understanding your customers’ desires will help your company in future retargeting strategies and, in turn, help retain this clientele.

 

About the Author

Andrea Rodriguez is a freelance writer and digital marketing expert

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Amazon Will Compete With FedEx and UPS and Provide Better Customer Experiences

Shipping with Amazon (SWA) is the name of Amazon’s new delivery service. It is thought to rival UPS and FedEx, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Why is it attractive to customers? It seems Amazon wants to offer lower prices than competitors (FedEx and UPS) by adding extra package to the empty spaces in their trucks.

The service is said to start in Los Angeles and work with third-party merchants that sell on Amazon’s marketplace. Will Los Angeles be the only city? No. In fact, there may be plans to expand to other cities.

What’s changed? In the past, Amazon offered third-party sellers warehouse management software and fulfillment support to help merchants. While it doesn’t seem like SWA will be required for Amazon’s vendors, vendors that participate will help Amazon to coordinate more of the fulfillment operations. Amazon will also have more control of the delivery process from the time the package leaves a merchant’s warehouse to its arrival on a customer’s front door. For merchants that can only be a good thing.

It is possible SWA may enable Amazon to offer Prime shipping for any products from a business using SWA. This may be an advantage to Amazon because offering more Prime-eligible products could make a Prime subscription more valuable, giving subscribers more options and lead to additional purchases. And the end result? It may provide better customer experiences. Which Amazon has already done a good job of – but this could increase customer’s choice and Amazon’s revenue. Looks like it’s a win-win.

@DrNatalie

VP, Salesforce

Image Source: Wall Street Journal

 

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Creating An ROI For Human Capital And Organizational Change Projects: Part 2

I was working at a company and asked to do several things. First was to recruit 100 engineers. That may not seem like a lot, but for every 100 people, we interviewed we had 1 person accept. So it took interviewing 1000 people to obtain 100 engineers. Part of that was because we were looking for a specific type of engineer – digital signal processing engineers. The company I worked for had gone through a series of hiring and layoff cycles, so they weren’t completely trusted by the local community as being a stable place to work. Many of those types of engineers had left southern California to go to northern California to pursue work – and for larger salaries and more stable positions.

Examining What Was Important to The Employees Was the Key

We had lost a large number of engineers and some accounts were in trouble. So the need to recruit quickly was key. Normally it could take us 3- 6 months to recruit these type of engineers. I had been given a month. So I stepped up to the challenge. I thought, what would I want to experience to determine if I wanted to work for this company? I would want to hear from the leadership that they were dedicated to doing things differently. I would want to know that there were exciting career options in various categories and I would want to feel, touch and see the advanced technologies I would be getting a chance to work with and enhance my skill set so I would be more marketable in the future, both inside the company as well as if I decided to leave. I would want to get to talk to potential colleagues and potential bosses. I would want to get a sense of the culture and the environment I would be working in. And I’d like to meet people who were seeking the same or similar positions to what I was seeking – who would be these new people on-boarding with me?

The Answer? A Career Day With a Special Invite to Top Candidates

What I proposed was a career day. We took out an ad in the LA Times, inviting the best of the best to apply to our company and upon invitation, they would be invited to come to the career day, hear from our leadership about our company and their future there, be interviewed by direct hiring managers for our 5 major divisions as well as tour booths staffed by some of our top engineers and business folks. In the booths, we demonstrated our “cool” technology – at least that which was not classified as top secret.

To pull this day off, I worked with our graphics department to create amazing ads, colorful booth content, onsite brochures and the personal invites sent to those that had sent in resumes and qualified to participate in the career day.

The Launch of the Career Fair

The day started with a group of engineers who began their career day journey with us by hearing from our top leadership. Then they got to tour 5 divisions, each with several booths where the top technology was being demonstrated. We tried our best to come up with really interesting, real-life demos that potential employees could get to touch and feel the technology = actually experience it. Then they were invited to interview with a hiring manager there on site. The hiring managers were given the ability to hire people on the spot (something we’d never done before.)

The Reaction of the Interviewees Was Fantastic

What was interesting was the feedback we collected on video as the employees left the career day. Most of them, after interviewing wanted to go back and hang-out in the tech booths or listen to more talks from our leadership. They commented that it was the best interviewing process they had ever experienced. What was even more gratifying was that the day not only had a positive effect on the interviews but also on the employees who helped put the day together. I had not seen the employees shine so brightly in a long time. It was clear they had a new found sense of pride in the work they were doing as well as for the company. We even captured their feedback on the video and put a compilation video together. Why the video? To help demonstrate the ROI.

