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The Modern Customer Podcast

The Modern Customer Podcast is a show exploring the intersection of customer experience, social customer service and content. We will also dive into related leadership topics. The show is hosted by Forbes contributor and customer experience strategist Blake Morgan and features guests that include practitioners, authors, influencers and other tastemakers.
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Sep 18, 2017

Imagine a city where people travel seamlessly on their way to and from work, new technology is integrated into everyday life, the air is clean of pollution, and people feel safe and welcome. It may sound too good to be true, but for a number of entrepreneurs and engineers, it’s a reality they are working towards every day.

            Ford is leading the charge to bring together all kinds of thinkers and creators to consider the future city—a place where new technology is used and executed smoothly in a way that is useful for the people and sustainable for the environment. From city planners to scientists and engineers, people from across nearly every discipline are involved in the conversation. In order to make the future city a real possibility, everyone must be involved and on board.

            There are a number of things to consider when creating the city of the future, including transportation, logistics, weather, safety, and much more. One area that is a central focus for many companies, including Ford, is transportation. Cities of the future over the next 20-100 years can’t rely on cars because it will lead to too much congestion and pollution. Instead, these thinkers are considering new ways to move people around that harness the power of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other new technologies. Ford is doing it through its recent acquisition of Chariot Shuttle—a micro-transit company that operates vans that can hold up to 14 passengers. These vans operate throughout cities to get passengers where they need to go, but the routes are entirely crowd-sourced, meaning that if enough people need to travel to or from a certain spot, the routes can be changed to accommodate their needs.

            There’s no doubt that people love the convenience of living in cities. In fact, cities are expected to grow by 60% by 2030. Now it’s up to the city managers, local leader, engineers, entrepreneurs, and more to turn those cities into sustainable entities. Creating the city of the future requires thinking outside the box—building more freeways won’t fix LA’s notoriously bad traffic, for example, so the conversation has moved to creative alternatives with public transportation. As the number of options available for public and shared transportation grows, cities need to better understand the trends and what is happening so they can continually improve the systems.

            Creating the city of the future is both a daunting and exciting challenge, and it all starts with a conversation across industries and expertise. With resources, new technology, and a collection of creative ideas, the city of the future might be here sooner than we think.

 

 

 

Sep 12, 2017

Online shopping and new technology has changed how customers interact with brands and make purchases, and it has had a huge effect on the customer experience. Knowing who your customer is and what they expect from your company is huge, especially when it comes to understanding why customers shop online. How customer experience is put into action changes based on the type of company and industry and what customers need to best have their needs met. However, there are always core similarities; Dr. Volker Hildebrand, Global Vice President at SAP Hybris and author of “The Customer Experience Edge”, has narrowed customer experience down to four fundamental principles: convenience, speed, relevance, and reliability. Companies that have the best customer experiences do a great job with at least three of the pillars.

            Customer experience is a holistic experience, and being able to offer a personalized approach for each customer can give your company a big advantage over the competition. Although companies may have internal silos, customers don’t see that and want a cohesive experience. Volker cites the example of a bank that was having difficulty getting customers to sign up for online banking. When it realized employees in the branches didn’t have any incentive to refer customers online and that the two entities were being run separately, it made changes to unite the branch and online experience and combine the metrics. Customers don’t care about what’s going on behind the scenes as long as they can have a quality and convenient experience, so companies need to take down silos for a unified experience.

            The internet has made the customer journey start way before the customer actually buys a product or steps into the store. Now, customers are doing their research to find out what products are best, and they expect to be able to find all the answers they need quickly and easily. If a company can’t provide those answers, either through a chatbot, online community, or human, they risk losing that customer to a brand that can provide the answers. Thinking about things from the customer’s perspective and making sure all the information is accurate and easily available can start the customer experience off on the right foot.

            One disruptive aspect of online shopping that is changing business models is subscription services. These days, customers can have subscriptions for everything from rental cars to toilet paper. Subscription models offer customers the convenience of not having to worry about ordering something, and they often come with discounts. However, using a subscription model means customer experience is more important than ever. In these cases, the experience and service is really what makes the difference—you’re no longer selling a product, you’re providing a service. Making customer experience an integral part of everything the company does, especially online, can drive growth and customer satisfaction.

            The key to customer experience is finding a way to stand out and putting yourself in the customer’s shoes to provide a cohesive experience from end to end, no matter if it is online or in store.

 

Sep 4, 2017

Every company wants a magic elixir that makes employees happier, profits higher, and the outlook rosier. According to leading business strategist Charlene Li, that secret sauce is growth. When a company is focused on growing, customers and employees are excited and enjoy an upward spiral. But in order to grow, companies need to be willing to take risks and go outside their comfort zones. Growth and meeting customers needs need to play a critical part in an organization’s strategy.

            Companies that take risks tend to have better customer experiences. Think about it—customers will more naturally want to shop from a brand that is new and finding the best ways to meet their needs instead of a company that is stuck in the past and hasn’t updated its products or practices in decades. In order to take calculated risks, companies must build the growth mindset into their company under the direction of top leadership. The speed of change depends on the industry, but companies should strive to keep up with the fastest moving customers they serve. For fast-paced tech companies, that could mean new initiatives every few months, while other manufacturing companies might take a big risk every few years—it all comes down to what your customers want and expect from your service.

            Part of growing is always finding customer solutions before customers even know that’s what they need. Charlene points to the example of T-Mobile, which talked to a number of customers about their mobile experiences. A common thread was that cell customers hated their carriers, no matter who that carrier was. They didn’t like being chained to a contract and limited in what they could do. With that in mind, T-Mobile took the risk to create the Un-Carrier strategy that has been successful for the company. If T-Mobile didn’t have a growth mindset and a strategy of listening to customers and thinking about the future, they would have missed out on a huge way to set themselves apart from the competition.

            Customer experience is also affected by how companies are organized. In many cases, it can be helpful to have a single person serve as the Chief Omnichannel Officer to bring together the various call centers and customer technologies. This is especially important early on in a company’s customer experience maturity when one person needs to hold the organization’s hand and set the tone for interacting with customers. As things grow and develop and the strategy becomes more engrained in the organization, that person can act more like an organizer to bring together all of the aspects of customer experience instead of being expressly in charge of every detail. No matter the size of the company, everyone needs to have a customer-centric mindset that helps them do their part to create a strong customer experience.

            Understanding where your company is today and where it needs to be in the future can help set a strategy that encourages customer interaction. Charlene suggests creating a customer advisory board and inviting customers to be open and honest and what the company can do better in its customer interactions. Staying one step ahead of the competition and always keeping an eye on the customer can lead to tremendous growth and success, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Instead of being distracted by things that don’t really matter, companies need to create strong strategies to guide their actions and meet those unseen customer needs.

