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Notes from the Centre of the Universe

About a month ago, we set up the New York office of Crayon, the big data startup that I’ve co-founded. I was wading through a mass of summer tourists at Times Square, to get to my office on Broadway & 48th. Right up ahead of me were a bunch of European teenagers. A tall guy in the group turns around to the others and announces loudly, “This is Times Square, the center of the universe!”. Like everyone else, this group was also gawking at the massive neon signs in Times Square, and taking everything in (including the soon-likely -to-be-banned topless performers).

Two weeks later, this time in San Diego, I was part of a different crowd( mainly CIOs) at Gartner’s Customer360 Summit. But, a similar proclamation was made by one of the speakers, “The Mobile App (as a customer engagement hub) is the center of our universe”. He was addressing a crowd of believers & soon-to-be believers, who were all getting converted to CX & CEM (Customer Experience, and Customer Experience Management, to the uninitiated!) as the next big thing in tech.

No surprises there. We heard that “tech and customer engagement have become inseparable”( Don Scheibenreif), and that “CEM is the most important tech investment in next 5 years” ( Phifer, based on survey of 400 CEOs). Everyone is on the CX & CEM band-wagon. Hundreds of vendors, all with a different points-of-view, like blind men and an elephant. The sound-alike presentations and converging strategies of Microsoft, SAP & Adobe, means the big boys are leading the way.

But, lots of unplanned learning as I prowled through several sessions, chatted with my neighbors, and generally absorbed like a sponge.

I did not know that there are several thousand executives who now carry the title of ‘Chief Customer Experience Officer’ in US corporations (mainly in banking, financial services, retail & hospitality; with B2B also catching up). I was pleasantly surprised to see NYPD among the Customer Experience Excellence Award winners. CX is becoming serious stuff in healthcare too, as I heard from folks at Mayo Clinic and Group Health Cooperative. Heard that Macys uses Big Data to re-price products on an hourly basis.

I learned some new nice-sounding jargon at Gartner Customer 360 (not surprising, given it was a tech strategy conference). ‘Business Moments’ are transient moments of untapped opportunity that allow a company to leapfrog to a new business model, ideally digital. ‘Digital Humanism’ is about putting customers at the center of a customer engagement strategy, and not treating it as a pure tech play.

I came away convinced that IOT will not just be all around us, but will be integral to CX going forward. As Gartner’s Mimaoz &Rob Desisto nicely phrased it, “ ‘things’ extend the smartphone experience”, and delivered a coup de grace, by offering this equation: “Mobile device + IOT= Compelling innovation for customer management”. Heard two nice examples: using a paint purchase to sell laundry detergents, and Disney using wristbands at Orlando to provide personalized experiences.

My list of top-4 quotes from the event:

i) “IBM, Deloitte & Accenture are the top-3 digital agencies now”. This won’t be music to the ears of my former masters at Publicis Groupe. I must ask Rishad if he agrees.

ii)“Big Data is like Europe. Video & images are as different from text & email, as Spain & Portugal from Sweden & Denmark”.

iii) “By 2017, due to internet-enabled price visibility, the digital customer experience will be the key to your organization.”

iv) “You see the IT diaspora today. This is when IT discipline or control moving away within a company, from its IT home to other functions or people.”

Two more priceless gems to savor!

– Take a look at this Dartmouth-Hitchcock case study video. How IOT, CRM & big data come together for great CX. This was the nice bit in an otherwise sales-y session by Microsoft (it’s fairly rare to find sales pitches at a Gartner event).

– The ‘Situated Simulator’ University of Oslo project that overlays history on current tourist locations.

I wonder if some CIOs came away confused in the face of some contradictory signals regarding their priorities. Across different sessions, they’d have heard:

– CEM is most important tech investment in next 5 years; next is digital marketing.

– Analytics is the # 1 priority for companies. Within analytics, customer analytics is #1.

– Drive better CX through big data.

– Mobility & digital customer engagement is the top priority for CEOs to achieve growth.

But overall, good stuff!

Pretty close to the center of the universe. Wonder if Copernicus would agree with that!

Author avatar
Srikant Sastri

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