Examining the ROI for the Career Day

The cost to develop the day and put it on was about $1,00,000, including the a portion of the salary of all people who participated in the project for various amounts of time, the graphics, the ads in the LA Times, the billboards off the 405 freeway, the booths, tanks we had onsite as part of the booths, etc… When we looked at the cost of recruiting one engineer in our typical process. HR had calculated that to be about $150,000. To obtain 100 engineers we would have had to interview 1,000 people at a cost of $150,000 and that would be equal to $15M. Most people would have considered those soft costs. But they still cost the company time and money. In this new process of interviewing, it cost about $2M. We were able to interview and hire over 100 engineers. The ROI?

$15M – $2M / $2M x 100 = 650%.

(Benefit of saving the regular cost of interviewing – Cost of the new interviewing process / Cost of the new interviewing process x 100 = ROI %.

What I Found Surprising

It wasn’t just that we were able to recruit so many great people quickly. Another aspect of this process was that we actually interviewed our own employees who staffed the event and created all the content to make it amazing. What they said on camera was they were truly proud of the place they worked. They felt a sense of pride they had not in years. I what I learned was that by engaging our own employees, making them part of the recruiting process in this event, it changed their attitude towards the company and their work. So not only were we able to hire all the engineers we needed, but we had boosted the internal company morale! It was a very exciting day for everyone. Something I will proud of for years to come!

@DrNatalie Petouhoff, VP, Innovation and Transformation Expeditions, Salesforce

 

 

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ROI of Human Capital and Organizational Change Management: My Personal Story

I was working for a company that had found themselves in a situation where they had poor morale. Raises were few, partially because of the economy and as a result, people were working very hard and not feeling appreciated. HR came to me to ask what to do. As an early design-thinker, my reaction was always to ask the “customer.” In this case, the “customer” was our own employees. When I interviewed them, I asked them what they wished they had- essentially what was missing? I found that the answers were very surprising. They didn’t feel appreciated. They didn’t feel they were growing and expanding their skills. They didn’t feel like they had a future or that the future looked bright or that they had a hand in creating that future. Or that they even mattered.

The Root Cause of Employee Dissatisfaction

I found that in the appraisal process, once the employee heard they were not getting raise, they shut down. So pretty, much after the first few minutes of the appraisal, they stopped actively participating. So when it got to the part where they were going through their goals for the next year, they had stopped engaging and were only going through the motions.

Because their future goals and engagement to their jobs and their careers was key to being a top company, I came up with the idea of separating the employee appraisal process from the employee development process. And set out to design an employee development process where employees could examine, through goal setting practices, personal-professional goals that would enhance their skill set and make them more valuable to the company, but also have a personal sense of accomplishment and growth.

The Cost of Low Employee Morale?

The cost? With my team, we estimated about $6M for 60,000 employees. I went to the executive leadership meeting and presented my proposal. There was a lukewarm reception, that is… until I got to the cost. At $6M I was laughed at and told to sit down. That was the longest meeting I have ever been in. I couldn’t wait for it to be over. Trying my best to hold back the tears, I just sat there feeling awful.

I went home that night and I did cry. I had interviewed the “customer” figured out what was missing and proposed the solutions. But what I didn’t do is calculate the return on the investment (ROI.) This was very early in my career and this experience taught me the valuable lesson of creating the business value or business case of whatever it was I wanted to propose. The lesson served me well because once I learned to do this, I always got my funding.

Calculating the Cost of Low Employee Morale and Attrition

So you might be wondering how did I calculate the ROI of employee development? Isn’t that a soft skill or a soft benefit? My grandpa had taught me that any time there is value, there is a financial benefit. You just had to find the numbers. So the next day, after a good night’s sleep, I went o HR and asked them, “How much does it take to hire this type of engineer – a digital signal processing engineer?”

They said, combining the recruiting teams time, traveling to various universities, ads in the local papers, radio advertisements, (This was way before social media) reviewing incoming resumes, having the initial screening calls, and then interviewing with a number of the staff and the hiring managers, getting the engineer a secret clearance, etc… the cost was about $150,000 / engineer.

And then I asked the crowning question, “How many engineers did we lose in the last month?” HR said, “200.” And I saw the ROI. If we had lost just 40 people, then $150,000 x 40 would equal the $6M I was asking for. But in the last 3 months we had lost 200, so the cost of attrition just for 3 months was $150,000 x 200 = $30M.

So with the loss of 200 engineers, if I could retain half of them, 100 engineers, then the cost of attrition would only be $15M.