 

Aug 31, 2017

There’s never been a more exciting or more challenging time to be a marketer. Customer expectations are changing by the minute, meaning marketers have to be on the ball to keep up with new ideas. How can they help their companies grow while still keeping their brand current and relevant?

            According to Sally Jenkins, CMO of Informatica, the key is to understand the customers and always be looking forward to a new opportunity. Sally shared her experiences leading a recent rebrand at Informatica. Rebranding is about much more than just changing the logo—it is a chance to make sure messages and goals match what customers want and expect. While a full rebrand doesn’t need to happen on a regular basis, companies should constantly be testing their messages with customers and honing their communication in an ever-changing world.

            The first step of a rebrand is to understand what customers are saying about the company. This can be done with surveys, events, or break-out sessions to get a better understanding of what customers feel about your company and where they are in the customer journey. This information gathering should be open and honest—it acts as the basis for your updated brand, so information that isn’t completely accurate could lead to ineffective results and a brand that isn’t truly aligned with what customers are looking for. The end goal of the first stage of rebranding is a complete understanding of where customers are and where your company can take them.

            From there, companies need to synthesize the information and combine it with other data to find a way to translate what the customers want to the company’s messages, look, and feel. This is where the brand identity is created and when the visual aspects of the brand are connected to goals and vision of the company.

            Sally stresses the importance of first launching your new brand internally with employees. By thinking about employees as your first customers, you can help employees realize how to use the company’s values in the decisions they make at work every day. Once the employees are on board and understand the updated brand, the messages can be spread to external customers for a cohesive customer experience.

            Rebranding is something that needs to be thought about on a regular basis and continuously adjusted as the needs of the company and its customers change with new technology and ideas. One of the best ways to do this is to use data for predictive analytics. Combining the science of data with the art of marketing helps CMOs and their teams stay on top of trends and lead the charge for innovation. In the ever-changing marketing world, data helps companies make informed decisions about effective ways to reach customers.

            To truly keep up with innovation and growth, companies should always be proactive and find ways to disrupt the status quo. In a world where customers where define your brand no matter what, it’s up to the marketers to take charge and help set the narrative the reflects your true brand.

 

 

Aug 24, 2017

Digital disruption is inevitable, especially as new technology emerges at a rapid pace. But instead of being disrupted, it’s up to companies and leaders to take charge and become the disrupters themselves.

According to Michael Sutcliff, CEO of Accenture Digital, the future of customer experience is all digital and focuses on personalization. However, creating a plan on a whiteboard and actually putting into into action at scale in the real world are two very different things. In order for a digital strategy to truly be effective, companies must be able to adapt their digital technologies and learn more about their customers’ intentions over time. Preparing to be disrupted isn’t something that happens overnight—companies must work at it and plan to adapt their strategy.

Many of the companies that struggle with digital disruption are those that don’t want to put the work in or don’t know where to start to move towards the digital space. Some companies put lots of effort into the front end of customer experience without realizing the changes that need to be put into the back end and the supply side. Creating a strong digital customer experience is both an art and a science that requires work and planning on all sides. Instead of relying on legacy technologies like outdated call centers, many organizations don’t realize the importance and potential of a digital customer model that can be much more efficient and interactive.

In the digital space, disruption can come from any other industry, not just those that are right around your company. Consider the example of Airbnb: it paid attention to customers to realize what they really want is an experience. The company then partnered with other brands, such as transportation or ticketing companies, to take advantage of their technology and create a package for Airbnb customers that gives them everything they need for a great experience. Airbnb wasn’t disrupted by other industries but was able to leverage their technology to disrupt Airbnb’s current model and create something more efficient and successful.

But no matter how much technology is added, customer experience will always be human centered. Technology is simply the supporting tool to create a good experience for a human, whether that is the customer or an employee. The best digital strategy can’t create a strong experience if the human skills and connections aren’t there. Companies should work to truly understand customer intentions instead of just caring about how much money each customer earns for the company. Customers can quickly see when a brand doesn’t truly care about or understand them. New digital technologies provide companies the opportunity to greatly improve their customer understanding and interactions—companies that don’t keep up or lead the pack of disruption will quickly fall behind companies that are embracing disruption.

Digital disruption has the potential to fundamentally change how an organization does business and interacts with customers—but it’s up to the company to take charge and lead the change.

Aug 15, 2017

Steve Hirsch has perhaps one of the most daunting data jobs in the world. As chief data officer at the Intercontinental Exchange and NYSE, his team is faced with massive amounts of data that relate to financial markets around the world, and it all has to be safe, accurate, and usable. It’s a big job, and one that has evolved over recent years with changes and new technology.

One of the biggest changes has been the growth of artificial intelligence, but Steve says we are using the term AI too much and often applying it to technology that doesn’t actually involve artificial intelligence. Steve cites the example of Apple’s Siri, which appears to be AI but is actually just programmed to answer questions in a certain way without taking insights from around and making her own conclusion, which is what actual AI would do.

Automation is playing a large role in the trading spaces, as some exchanges have replaced human traders with computer-based trading machines that use algorithms to find the best deals. Because so much of what happens in finance is driven by models and technology, the industry has faced a number of changes in the past years and decades. To be successful and keep information secure, data experts in the field need to stay informed and on top of the latest trends.

In the data-driven financial world, the Intercontinental Exchange is always looking for ways to incorporate new technology, whether that means building it themselves or going through a good vendor. The main goal of the Intercontinental Exchange is to provide financial data to traders, investors, and academics. That means making sure customers have the information they need to manage their own risks and providing a trusted environment and network that is secure enough for customers to do their required work. The same principles apply to any tech-based business: the goal is always to keep customers’ data safe and secure and provide them the resources to get the job done.

Data, especially related to finances, is particularly prone to volatility. To be successful, organizations need to be prepared for volatility. It shouldn’t be feared, but rather thought of as a way to test that the team has done their jobs properly. Anything from changes in the market to political events, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters can have a big effect on the industry. These events can’t be predicted, so constantly managing data and making sure it is always secure and accurate is incredibly important.

For people wanting to get into the data space, Steve says there are lots of opportunities. Some of the biggest demand now, especially for organizations that analyze massive amounts of data, is for data scientists and data engineers who can understand data and algorithms to make business decisions.

The financial markets affect us all, and having the right data drives smart decisions to keep the markets thriving. Your organization doesn’t have to be as big as the NYSE to take advantage of data—by staying on top of tech trends and avoiding being disrupted with volatile actions, any organization can work towards success.

