Archive for service

And Tell You of My Dreamforce

With apologies to Blondie…

 

Dreamforce was bigger than ever this year. Salesforce.com claimed an impressive 135k registrations this year. It’s unlikely that all of those registrations actually turned into bodies on the show floor, especially the free expo and keynote registrations. I can, however, personally attest to the nearly overwhelming crowds. I think this says something about the reach of the company and the considerable cult of personality around founder and CEO, Marc Benioff. He may well be the true heir to Steve Jobs.

Despite the scale of Dreamforce, there were really only had a handful of themes and one big announcement that were hammered home relentlessly throughout the show.

  • The big announcement was the launch of Salesforce1. Hinted at over the past several months, Salesforce1 is a complete redesign of the mobile experience and the Salesforce platform complete with new and expanded APIs for all the Saleforce.com services. Besides introducing a unified and elegant design, Salesforce1 enables lightweight integration of Salesforce.com’s applications and partner applications based on the Force.com platform. This is an extension of the trend toward integration of applications through social conversations, RESTful APIs, and other lightweight methods as opposed to backend integrations.
  • Salesforce1, while exciting to development partners, was quite frightening to integration and solution provider partners who make a living helping customers with more heavyweight, backend integrations. It was not clear to them how this would affect their business. Some partners I spoke with were worried that much of their high margin work they do would dry up. I’m not yet convinced that this is really a business problem as much as channel communication problem.
  • Salesforce.com also rolled out a new concept called “The Internet of Customers”. The basic gist was that Salesforce.com objects can be embedded in all types of devices to enable new ways to market to, sell to, and service customers. The idea of embedding Service Cloud objects into cars and medical devices to facilitate opening trouble tickets or getting immediate assistance is an especially compelling concept. It places the service in the context of the device. Most of us would love to have our car open up a service call with our dealer when we get an ambiguous service engine light. The “Internet of Customers” term is silly. Many of the people I spoke with who didn’t work for Salesforce.com were rolling their eyes at it. The idea it represents though is innovative and forward looking. I can’t wait to set it widely executed.
  • Other announcements were more modest.
    • Salesforce.com finally released that long awaited Salesforce Files product which is basically an enterprise grade Dropbox. Files’ ability to search and synch with SharePoint as well as desktops was especially well thought out.
    • The updated integration with the Pardot marketing automaton application which came with the ExactTarget acquisition, was also quite slick. I especially like how it gives sales professionals the ability to use nurturing campaigns to keep touches going through otherwise fallow periods of the sales cycle without begging marketing to do it.
  • The real blockbuster news for me was on the business side. Marc Benioff got cheers from the press, analyst, and financial community when he announced that the company has achieved its first $1B quarter and was on track for $5B next year while maintaining a 36% growth rate. Pretty impressive.
  • Mr. Benioff also told the analyst and press community that the idea of B2B and B2C marketing and sales was outdated. Instead, we should think in terms of B to Customer. That makes infinite sense. Why push customer into little buckets when it’s about building relationships? We are all consumers even when we act in the name of our businesses. The distinctions are getting too murky for such constraining terminology.
  • Finally, Salesforce.com’s and Mr. Benioff’s personal commitment to philanthropy and social justice was evident not only in the fundraisers but the constant promotion of causes, not-for-profits, and NGOs. His discussion about gender bias in the workplace and society with Facebook COO and bestselling author Sheryl Sandberg was a highlight for many attendees. I found myself texting quotes to my teenage daughter throughout Ms. Sandberg’s and Mr. Benioff’s discussion. Unfortunately, the warm and fuzzy was diminished by the inclusion of Marissa Mayer of Yahoo and John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, both of whom have been in the news lately because of issues of labor justice (Yahoo’s work-from-home policy changes and QPR, Whole Foods stance against unions which CEO Mackey has compared to herpes). Ms. Mayer who also sits on the board of Walmart – not exactly a paragon of labor virtue – actually attracted protesters. People I know in the Bay Area talk about how genuine Salesforce and Mr. Benioff are with their giving. I don’t doubt their sincerity. Mr. Benioff’s conversation with Ms. Sandberg also left me with the impression that he has a heartfelt desire to create a more just workplace. I just have to wonder at the choice of two executives whose reputations are not as stellar.

If nothing else, Dreamforce gives the impression of a company that truly wants to connect with its customers and help them connect with their customers while doing good in the world. I’ve never seen executives who gained as much energy from being with customers as the Salesforce executives. That alone was worth attending.

Support Can Make or Break Customer Experience

Many years ago I remember a successful business executive saying that the most important person in a company was the receptionist. His reasoning was that the receptionist was often the first person a customer, prospect, or business partner would interface with. The receptionist was often the first one who got the call from a customer looking for help. A good receptionist, one with a solid customer focus, deftly handled these inquires and put customers and others at ease. The opposite sort would irritate, infuriate, and aggravate people until they no longer wanted to do business with the company. This executive’s advice was to put real effort into the receptionists – hire well, pay well, train well, and empower them. Otherwise your business would fail.

This advice came to mind as I thought about the latest marketing buzzwords – customer experience and customer engagement. The idea behind both is to create an awesome, personalized experience that keeps customers loyal, hopefully turning them into brand ambassadors. It’s not a new idea really. What is new is the ability to continuously generate positive interactions with customers through social media and other marketing activities, directly and indirectly. And yet, with all this new technology, companies still ruin customer experience in old fashioned, low-tech ways. Like bad customer service and support.

I was thinking about this as I “interacted” with a tech company over problems with a tablet I purchased. It occurred to me that the same logic behind placing a focus on the receptionist applied to first line support. All the digital marketing messages, all positive social media interactions, all the Facebook offers, and recommendations from “the community  can dissolve in a second when a company ceases to provide basic and reasonable service options.

It doesn’t take a callous attitude toward the customer either. It’s the attitude toward employees that hammers the customer experience  In the case of my tablet, it is painfully obvious that first line support is not empowered to do anything other than to take your information and have someone call back in a few days (that’s right, days!). Is it obvious the product needs to be returned? Someone else has to call back to authorize and arrange it. Need to send something in for repair? Wait for an email from the repair depot?

I marveled at how first line support is also short of vital information such as repair status or even if the product is at the repair depot. I felt for these support agents even as I started wondering if I would ever buy anything from this company again. What a tough job, trying to provide service to people while completely constrained by a lack of any useful information. In many cases, the best an agent could do was send an email to the repair depot and wait three days for a reply. Three days seemed to be a standard wait time which was obviously too long for a reply to a simply question.

What is painfully obvious is that this company doesn’t trust, value, and respect their own workers (or business process outsourcing partners perhaps) enough to give them the basic tools of customer service. It was clear that they even forced them to make disingenuous, scripted apologies at certain intervals to (supposedly) mollify customers. It was painful to hear this forced humility. What a job!

This situation is an example of how the structural pyramid of a company is turned upside down. The least care, attention, compensation, and especially empowerment is given to people who have the most personal interaction with customers.

So, all the goodwill that has been built up though engagement during events, digital outreach, social media, and through their retail partners, has been frittered away in a short series of support mishaps that was easily avoided. No matter the technology, customer experience and customer engagement are doomed if you don’t trust and empower all of the people in the organization to support customers.