Calculating the Cost of Employee Attrition

The ROI = Benefit – Cost / Cost x 100 = % Return on the Investment

The benefit is the saving of the $15M in attrition costs. The cost is the cost of the program or $6M.

So to calculate the ROI…

Savings of $15M in attrition – Cost of the employee development program of $6M /Cost of the employee development program x 100

So the calculation looks like this:

$15M – $6M / $6M x 100 = 150 % ROI

The Defining Moment

So after pulling my self together and confident with my calculations, I asked for 5 minutes on the agenda. Of course, they were reluctant to give me any time. I got 2 minutes. So I went in with one slide. The slide with the ROI calculation. I said, “We are spending $30M in attrition and if we pay attention to why people are leaving and create a better culture so people feel that they matter, they are learning and growing and feel apart of something bigger than themselves, we can reduce that attrition. So let me walk you through the calculation….” And I did.

To my surprise, instead of sighs of ridiculousness and grumpiness, there was silence. I had hit upon something that no one had thought about. The cost of attrition. While is at first seemed like a “soft” cost, when it was laid out for them in black and white… even if I was off by 50% – we were still wasting the companies money on having people leave because we weren’t paying attention to what was important to them to feel loyal. Why go through all the time and expense to recruit these amazing people, only to push them away and have them go to our competitors, making our competitors smarter and stronger?

How Does This Story End?

Actually very well. I was given the money to develop the employee development program. I was very surprised to get so many emails and people stopping me in the hallways to tell me how much they appreciated what I had done. I didn’t do it for the accolades. I did it because I truly wanted to create an amazing place to work.

The lesson learned? If there is value to something, even if it feels like it is initially a “soft” cost, there is a way to express it in hard dollars in a way that executives can see change is needed. And this was my first experience in organizational change management!

@drnatalie

VP, Salesforce, Innovation and Transformation Expeditions Center

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Avoiding the Failure Chasm: Gaining The Most Value Possible From Digital Transformation

Whether you are a CEO, a CIO, a CTO, a CMO or the head of Customer Experience, Customer Service or Digital Transformation, you know software can be an amazing invention. It can be part of the key to digitally transforming your businesses in so many ways. In fact, here’s just a few of the ways digital transformations can take shape…

Digital Transformation and Software can help in the area of human capital by:

  • Increasing employee engagement, creating a passionate culture, increasing productivity and motivation
  • Attracting the top talent, making your organization the sought after place to work and an awesome culture to be envied
  • Reducing attrition of talent you want to keep to make sure you are able to produce the best possible business results.

Digital Transformation and software can help business generate revenue by:

  • Developing incremental innovation of products or services from receiving feedback from employees and customers
  • Co-creating new products with input from customers and employees
  • Developing new business models by creating new products and services that didn’t exist in the company’s line of business
  • Generating new applications and uses for existing technology, products & services, i.e., moving them from the core business and finding adjacent/new markets
  • Increasing the customer lifetime value, i.e., increasing the amount and frequency of purchases per customer over the lifetime of a customer
  • Increasing customer acquisition by increasing market awareness of the company, it’s products and services by engaging customers and brand ambassadors through delivering content at the top, the middle and the end of the funnel through two-way texting, email, digital ads, banners, digital and social media… and
  • Increasing the brand’s equity, reputation and preventing a PR crisis and brand intervention projects and so much more…

Digital Transformation and software can help business reduce costs by:

  • Creating new products and services with more agile processes (vs. waterfall processes)
  • Improving an exiting process or eliminating redundant processes / steps
  • Reducing the cost of products or services that fail in the marketplace because now they have feedback from customers and employees way before the product hits the market
  • Reducing the cost of bugs or flaws in the product or service because of using more agile processes and outcome-based thinking
  • Reduction in contact center costs by increasing first contact resolution (FCR) by using the most innovative ways to engage customers and
  • Reduce customer churn by increasing customer satisfaction by better customer experiences and hence increasing customer retention….

Why Do Company’s Fail At Digital Transformation?

So just from that short list it’s clear there are so many ways software can enable a business to function at it’s very best. However, there is something that can get in the way of the effectiveness and efficiency of the actual software’s ability to deliver on the promise. What might that be? If the software is good, then it’s not the software. So what is it? How can you realize your company’s vision through digital transformation when over 80% of digital transformations fail. Nobody wants to spend the time, the money and the effort getting a project approved, implementing it only to find a year or five later that it didn’t produce the results it was supposed to. But surprisingly, this still does happen. Some of those reasons include:

  • The absence of a clear plan to achieve digital transformation
  • Lack of alignment between business and IT
  • Legacy systems
  • Siloed data
  • Gaps in talent and skills
  • Cultural resistance to change and
  • Group think (seeing the problem from the same perspective.)