Aug 10, 2017

Things in the world of customer experience are constantly changing, and the CIO is no exception. Instead of simply sitting back and waiting for things to happen, today’s CIO plays a more proactive role in finding forward-thinking solutions for the company. That’s according to Jason Richard, CIO of Lucky Brand. While the old CIO position may have been limited to the technology side of the business, Jason is involved in many facets of the organization as he looks for ways things can run more smoothly, be more efficient, and leverage new technology. This is incredibly important in customer experience as modern customers demand a consistent, tech-based experience. Even something as seemingly simple as offering free WiFi in stores can utilize new technology and greatly improve the customer experience.

            As more customers take their shopping online, the CIO plays a large role in making sure customers have a consistent experience no matter where they are shopping and that they don’t see any barriers between shopping location. In Lucky’s case, customers could be on the website, in a dedicated Lucky store, or at a partner department store, so Jason and his team ensure the technology is the same and that employees can provide customers with the products they need. This includes making sure the company has the best technology to track inventory, accept payments, and communicate with customers. If a customer purchased a product online but wanted to return it in store, as is very common in today’s world, the company needs to have the right technology to make that transaction possible. Without proper systems and employee training, customers could be left with a frustrating situation and no way to change it. The CIO’s job is to deliver on capabilities to make the customer experience great.

            The role of the CIO has already changed, and it will continue to evolve as technology and the customer experience changes. The focus going forward isn’t simply on making sure computers work and the lights stay on, but rather on delivering on ROI and using technology to make a strategic impact in the company. CIOs can’t sit back and wait for other business leaders to come to them with needs of the organization—they must get enough pull behind them that they can innovate and proactively put the right technology in place to drive the organization forward and build a strong customer relationship. In order to do that, CIOs need to be aware of their business, the industry, and the latest technology.

            In a world filled with evolving technology, customers expect a strong tech-based experience. The CIO can implement changes to greatly improve the customer experience and stay ahead of the technology curve.

Aug 1, 2017

Today’s customers want to interact with brands in a way that is easy and convenient. For most people, that means self service because they can control when and how they get the information they need instead of waiting on hold and potentially wasting their time. When it comes to self service, there’s possibly no better technology than a chatbot. Wells Fargo recently tested the waters by creating its first chatbot, and the lessons learned can be applied to companies in any industry.

            One of the biggest draws for a chatbot is that offers self service with a conversational interface, according to Kimarie Matthews, Senior Vice President of Wells Fargo Virtual Channels Social Care & Capabilities. Customers can easily find the answers to their questions by using a conversational style instead of having to type or search for an answer, but they also have the value-added human service if that better meets their needs. Chatbot technology opens the door to offer a higher level of customer experience and connect with customers in a new way.

            The Wells Fargo chatbot includes answers to basic questions about account balance or recent transactions, which are what most customers use the chatbot for. There are also other features that customers have yet to discover, like diving deeper into spending trends and potential account offers, and Kimarie says the company is discussing how to let customers know about the additional features that can help their banking and savings goals.

            Where should companies start if they want to build a chatbot? Kimarie says it doesn’t have to be a grand effort—simply start with a task that customers need and that the chatbot can do very well. Things can grow naturally from there once customers realize the value of the chatbot. For Wells Fargo, that meant delivering an easier way for customers to keep track of their account balances, but other companies can find tasks to simplify for their customers with a chatbot. The important thing is to tweak the chatbot in real time and constantly make adjustments to improve the customer interactions instead of sitting back and waiting for feedback.

            Chatbots are a powerful customer experience tool and one that will continue to evolve as technology changes. Although issues around security and privacy still remain and will need to continually be addressed, the foundation is set and the resources are there for companies to take advantage of chatbots. It all comes down to ease—building a chatbot is relatively easy for businesses with resources like Facebook, and using chatbots can make things easier for customers. Although chatbots will never replace human interaction, they are a great resource for expanding how brands and customers connect.

Jul 24, 2017

It used to be that customer experience took place in person or when a customer called a support line; however, the interactions of today’s modern customer are much more digital, meaning there is a huge need for a technology stack to drive a strong customer experience.

            According to David Rowley, CTO of IAC Publishing Labs, customer-driven technology can make a huge difference within an organization, but it also needs to be thought through so that it is strategic and efficient. Many companies build with themselves in mind instead of their customers, but forward-thinking organizations with the best customer experiences put themselves in the shoes of the customer and think about how their customers interact with the brand. By breaking down the interaction into every touch point, companies can focus on the technology that will best meet the needs of the customer and the goals of the company.

            The key to a strong technology stack is to make a seamless experience for the customer. Although internally things might be divided amongst various teams and apps, the customer should be able to have the same experience no matter if they are communicating with a brand on social media, browsing products online, or calling in with a question after making a purchase. Many companies focus solely on the discovery phase of the customer journey when customers are choosing which product to buy and doing their research. While that part is incredibly important and is often what drives customer growth, it shouldn’t be prioritized at the expense of the later customer stages. After a customer has purchased a product or chosen a service, they can be turned into powerful brand advocates and have the potential to build a strong relationship with the brand. These customers can turn into a valuable tool for referrals and expanding a brand’s message, but oftentimes the step is forgotten.

            Along each step of the customer journey, there should be systems in place that build connections between the brand and the customer and offer a personalized experience that customers will want to share. In order to be truly effective, brands need to combine systems of engagement, or the things they use to interact with customers, with systems of record, or the back-office programs that track customer information. Tying these systems together is critical to monitor and stay on top of the modern customer experience.

            One of the biggest challenges of the modern customer experience is integrating technology stacks that will last as technology changes and evolves. The key is to focus on the problem you are trying to solve and to understand how customers want to interact with the brand. Some brands have success going through a single stack provider, while others like to piece together services from a number of vendors; there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather each company needs to do what is best for their strategy.

            The key to staying ahead of the modern customer experience is understanding technology and how the right stack can help companies better understand and interact with customers.

 

Jul 18, 2017

Anyone who says it’s a man’s world clearly hasn’t seen the impact women can have on customer experience. As more women flock to customer experience roles and opportunities and bring their unique perspectives and skillsets, it’s becoming clearer that women are in a unique position to lead customer experience.

According to Denise Lee Yohn, a brand-building expert with more than 25 years experience, women have unique points of view that lend themselves well to customer experience. Among those is the natural ability to be empathetic, which is especially important because customer experience really boils down to understanding the customer and what they want. Women can also stand out in a field of men, which gives them more opportunities to shine and share new ideas. As diversity and inclusion becomes a bigger focus at many organizations, not having women involved in customer experience makes companies seem out of touch. After all, women are half of the customer base, so leaving them out of the decision-making process could be disastrous.

I interviewed Denise Lee Yohn on the modern customer podcast. Listen to it here.

That’s not to say that women don’t face challenges in the customer experience space. Some women have to battle with being stereotyped, and not being thought of as credible. Many women suffer from imposter syndrome, at least as they move up in the leadership ranks. That means they don't feel as powerful as they seem and they must fake it until they make it. Society often tells women even in 2017 that their worth is based on their looks, rather than their mind and their work. When you look at the top of politics, of corporations, and even of keynote speaker line-ups, we still mostly see men. Where are the women? We are here, but we face many hurdles uphill, but must support each other in our effort to create more opportunities for women.

Along with personal challenges, inside of corporate America there are challenges women face internally at companies. In many organizations, customer experience is divided across multiple departments, meaning that to truly make an impact, a woman has to be able to influence beyond her scope to people in other areas, and many organizations aren’t currently set up for women to do that. In order to be most effective, many women rely on their content to override the prejudices and use a more logical and analytical approach when discussing customer experience with men.

According to Denise, customer experience is very connected with employee experience—if employees don’t understand or aren’t motivated to deliver a good customer experience, it is much more likely that they won’t. The most successful companies develop an internal culture that is aligned with their brand that then connects that to the customer experience by linking what customers need to what employees need. When employees are treated well and feel valued and connected to the brand, they are much more likely to share those experiences with customers. This strategy seems to work well with women, who often naturally like to make connections between groups and people.

For a woman to break into the customer experience space, she must embrace her differences and channel that unique perspective into something that can contribute to the company. Being deliberate about your career and the skills needed to succeed can make a big difference.

It may be an uphill battle, but women are making great progress in the customer experience space and proving they can connect with customers and drive results in a new way.

Denise Lee Yohn is a fabulous speaker and thought leader and I had a wonderful time interviewing her for my show. She is an important voice to follow.

Blake Morgan is a customer experience futurist, speaker and author of the book More Is More. Sign up for her newsletter here.

 

Jul 5, 2017

Sheryl Connelly is the in-house futurist for Ford Motor Company. You might be surprised to know she doesn’t ever talk about cars.

As futurist she says she often finds herself “in the role of the polite contrarian.” If you listen to Sheryl, she’s a wealth of knowledge about self-driving cars, to shifting gender roles, to how and why companies need to work on building trust with consumers.

Her job involves playing the role of contrarian. At Ford she spends time asking her colleagues about their own assumptions around their work. And this is the role of the futurist, to pose possibilities and various scenarios around the future and what could be. Technology has sped up the rate of change and this is why the role of the futurist is more important than ever.

“The reason we have so many futurists today is we have so much change happening so quickly. I need to put in the opposite vision just so you can entertain it," said Cheryl.

Futurist As Storyteller 

Part of being a futurist is painting possible pictures of future scenarios. This role is part researcher, statistician but more importantly storyteller. As a storyteller you have the potential to tell an optimistic story of the future or a negative one. Sheryl said in our podcast, “If you’re an optimist you have rose colored glasses. That includes economic growth, prosperity, improved quality for masses, education for all, disease and suffering eradicated. But you always have to compare it to the exact opposite.”

Sheryl is an optimist but does her best to stay neutral. She said, “It’s much easier to imagine the many ways to things can go right than go wrong. The end game isn’t to see who wins, but to see how expansive you can get with your thinking.”

Sheryl is very measured when she speaks about the future, even self-driving cars. When I asked her in our interview what impact the media hype has on the work at Ford around self-driving cars she said, "The media hype doesn’t drive what Ford is doing. Ford has been working on autonomous vehicles for decades. The really big obstacle is the other stakeholders, barriers or hurdles. [For example] How do you resolve issues surrounding insurance, legislation, data privacy, protocol, partnerships with cities, infrastructures, public and private collaboration in place to monetize the infrastructure?" She added, "who should be in those discussions?"

Self Driving Cars - The West Isn't Ready

According to Ford the West isn't ready for self driving cars. The reason might surprise you. Ford did research in eight different countries around self-driving cars. What they found was 84% of people in India and 78% of people in China said they would drive self-driving cars. While in the US only 40% of people said they were ready for self-driving cars, and an even lower number for the UK. Sheryl said, "We didn’t ask why, but our theory is that China and India have the most egregious congestion takes place, unimaginable for westerners to comprehend. In Beijing the average daily commute can be five hours a day. This isn’t an infrastructure problem since in Beijing they have a highway 50 lanes wide. They suffered a traffic jam that lasted 12 days long." She believes that this is why in China an India people are ready for self-driving cars. You also have more fatalities because of cars.

However the West is a different story. According to Sheryl in the West the car is an extension of personal identity – the car symbolizes freedom and independence. It’s hard to give that up. She noted that autonomous vehicles could add to gridlock.

In the podcast we talk about the 2017 Predicting The Future Report released by Ford. The research talks about building customer trust, the rising role of women in society and sustainability.

The Rising Role Of Women

We talk extensively in the podcast about the rising influence of women and Sheryl talks about how she presents these ideas to various teams at Ford. She said, “The rising influence of women is something we pay attention to.” She illustrates to her team members who the rising influence of women impacts society in a variety of ways. “Let me show you how that’s playing out in education, budget planning, board membership and company performance. Let me tell you what women are telling us about our cars. Let me tell you how women are responsible for 80% of household decision making. Let’s look to other arenas for insights that might change the trajectory of our conversation,” said Sheryl.

Sheryl is very unique in her role as in-house futurist. You won’t want to miss our conversation on the modern customer podcast.

For more from Blake M

Jun 30, 2017

There’s no doubt that technology is changing faster than ever before. At the heart of that in the business setting is marketing, which is becoming a driving force behind putting that new technology into action to reach out to customers and make sure a company is communicating in the right way. One of the biggest changes in the tech and marketing world is artificial intelligence, which will play a major role in the coming years.

            According to Morag Lucey, the CMO of Avaya, a modern CMO needs to understand all the intricacies of modern technology, including AI. That’s because new technology changes the way marketers do their jobs—in order to truly be effective, they must really understand which technology is the most relevant and how it works. AI wasn’t even on the radar of many marketers just a few years ago, and now it is one of the fastest-growing technologies. Staying on top of things is vital. The new generation in marketing means that the paradigm has shifted and now marketing is responsible for a larger portion of the pipeline. Technology requires companies to continually transform—what Avaya started out doing 100 years ago is now obsolete, meaning the company has had to transform and pivot many times since it was founded. Marketers are key in helping their company transform and in understanding how to change a company’s identity through technology.