How Smart Companies Are Avoiding the Digital Transformation Failure Chasm

Smart leaders need all the efforts of all their employees, as well as, feedback from their customers so they don’t fall into the digital transformation failure chasm. However, often times they are so busy doing what they have always done, they they might not see a new way of looking at things. That’s where another pair of eyes or hands or even a team can help. You’ve experienced this probably yourself. You are trying to solve something. You feel you’ve looked at it hundred different ways and nothing really new comes about. You might even show a friend or a team mate and they are stuck, too. Why does this happen? You are not alone. In fact, it’s quite common.

1962, Abraham Kaplan, then a Professor of Philosophy, was giving a speech to scientists in which he urged scientists to carefully consider their methods for their research. He emphasized that – just because certain methods happen to be handy, or one has been trained to use a specific method or trained to look at a problem from a certain perspective -it doesn’t mean that that method will produce the best outcomes. Sometimes people formulate problems that reach solutions by using those techniques they are especially skilled in. In other words, we tend to formulate our problems in ways that make it seem the solutions to those problems demand precisely what we already happen to have at hand. In Abraham Maslow’s The Psychology of Science, published in 1966,  stated, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” The issue is the reliance or over-reliance on the familiar or the habit of using the same perspective.

Taking this concept into software development and implementation, José M. Gilgado, wrote a law  that is still relevant and highly applicable in 21st century. He observed, often times software developers and implementors, “tend to use the same known tools to do a completely new and different project with new constraints.” Why? They blamed it on what he calls the comfort zone, a state where we don’t want to change anything to avoid risk. What’s the problem with using the same tools every time? We get good at those tools and we like using what we are good at, right? The issue can become that you don’t have enough diversity when discussing the problem (because you are using the same perspective you’ve always used) so the exchange of diverging or opposite views is limited and the choices to look at the problem from different points of view are limited because there’s nothing new to compare it to. What would be better if is… to look for the best possible choice with varying perspectives, even if we aren’t very familiar with them. But we rarely do that. Rather, we fall into group-think.

There’s some very interesting research by a professor at the University of Michigan, Scott E. Page who studies complexity theory. In his book, The Difference, he shows how the power of diversity creates better groups, firms and business outcomes. We all differ in how we see and interpret the world. How we code things is our “perspective.”  Scholars from a variety of disciplines have studied how people and groups make breakthroughs. The bottom-line? Encouraging and working with diverse perspectives. For example, do you know how pins came to be manufactured? Adam Smith ran one of the first brush factories. Someone saw that the bristles could be cut off and made into pins. That’s what I mean about seeing things differently. Most people would have looked at a brush factory and saw a brush factory. But the first pin factory was imagined by seeing that diverse perspective – seeing the world differently – seeing the world as a forest of pins – provided the seeds of innovation.

What does your team need? You’ll want to engage and partner with a new set of diverse senior advisors and specialists who are dedicated to your success, who use unrivaled expertise, processes and methods to make your business more agile. You’ll want to make sure they are the kind of people who thrive on guiding your team so your team learns the key principles to create and sustain change. And you’ll want to choose the most powerful technology platform to be the basis to fuel your transformation for today and far into the future. With all of that, and a collaborative team culture you can:

  • Align key leaders around a digital transformation strategy
  • Implement the right framework to move forward
  • Create the agility needed in today’s digital environment and
  • Adopt new technologies faster to keep pace with change.

Often it is –outside, diverse points of view– that are just what is required to steer you clear of the failure chasm, and instead have an immersive engagement based on a proven approach that combines people, expertise, culture, and technology. You want to be working with people who are uniquely able to help a business realize their visions and co-create the future by:

  • Exploring the art of the possible by
    • Leading with out-comes based thinking (OBT begins with defining a desired outcome, no matter how bold or provocative. It’s fundamentally different from problem solving, which looks at the current state and attempts to improve it)
    • Inspiring design-led thinking (instead of solving a problem, your team becomes solution-focused and action-oriented towards creating a preferred future)
    • Testing new strategies (vs. setting a plan and sticking to it for a year and then realizing they’ve wasted a year or more on something that isn’t going to work; maybe even trying a little experimentation to see if something could even work)
    • Sparking agility throughout the organization, igniting the whole culture’s motivation in whole new ways, giving them a renewed sense of purpose and outlook on the future and feeling they have the dream job and a reason for showing up other than a paycheck!
  • Building your digital capabilities by
    • Improving your operating model (and maybe even shifting the revenue model to something you’ve never considered, but it was the innovation that was needed to grow the company exponentially)
    • Growing the competitive advantage; as the Blue Ocean Author’s would say, you’ll want to create new, uncontested market spaces making the competition irrelevant
    • Stimulating breakthrough ideas that transform business as usual and
  • Creating sustainable transformation by
    • Creating a customer-first culture
    • Managing complex changes and
    • Continuing the processes required to innovate, iterate, pivot and grow.