            Marketing really comes down to communication and making sure you are interacting with customers in the best way. As technology becomes more integral, the CMO, CIO, customer experience officer, and others all play a part in ensuring that the customer experience is seamless. Much of this will happen through machine learning and taking advantage of robots and AI to communicate with customers quickly and efficiently.

            One of Morag’s biggest concerns with changing technology is how it affects the skillsets of employees. The entire discipline of marketing is changing, meaning it is more important than ever to have strong talent in an organization. Investing in employees to ensure they have the skills they need for the future is absolutely critical. Artificial intelligence will play a major role in marketing, which means having employees who can understand the process and visualize how to combine human interaction with machine learning will be huge.

            As for the future of marketing, Morag predicts that marketing will be the top revenue generator for companies within five years, meaning that now is the time to get a firm grasp on technology and how it can transform a company. AI and other technology is transforming how companies operate and market themselves. Leveraging that technology can make all the difference in a successful company that avoids getting disrupted.

 

 

Jun 27, 2017

It’s an age-old marketing question: do you focus on all our customers or only target those who are most likely to drive results? According to Dr. Peter Fader, marketing professor at Wharton, and Tiffani Bova, global customer growth and innovation evangelist for Salesforce, the answer is simple: customer centricity.

            The idea behind customer centricity is to recognize that not all customers are created equal. Building on the differences in the customer base can be much more effective than simply using a blanket approach for all customers. By focusing on top customers and surrounding them with product recommendations and extra services, they can have an excellent experience and keep coming back for more. That’s not to say that middle and lower-tier customers should be forgotten—effort should still be put into finding the right messages and products to appeal to them, but the focus should be on targeting the right products and messages to each customer group individually.

            In order to truly utilize customer centricity, a company should have a good idea of its brand and why it appeals to customers. Using the vast amount of data now available, teams can see what the customers bring to the brand and what the brand brings to the customers. By understanding what drives a customer to use your product or service, you can better appeal to their needs and know how to reach out to them in the future. Much of that comes from building a strong brand that customers feel they can trust. When customers feel they can connect with a brand, they are more inclined to repeat their business, especially when that strong brand messaging is combined with product recommendations they can trust and use.

            Companies that best practice customer centricity make it an integral part of their brand and make a focus on the customer a hallmark of their work and culture. Customer experience is just one part of customer centricity, and companies that can build their brands, reach out to the right customers, and leverage metrics will be able to create a loyal customer base and drive great success.

Jun 12, 2017

Artificial intelligence seems to be popping up everywhere, and it has the potential to change nearly everything we know about data and the customer experience. However, it also brings up new issues regarding ethics and privacy.

            One of the keys to keeping AI ethical is for it to be transparent, says Rob High, vice president and chief technology officer of IBM Watson. When customers interact with a chatbot, for example, they need to know they are communicating with a machine and not an actual human. AI, like most other technology tools, is most effective when it is used to extend the natural capabilities of humans instead of replacing them. That means that AI and humans are best when they work together and can trust each other.

            Chatbots are one of the most commonly used forms of AI. Although they can be used successfully in many ways, there is still a lot of room for growth. As they currently stand, chatbots mostly perform basic actions like turning on lights, providing directions, and answering simple questions that a person asks directly. However, in the future, chatbots should and will be able to go deeper to find the root of the problem. For example, a person asking a chatbot what her bank balance is might be asking the question because she wants to invest money or make a big purchase—a futuristic chatbot could find the real reason she is asking and turn it into a more developed conversation. In order to do that, chatbots will need to ask more questions and drill deeper, and humans need to feel comfortable providing their information to machines.

            As chatbots perform various tasks and become a more integral part of our lives, the key to maintaining ethics is for chatbots to provide proof of why they are doing what they are doing. By showcasing proof or its method of calculations, humans can be confident that AI had reasoning behind its response instead of just making something up. The chances of AI truly going “rogue” are small, but they still need to be considered, and in order to maintain transparency and trust, the machine’s processes should be revealed. An example of this comes from IBM Watson, which is used to help doctors diagnose patients and decide the best treatment options. Doctors can’t possibly keep up with all of the data and new studies being created every day, but Watson can scan through millions of records for new data and treatment suggestions. By showing where the information and recommendations are coming from, Watson expands what human doctors can do and provides them with resources to make the best decisions for their patients. Watson isn’t making decisions for the doctors, but instead is presenting options with the proof to back it up.

            The future of technology is rooted in artificial intelligence. In order to stay ethical, transparency, proof, and trustworthiness need to be at the root of everything AI does for companies and customers. By staying honest and remembering the goals of AI, the technology can play a huge role in how we live and work.

Jun 7, 2017

A commercial that starts with a bank robbery and ends by showcasing digital technology and customer experience might not be conventional, but that was never the goal of Adobe and its CMO, Ann Lewnes. Instead, the company created an attention-grabbing ad that reached out to customers and kept their attention. Adobe is an experience-based company that known for its digital creativity as a way to engage with customers and create a community and shows how pushing the bounds of creativity can lead to great success.

            Ann pushes creativity by giving her employees long-term goals to works towards. The goal may seem aspirational or far-fetched, but it inspires people, encourages risk-taking, and pushes them to think bigger. One of Ann’s team’s most recent big ideas was a contest to celebrate the 25th anniversary of video editing program Premiere Pro, one of Adobe’s biggest products. The company partnered with the band Imagine Dragons and released the raw footage of the band’s newest music video with the challenge to use Premiere Pro to re-edit the video however customers felt was inspiring. The creative idea yielded more than 9,000 entries and was a huge hit on social media that created a community of younger users. More than just being an attention-grabbing creative idea, the contest showcased the product and followed business strategy.

            Creativity doesn’t come with free reign to do whatever you want, however. Adobe is also focused on inspection and making sure teams can quantifiably show their results. With tools made available to marketers these days, it’s possible to back up a creative idea with numbers. Even the most creative idea can be a flop if it isn’t backed up with data. Another key to creativity is being aware of trends and what other companies are doing. With a strong team to manage the business, each person can keep an eye on what competitors are doing and use that to fuel their own creativity. To be truly successful, marketers need to be able to use both sides of their brain and be analytical and creative.

            As companies tap into creativity and learn to push the limits, they can build on their customer experience to create memorable, meaningful events and interactions for their customers. When considering customer experience as the sum of the interactions a person has with a brand, being creative provides more opportunities to stand out and push that sum higher in customers’ minds.

Jun 6, 2017

What has turned into a successful career as an author and keynote speaker started with a birthday party magic performance as a young boy. When Shep Hyken was just 12 years old, he gave his first presentation of sorts by performing tricks in front of an audience of other kids. Years later, he would begin a full-time speaking career that tapped into much of what he did as a young magician.

            Shep’s professional speaking career has lasted more than 30 years and provides many opportunities for teaching others who want to follow his career path. However, he warns that although professional speaking may seem like a “sexy” career, it actually isn’t that glamorous most of the time. The real job isn’t simply giving the speech, it’s getting the speech. The real work comes from finding speaking gigs and preparing remarks to make every speech and presentation the best it has ever been.

            Professional speaking can be a lucrative and interesting path, but it is also extremely competitive. In order to stand out from the crowd, Shep provides the following tips:

  • Work hard. Make it your mantra that no one will outwork you. Having a goal to make every presentation the best one creates confidence in the client and helps you prepare.
  • Stay in one lane. Shep focuses only on customer service and doesn’t cross over into other related topics. By staying on one topic, he has created a niche for himself and a strong personal brand clients know they can trust.
  • Write books. Although this isn’t as powerful as it once was, Shep says that a speaker who has written a book, especially one that has gotten good feedback, can tip the scales in his or her favor.

 

            Once a speech has been booked, preparation is key. Shep starts getting ready for a presentation six weeks or a month before the big day by deciding what to speak on and how it will flow. He then asks the client the three most important points for the audience to remember and makes sure he addresses them in the speech. From there, it’s preparing his speech, putting the bullet points on a single index card, and practicing and reviewing until he doesn’t even really need to use the card. He makes arrangements so that he is at the venue on time both physically and mentally so he can give his best effort to every speech.

            The world of professional speaking can be exciting and open doors to new opportunities, but it often requires energy, preparation, and determination to be successful. However, by following in Shep’s footsteps, you can also build a strong speaking career.

 

 

May 31, 2017

Last year Marriott bought Starwood Hotels. The $13 billion merger created the world's largest hotel company with more than 1.1 million rooms and about 5,700 hotels in more than110 countries. The merger combines Marriott brands, including Ritz Carlton, Courtyard and Residence Inn, with W Hotels, Westin, Sheraton and other Starwood brands. Now with the merger comes a fresh approach to engaging all those customers, and part of that is the two once separate customer loyalty programs. 

Last year Marriott bought Starwood Hotels. The $13 billion merger created the world's largest hotel company with more than 1.1 million rooms and about 5,700 hotels in more than 110 countries. The merger combines Marriott brands, including Ritz Carlton, Courtyard and Residence Inn, with W Hotels, Westin, Sheraton and other Starwood brands. Now with the merger comes a fresh approach to engaging all those customers, and part of that is the two once separate customer loyalty programs.

If there’s anyone who knows the benefits of customer loyalty its Karin Timpone, CMO of Marriott International.

Timpone, who I interviewed on the modern customer podcast this week, reports that since the Starwood acquisition her role has been consistent. She travels around the world to the many Marriott properties and works with a global team on brand strategy, content strategy, product launches and so much more.

Timpone was formerly an executive at ABC Disney Digital Media, Yahoo! and Universal Studios. She joined Marriott four years ago and has since led major growth for Marriott.

As mentioned before, Marriott and Starwood now have now linked loyalty programs. If you are a Marriott customer you can use your points with Starwood Hotels and vice versa. Timpone says these customers “stay more, pay more and cost less.” These customers, as you can imagine, are much lower cost per acquisition.

But if loyalty is so profitable, why don’t more businesses pursue it? This is one advantage the hotel industry has over sharing economy hospitality companies such as Home Away or Airbnb who do not offer loyalty programs.

Marriott doesn’t only focus on loyalty. They focus on guerilla marketing as well and jump on real-time marketing opportunities via social media.

One recent example was the Pokemon Go craze. Marriott’s social media team put their efforts on high octane putting Pokémon monsters in pools knowing that guests photographed them and that would possibly go viral. They also surprised guests in rooms with Pokémons on their beds when they checked in. They got wind of onePokémon Go super user and they decided to sponsor him sending him to Japan, Australia and Europe to catch more Pokémon abroad.

Social media is a powerful way for marketing teams to engage with customers in real-time. But this requires marketing to have eyes and ears constantly on the ground of their locations. And customers are enjoying travel now more than ever. And they’re sharing their experiences across Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and more. But it’s not just one generation that are enjoying travel and talking about it online. There’s a major shift happening in society where more people focus on experiences over owning things, on access over ownership, and it’s not just the younger generations. This is good news for the hotel industry. Great companies like Marriott are participating in social and cultural phenomenon that end up being great marketing for the company.

Whether it’s customer loyalty programs, social media or jumping on a cultural and social phenomenon Marriott is at the top of its game.

 

May 24, 2017

Today many consumers are deeply confused about artificial intelligence and the impact it makes. According to a recent Pega survey of 6,000 customers in six countries, consumers appear hesitant to fully embrace artificially intelligent devices and services. Only one in three (36 percent) are comfortable with businesses using artificial intelligence to engage with them – even if this typically results in a better customer experience. Almost three quarters (72 percent) express some sort of fear about artificial intelligence, with one quarter (24 percent) of respondents even worried about robots taking over the world. So clearly there is a lot of fear and uncertainty around what artificial intelligence can do. However, in contrast 71% of survey respondents said they would want to experience artificial intelligence if it actually made their lives better. We need to do a better job of educating the world about artificial intelligence.

You might not realize how prevalent artificial intelligence actually is in your life – already. Your gmail uses artificial intelligence to sort your inbox and Facebook uses artificial intelligence so you can tag your friends and family’s faces in your photos. These are simply two small examples of the ways artificial intelligence is already part of consumers' lives, and the future brings many amazing possibilities for the use of artificial intelligence to improve customer experiences. In this podcast with the CTO of Pegasystems Don Schuerman we learn about all the pragmatic uses of artificial intelligence and the very real impact its making. We talk about how artificial intelligence is being used today, and how it can and will be used tomorrow.

May 23, 2017

In a world driven by technology and as more companies cut their customer service efforts as a way to save money, customers can often feel like they are surrounded by information with nowhere to turn. The Better Business Bureau is out to advocate for customers and fight customer fraud in the modern world. According to Steve McFarland, president and CEO of the BBB in Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, the group aims to create an ethical and trustworthy marketplace that brings credibility to businesses and provides resources for customers so they can make wise purchasing decisions.