How do you find such a group? Look at their DNA. Is it digital? Are they a natively global, mobile, social, cloud, community-oriented company? Are they trusted advisors who put the customer first and teach them to fish? Do they experiment, try new things, iterate and pivot quickly when it doesn’t work and tweak things till they hum? Do other companies desire to be like them and wonder what technology they use to be so innovative and wonder how is it, they do what they do? Are they super customer focused? As my friend and colleague, Peter Coffee would say, “Do they create a sense of urgency, hope and glory? Or conviction, belief and desire in your team? Are they all about (and seriously about this, it’s not just some words on a website or a brochure) connection, collaboration and innovation?” If you want to learn more about how one group guides business through digital transformation, here’s more info on that!

Until next time, here’s to realizing your vision and the best possible future for your company, your employees, your stakeholders and the planet. It’s all of our jobs to make the world a better place. And what better place to do that than starting with businesses? That’s where people spend a great deal of their time! So make it a fabulous experience for employees and the customers will feel the love. You will be their go to source for all your customer’s products and services. Don’t give them reasons to leave you, Give them reasons they can’t possibly give you up. Because… at the end of the day, that is what drives customer lifetime value. No customers, no business. It’s really that simple.

@DrNatalie Petouhoff

VP, Program Executive, Innovation and Transformation Center, Salesforce.com

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Guest Post: 10 Of The Best Best Marketing Tips From Apple

If you’re in the business of developing new and improved ways to market your company, we have 10 tried & tested strategies for you, that worked wonders for Apple.

Everything from customer service to brand message and pricing, Apple incorporated have built their empire with the following marketing techniques that are not only simple but also very effective.

Speaking of simple – how intricate are your current marketing campaigns? Complex enough that your target audience quickly switches off?

Learn to speak the language of your buyers and keep your campaign message direct and straight to the point.

A great product speaks for itself, and in saying that, the best marketing campaign will highlight all the features and benefits whilst omitting price details. The very reason Apple never engage in a price war is because they focus heavily on the quality of their product. And people are willing to pay the price for a product they believe is of high calibre.

So if you´re ready to launch your product to the next level with the same tactics used by the leaders in technology, read on this infographic by The Website Group to discover just exactly how Apple became so successful through marketing.

About the Author:

Ashley Phillips is Managing Director of The Website Group, a UK based Digital Agency specializing in pay monthly business web design, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Social Media Marketing.

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B2B Customer-Centric Strategies

Customer-centric strategies have been the mainstay of B2C companies like Amazon and Google. But today B2B the landscape of business-to-business relationships is changing. Industry-leading B2B companies increasingly respond to intensifying global competition by putting customer-centricity and experience at the heart of the strategy. For a very many B2B companies, across many sectors, the growing influence of customer-experience strategies and the bold moves of customer-centric leaders pose a critical challenge.

Traditionally, being successful in the B2B arena has been largely a matter of being in the right markets, offering superior products and services, or being the lowest-cost producer. These advantages have come under threat from increasing global competition and many players have invested in functional excellence. But while these benefits are great, they are dissipating quickly as competitors tap the increased mobility of labor markets and expanded access to knowledge.

This is why the emerging battle in B2B will be fought on the smart combining of digital and non-digital transformation to improve customer experience. A holistic, cross-functional transformation of a company’s core, including its culture, enabled by digitization offers a significant opportunity for differentiation and competitive advantage, especially as new competitors fluent in digital tools move into the B2B space. The trick is striking the right balance between digital and human interaction in B2B’s more complex customer relationships.

Investing in improved customer experience pays dividends. We have seen companies substantially raise customer-satisfaction scores through significant improvements in operational performance. These improvements can lower customer churn by 10 to 15 %, increase the win rate of offers by 20 to 40 percent, and lower costs to serve by up to 50 percent. In parallel, as customer experience improves, employee satisfaction tends to increase as well, because a more direct connection with customers adds meaning to employees’ work and helps them witness customer satisfaction.