            Businesses can become accredited with the BBB as a way to show their credibility and that they provide trustworthy service to customers. Consumers can then see reviews of companies, file complaints against bad business practices, and access free resources to see business reports and trends to make wise choices. Many companies are turning to what Steve calls “ghost”-tumer service instead of customer service. They have taken phone numbers off their websites and instead only have a vague email address customers can contact with issues or questions, but those issues might not always get resolved. If that is the case, then it is increasingly difficult for customers to get issues resolved and know who they can trust.

            One of the areas where the BBB is seeing the most change is with cybersecurity and data. There are 12 cyber crimes in the U.S. ever second, and 80 people become victims every minute. With growing technology and new ways for hackers to steal information and reach out to consumers with scams, the threat is increasing every day. The growing threats for businesses of all sizes and for customers means that protecting data is more important than ever. The BBB wants customers to have the tools they need to stay protected, which means doing basic things like changing passwords and being careful about what they post and read on social media. Different types of scams are arising that reach out to new groups of people, even those who think they are vigilant. Checking on something that appears to not sit quite right can help consumers be aware of red flags and avoid having their data stolen.

            The BBB is just one way for customers to get the extra information and protection they need and for companies to gain credibility with their customer experience. In an age where consumers can be left behind and not know who to trust, having an organization that can verify trustworthy businesses with great customer experience can help the entire marketplace.

           

May 16, 2017

In today’s technology-driven world, one of the foundations of a strong customer experience is data. But with so much data floating around, it can be difficult for companies to know what information to use to best expand their strategies and reach the right customers. According to Rishi Dave, chief marketing officer at Dun & Bradstreet, when data and analytics work together, they can be leveraged to create a strong competitive advantage and build an exceptional customer experience.

            Rishi says that companies struggling with data need to first understand the current state of their data and to see if it matches the company’s strategy. Are the analytics in sync with the overall goals of the company? In many cases, the answer is no, often due to not having the right data or using data that is old and outdated. If that is the case, companies need to reevaluate their overall goals and see how data analytics can play a role in their strategy. CMOs also need to learn to leverage master data and bring in additional third-party data. Companies should be collecting their own data from customers through surveys, web traffic, and call center logs, and then supplementing that data with information from other sources to get a complete view of their customers. Those data insights can then drive an improved customer experience.

            Data analytics will play a huge role in the future of the customer experience. Having a strong understanding of data puts companies in a better position to use new technologies like artificial intelligence and chatbots to create a personalized experience for each customer. For example, Walmart recently announced that it will be investing heavily in putting sensors in items it stocks in its stores, which will allow the company to know when a product runs our or expires and automatically send the customer more. Being able to transform customer data and collect more data with sensors provides customers a more personalized experience. As technology grows and we can gather new data through sensors and connected devices, the ability to better understand the customer will only increase.

            Data opens new doors for understanding customers and creating an incredible customer experience, and the analytics available today provide companies the opportunity to create sophisticated models to drive their decisions. Brands that can best take advantage of data analytics will set themselves apart and have a large competitive advantage.

 

 

 

 

May 9, 2017

There has never been a better time to be a CIO. That’s according to Vic Bhagat, CIO of Verizon Enterprise Solutions, who has decades of experience in the technology space. Where it used to be that CIOs were fighting for a spot at the table and struggling to get their voices heard, CIOs are now front and center. Nearly every innovative thing companies want to do today, from social, mobile, big data, machine learning, and more, goes through the CIO. However, with that increased visibility comes a bigger responsibility to play a strong role in the customer experience.

            There are often other technology leaders and opinions within an organization, but part of what sets a CIO apart is his or her role as a business leader who must have their finger on the pulse of the business. The CIO has to have a firm grasp on how the business operates so they can know how to best leverage new technology to deliver a world-class experience to customers. In order to know how to best use technology to help customers, the CIO must have a good understanding of customer and work to build a relationship of trust where customers can be honest about the solutions they are looking for and what would make their lives and shopping experiences better.

            Vic views one of his main roles as supporting and advocating for customers, both internally and externally. Internal customers, or employees, who have great technology experiences can pass that on to external customers. Consider how a call center employee who is frustrated with a slow computer or outdated system affects the mood and experience of a customer calling in with a question. Conversely, an employee who has the tech tools to do their job can focus on providing a great experience to customers. The CIO can have a good understanding of what customers want to be able to provide them the solutions to best perform their jobs and be happy.

            At Verizon, Vic and his team focus on helping companies focus on their core capabilities instead of their chore capabilities. If there is an area that is a chore for a customer that would be considered a core at Verizon, the company can take it off the customer’s plate and allow them to focus on their core abilities and goals for growth.

            The idea of customer experience isn’t new. However, with the tools available today, we can create a better and more innovative experience than ever before. The CIO can play a role in making sure the right technology to meet customers’ needs is implemented within the organization.

            The CIO’s role, especially when it comes to customer experience, is incredibly important. With a strong understanding of customers and the effects of technology, a CIO can create innovative solutions and a great environment for customers.

 

Apr 27, 2017

Customer experience is constantly evolving as new products and technology are introduced, but nothing has changed it more than social media. Instead of brands just talking at customers, social media puts the power back in the hands of the customers and gave them a voice to share their experiences. Social customer experience opens huge opportunities for companies to build relationships with their customers, but it also changes the strategy of how brands communicate.

            According to author and podcaster Dan Gingiss, customer experience is how people feel about every interaction they have with a company. However, it used to be more siloed, where offline experiences stayed offline, but thanks to social media and smartphones, everything can be brought online. A customer who has a bad experience at a store or restaurant can quickly take a picture or video of the incident and share it on social media, which can create a firestorm of negative publicity for the company. Conversely, positive offline experiences can also be shared and lead to great growth for a brand. To truly take advantage of social media, brands need to focus on the positive elements. There may always be mistakes and negative experiences, but focusing on the positive encourages customers to do the same.

            In order to harness the power of social media for customer experience, brands need to create a culture of putting themselves in the customer’s shoes by walking through their store, website, or service with the eyes of a customer. Observing every little thing that happens from a customer’s point of view can be eye-opening for employees about the challenges and roadblocks in the path and what it means to be a customer of your company. Having a company-wide mindset that matches the customer’s helps every employee extend their reach. The key to a good customer experience is fluidity—no matter if the interaction happens online or in store, everything should be smooth for the customer and work together to create a cohesive experience for them.

            Social media also opens the door for brands to be more authentic and transparent. Modern customers can see right through automated responses and canned replies; the best way to reach out to people is to take the time to connect with them to truly build a relationship. Instead of simply focusing on sales and getting through the customers as quickly as possible, the most effective companies take time to nurture each relationship and stick with the customer until they are satisfied. This can be done by simple things like addressing customers by name, mimicking their tone, and using a personal touch.