Business-to-business customers are already demanding a better experience. In a recent McKinsey survey of 1,000 B2B decision makers, lack of speed in interactions with their suppliers emerged as the number-one “pain point,” mentioned twice as often as price. And digital solutions loom large in executives’ thinking as a way to make routine tasks more efficient. Some 86 percent of respondents said they prefer using self-service tools for reordering, rather than talking to a sales representative.2

Yet the reality at most B2B companies is far from this vision. Many companies often need days to provide a quote, require customers to fill in complicated order forms (often on paper), and frequently leave customers in the dark about the status of their order.

 

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What’s the Number One Number Thing Today’s CEO’s Must Do? Do the OODA Loop Faster and More Innovatively

What’s the Newest Requirement for a CEO? Do the OODA Loop Faster and Better!

You would think it would to generate revenue, profits and reduce costs. Think again. It’s all about iterating and pivoting like a start-up. And who better than a former fighter pilot to teach CEO’s a thing or two about making quick. So I want you to meet John Boyd, who was among many things, a military strategist, colonel and fighter pilot whose theories are highly influential in the military, sports and business.

So why bring up Colonel Boyd in the context of CEO’s and their need to be nimble? Because investors and boards have transitioned from desiring quarterly profits (something that has driven Wall Street and corporations for many years) to searching for leaders to those who have the ability to disrupt their industry or die. What did the fighter pilot, Colonel Boyd used to make those decisions to do something out of the ordinary? He created a framework known as the OODA Loop:

  • Observe (M—ake the best use of the information and other intelligence resources available right now)
  • Orient (Quickly put the new observations into a context with the old)
  • Decide (Make quick decisions and take the “next actions” based on a combination of observations, current knowledge and intuition), and then
  • Act on those decisions to carry out the selected action(s), ideally— while the competitor is still observing your last action so you beat them to the punch!

OODA Loop

                                         Photo Source: Larry Paul

Above is a video from Ralph Mroz on the OODA Loop as applied to business if you want more information!

Observe, Orient, Decide and Act Is Known as John Boyd’s OODA Loop

As a fighter pilot, John had to make decisions in nano-seconds. With this framework of observe, orient, decide and act he way able to describe a way to iterate and pivot, very quickly, and decide if the object in front of them is friend or foe. Not doing so could mean life or death. It could also mean the end to a critical mission.  What does the OODA Loop mean to a CEO? Iterating and pivoting is also mission critical. Just ask the CEO of Ford Motor Company, Chief Executive Mark Fields. He was a 28 year old veteran of the business and was replaced by someone the business thought would be able to disrupt the automotive industry very quickly!

The Message is Simple: Do the OODA Loop Faster or Die

While Mr. Field’s did what most board’s used to expect of a CEO’s, i.e., he returned consistent profits, he did’t make enough changes fast enough. His OODA loop was too slow. But he didn’t know what he didn’t know. He, as many other CEO’s don’t realize that the winds of change are changing all around us. Like in most any industry, the car market has entered into the era of transportation.

It’s no longer just about building and selling a car. It’s about car-as-a-service. Think: ride-sharing (think Lyft, Tesla and ReachNow (by BMW.) It’s also about taking the traditional gasoline engine and transforming it’s power source to be an electric vehicle. And it doesn’t stop there. Some companies are disrupting the industry by experimenting with self-driving technology, making investments in connected cities (think BMW and Santa Monica, CA.) And at the same time Ford’s stock sank. 

How Fast Does Your CEO do The OODA Loop?

How fast do decisions get made? How fast can the ship be turned? Today, with the need to act quickly, the message is simple. We are in an age of rapid disruption by the software and tech industries. A leader of any company has to pick up the tempo and make riskier bets sooner… or die. While it was Mr. Field’s intention to set Ford on a path to be part of the new, emerging auto industry, he just didn’t do it fast enough.

Since Mr. Field’s took over three years ago, the share price of Ford is down 40%. As a CEO, as yourself, “Are you disrupting yourself, your company and your products fast enough? Are you really changing anything or are you just doing the old stuff just faster?” These are not easy questions, but ones that we all need to contend with. Consider you are one company and your are disrupting yourself faster than your competitor. What happens to the competitor?

ooda loop faster to drive innovation @drnatalie

                                                             Photo Source: Larry Paul

As a CEO, Are You On Track?

In military operations, OODA loops takes place in nano-seconds. In corporations, its decisions are often slower. In the old days, strategy was rigidly followed till next years’ planning cycle. But today, that’s no longer an acceptable mindset. And it’s critical to validate we’re on track and if not, correct it. Using a model like the OODA Loop, along with design-thinking which requires to you go and talk to your customers, your employees, customer’s of your competitors, to industries that are similar to your and industries that have nothing to do with yours.

It’s where the kernel of the seeds of innovation are hatched, born and grown into a full idea. The results of your actions become the observations to re-orient you to make your next decision. Quickly repeating the OODA loop equals success. And as you are doing this, you want to make sure you are making real-time changes that are just changes to make changes, but change to create a “Blue Ocean Strategy.” As defined by the author’s of the book, Blue Ocean Strategy, CEO’s need to quickly create an uncontested marketplace, where the competition is irrelevant.

Who’s Slow to the OODA Loop?

According to the article by Christopher Mims of the Wall Street JournalRonald Boire of Barnes & Noble, GNC Holdings’ Mike Archbold and top executives at three of the six major Hollywood studios making changes faster is very important. Where to look for inspiration? According to Mr. Mims, unlike large corporations, startups don’t need decades to make the changes the businesses need to succeed in the new world. They are nimble, they are always iterating, pivoting, changing, trying new things, not being afraid of conflict…

What does this mean for established companies? They will need to take drastic measures to do the OODA loop faster. What kind of drastic measures? According to the article, these CEO’s must be willing to tell their stakeholders they may have to lose money and cannibalize existing products and services, while scaling up new technologies and methods. Not the same old dog chow most CEO’s having been dishing out.

How Can a CEO Get On Track?

It used to be that you could acquire the start-up that was trying to put you out of business. But in today’s market it takes more than that. Companies that are disrupting the marketplace are growing so quickly, capturing so much market share, they don’t want or need to be acquired. And they can become too valuable to buy or are unwilling to sell. So the questions for you, as a CEO, “Is do you have systems to monitor/measure what employees know, think & feel about what is going on in the business?”

They are often the ones on the front line that really know what is going on and what needs to be done, or at least what isn’t working. “Do you really know what your customers know, think & feel? Or do you have a cordial relationship where the “real deal” is not really discussed?” Honest, conscious conversation is where it all starts. Many people have made careers by learning how to manage-up well. That’s not a bad thing, except when you aren’t telling the CEO the truth about what the troops think, feel and know. But there has to be a cultural environment that always you to be able to safely say the things. That’s not always the case.

And, as a CEO, “Do you take that information that you have gathered from your employees, your customers, all kinds of sources and integrate it into your company?” One of the best ways to stay on top of the game is to monitor social and digital media. If you have a digital / social media command center, where all the top news and information is brought into one central place, you can begin to digest a new picture of the quickly changing landscape very easily. You’ll also want to keep your ear closely attuned to what is happening in the start-up world, regardless of whether it is Silicon Valley or Silicon Beach or Silicon Edge or…

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

To me, all of this sounds like something very familiar to those of us who came from the voice of the customer or quality. Remember Deming, the father of Quality who was pushed out of the American Auto Industry? And then only to be invited to Japan and make their automative industry soar? What was his secret sauce? To listen to their customers and the employees. To make really changes to their products and services based on that feedback!

Start Incubating Innovation

Today, companies must incubate disruptive ideas within their own corporate cultures. And this is not easy, because often it means supporting them as they grow into something truly disruptive. The company might have to absorb their losses. For example, for its first 20 years Amazon made almost no profit. But iterating, pivoting and incubating is not enough. A CEO must maintain the existing business at the same time as they innovate. This is a new and rare skill.

So where best to learn how to think like an OODA Loop CEO? Find a group that help take you through thinking differently, through a design-thinking process where you never know what will come out of it, but it always spurs innovation. You have to cross the chasm, from how you normally do things, to how things have never been done before. That’s a lot of change, so it’s also important to develop those ideas and new innovations in the culture where change and honestly is accepted and appreciated.

@drnatalie

VP, Program Executive, in the Innovation and Transformation Center 
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Want to Know More About Machine Learning and AI?

Wondering whether you should invest in AI and Machine Learning? That’s a question that the most innovative companies are considering. Why consider it? One good reason is because your competitors have already started. If that doesn’t give you some reason to get motivated, I hope you get started before you are put out of business. To make sure that doesn’t happen, there are  a few things to consider to help you start to explore an investment in machine learning.

It’s the Data, Stupid

Of course, as with any business initiative, you’ll want to create value. And this can be done using machine learning systems. But for those systems to provide value, companies will need to begin by evaluating their organization’s data maturity, but more importantly their readiness to accomplish its data-driven goals. Company’s need to start with an audit of their data warehousing, data scientific research capabilities, data governance and data hygiene. In addition, it’s important to look at the sources, uses, volume, and veracity of all your date, meaning your first-, second-, and third-party data.

Garbage in, Garbage Out

Why is making sure your data so clean? Machine learning is basically taking a computer and making it smart enough to learn from the data it’s fed. We are essentially programming machines to learn. The goal is that after a certain point of time, the computer is able to predict further data. How so? Let’s pretend you want to make your computer predict the weather. So to begin, you might feed the computer weather reports of every hour of every over the past year. What you might end up with is– because the temperature (z) depends on day of the year (x) as well as the time of the day (y), more than two-dimensional curve. In fact, weather is random, so the equation generated by the computer won’t just have 3 variables (x, y, z), it may also have higher powers. So depending on the number of factors in a prediction and the randomness of the outcome, the complexity of the curve can increasingly get more complicated.

So back to the data… And I know you know the story about data: garbage in, garbage out. So hopefully, now you see can why good, clean data is so important to prediction. As the computer is taking the data you feed it to make future predictions, those predictions dependent on the data you are feeding it. So you want the very best data possible. And it takes super computers which are capable of handling large volumes of data, as well as the ability to learn fast and to make fast decisions based on the learning it under goes.

AI and ML Are Not The Same

Often times Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are used interchangeably. But they are actually different. Artificial Intelligence is the broader concept of machines being able to carry out tasks in a way that we would consider “smart.” Machine Learning is the application of AI based on the idea that we should be able to give machines access to data and let them learn for themselves. Artificial Intelligence devices (devices designed to act intelligently), are often classified into one of two groups: 1) applied and 2) general.

Applied AI is far more common. Applied AI is about systems designed to intelligently trade stocks and shares or drive an autonomous vehicle. Generalized AI is may up of systems or devices that, in theory, can handle any task. And are less common. However, this is where some of the most exciting advancements are happening today.

Deep Learning is A New Area of Machine Learning Research

It was introduced with the objective of moving Machine Learning closer to one of its original goals: that of being Artificial Intelligence. So essentially Deep Learning is a subfield of machine learning concerned with the algorithms inspired by the structure and function of the brain called artificial neural networks. Deep learning has worked it’s way into business language via Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data and analytics. Deep learning is an approach to AI which shows great promise when it comes to developing the autonomous, self-teaching systems which are revolutionizing many industries.

The Two Big Ideas: It May Be Possible To Teach Computers to Learn and The Internet is a Source of a Ton of Data

Arthur Samuel, in 1959 is credited as the one who came up with the big idea that it might be possible to teach computers to learn for themselves. That would be in contrast to teaching computers everything they need to know about the world and how to carry out tasks. The second big idea was that the Internet, with huge increase in the amount of digital information being generated, stored and could be used for analysis. So the scientists and engineers realized it would be far more efficient to code computers to think like human beings, and then plug them into the internet to give them access to all of the information in the world.

Neural Networks Are Algorithms

Neural networks are a set of algorithms, modeled loosely after the human brain and designed to recognize patterns. The development of neural networks has been key to teaching computers to think and understand the world in the way we do, in addition to the innate advantages they hold over people such as speed, accuracy and lack of bias. So a Neural Network is a computer system that classifies information in the same way a human brain does. It can be taught to recognize, for example, images, and classify them according to elements they contain. It works on a system of probability – which means that based on data it’s fed, it is able to make statements, decisions or predictions with a degree of certainty. The addition of a feedback loop enables “learning” – by sensing or being told whether its decisions are right or wrong and then can modify the approach it takes in the future.

What Can Machine Learning Applications Do?

Machine Learning applications can read text and work out whether the person who wrote it is making a complaint or offering congratulations. They can also listen to a piece of music, decide whether it is likely to make someone happy or sad, and find other pieces of music to match the mood. They can even compose their own music expressing the same themes, or which they know is likely to be appreciated by the admirers of the original piece.

These are all possibilities offered by systems based around ML and neural networks. The idea is that we should be able to communicate and interact with electronic devices and digital information, as naturally as we would with another human being. And another field of AI – Natural Language Processing (NLP) – has become an exciting area of innovation in recent years, and one which is heavily reliant on machine learning. (And yes, my initials just happen to be NLP, but that doesn’t really mean anything… just a happy coincidence…)

Where is Used?

Take Google for instance. Google is using it in its voice and image recognition algorithms. It is also used by Netflix and Amazon to decide what you want to watch or buy next. And it is also being by researchers at MIT to predict the future.  While Machine Learning is often described as a sub-discipline of AI, we might look at Machine Learning as the state-of-the-art of AI. Why? Perhaps because it is showing the greatest promise to provide tools that industry and society can use to drive change.

More on the practical uses of AI and ML in the future. For now, noodle on that!

@drnatalie

VP, Program Executive, Innovation and Transformation Center

 

 

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