            Customer experience has changed greatly with the growth of social media, and it plays an important role in reaching out to customers and starting a conversation with them. As we move towards the future, customer experience will become the last true differentiator between brands, meaning it is more important than ever to provide customers with a high-quality, seamless experience.

Apr 18, 2017

Today I bring you a special podcast interview with singer, actress and entrepreneur Christina Milian and her business partner Josh Bocanegra who together have built a company called Persona Bots. Persona Bots is a tech company that builds chatbots for celebrities. They've built chatbots for reality TV star Jwoww, literary film character Christian Grey, model Karrueche Tran, musician Kehlani and more. “Celebrities are the trendsetters. People want a way to speak to their fans in a way that’s real. They want their voice to be heard in a way that’s authentic,” said Milian.

Celebrities today are brands. Thanks to social media, celebrities have the ability to engage with fans directly. Though most don’t. Why? It’s not possible. With millions of Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook fans, celebrities generally engage in one way conversations on social media. 

Brands have a similar conundrum. They can’t respond to the millions of social media comments they get from customers. And they’re using chatbots as a way to provide tailored and personalized interactions. Chatbots have the potential to scale and provide personalized interactions in a way that hasn’t been possible in the past.

Milian has over two million people messaging her on her bot. She says this was the fastest growth out of any social media she’s ever done. According to Milian the goal for the chatbot, built through Facebook messenger, is to keep the fans there engaging with her on Facebook messenger. She believes people don’t want to be bothered with ads. And messenger provides a direct and uninterrupted channel with the consumer, sans ads.

Celebrities And Tech

More and more we are seeing the collision of tech and celebrities. Even Ashton Kutcher has invested in 60 companies including Airbnb, Flipboard, and Change.org. The next few years will only bring more celebrities into the world of tech. It makes sense for celebrities and tech to get together considering tech brings a large platform to celebrities for them to create and share media, and celebrities bring other celebrities and fans to these platforms as well.

"Oh hey..."

When I ping Christina Milian’s chatbot on Facebook messenger, she responds “oh hey…” Her chatbot is fond of using the kiss emoji and that makes sense considering Christina’s brand. In fact in our podcast interview she mentioned much of what chatbot users ask her is if she’s single, and will she marry them. In fact her business partner mentions one unique interaction that occurred on Milian's chatvot. A girlfriend of a male chatbot user found his phone, and thought Milian was really engaging with her boyfriend through messenger, according to Bocanegra. Bocanegra says the user's girlfriend became very jealous; a testament to the power of chatbots. Some people don’t even realize it’s a machine at all.  

For now the questions are predetermined and organized by category .For example “Q&A: Get to know me on a personal level.” One of the questions the user can ask Milian is “were your parents strict growing up?” She responds “Nope. Both of my parents were really cool. They were protective though. My parents were actually young when they had me.”

As Milian builds Persona Bots and her own chatbot the variety of ways you can interact with the chatbot will grow.

Today you can view Milian's latest music, request a signed autograph, learn more about Christina’s personal life (mentioned earlier), shop for fan gear, her clothing line, or her line of wines called Viva Diva Wines. The chatbot is not perfect, however it’s one of the first I’ve seen that grants fans the ability to interact with Christina on chat, the same way one would interact with a brand.

We’ll only see these technologies grow.

Blake Morgan is a customer experience futurist, author and keynote speaker. For more from Blake sign up for her weekly customer experience newsletter here.

Apr 15, 2017

One of the brightest and most recognizable accessory brands around is Vera Bradley. Its bold patterns and functional designs make it a desirable brand for purses, wallets, and more. But beyond the bright colors is a successful brand that had stood the test of time and showcases the importance of building a brand that lasts.

            No matter the industry, there is a ton of competition for customers’ attention and sales. It can be easy for companies to focus on staying ahead of the competition instead of building their own brand. However, if companies get too caught up in seeing what other organizations are doing, they run the risk of losing focus on their own brand and not building a strong customer experience. Although Vera Bradley operates in the competitive accessory space, it has managed to find its niche and focus on what it is good at—creating an experience and showcasing a special item. Vera Bradley isn’t a discount brand and typically represents a special product customers are willing to spend more money on. Because of that, co-founder Barbara Baekgaard and her team can focus on creating a great customer experience because they are confident in their brand position and aren’t distracted by comparing themselves to other stores. The lesson here can be applied to any brand: find what you are good at and use that to build a personalized and strong experience for customers. Don’t just play catchup to the competition—create something that represents your brand and what you stand for, and customers will respond to that.

            A strong brand tends to create a great customer experience, and much of that brand starts with corporate culture. With niche brands, customers want something they can count on—the experience is more than a one-time transaction, but a shopping experience that they expect to be enjoyable and lasting. Vera Bradley hires nice people as sales associates and tells them to be themselves. The result is a reputation for strong customer service because customers know they will always have a friendly and personable experience in the store. The same principle applies to customers who are shopping for more than just handbags—today’s modern shoppers tend to want an experience instead of simply a transaction. The best experiences tend to come from strong brands that have an identity that permeates through their employees and makes every step of the buying process enjoyable. Employees should be aware of the company’s brand and know the role they play in sharing the experience with everyone who comes into the store or visits the website.

            A strong brand can be a powerful tool in creating a high-quality customer experience. Although there are many things that can shake a brand, having a strong foundation that is embedded in every aspect of the organization can make a huge difference and be felt by customers at every turn.

For more from Blake Morgan sign up for her weekly newsletter here.

Apr 6, 2017

Imagine being able to instantly get recommendations for top restaurants, hotels, and attractions, no matter where you are in the world without having to talk to a human. It’s a great resource for travelers made possible by the TripAdvisor chatbot.

            Chatbots are popping up everywhere. TripAdvisor as a company tries to stay on top of new technology, but it didn’t want to create a chatbot just for the sake of making one. After considering the strategy involved, the team, led by Jeff Chow, vice president of product, decided to dip its toes into the chatbot water with a way to deliver great recommendations where and when people need them. Creating the chatbot was a learning experience with principles that can be applied to a variety of verticals. The overall goal for the chatbot was to take TripAdvisor’s leading qualities and turn then into the ultimate travel assistant on the go—perfect for planning a trip, traveling, or sharing information with friends and family. With its software, TripAdvisor wanted to use machine learning to scale the data from its many interfaces so that it could be used in different customer interactions.

            The team views the chatbot as guided discovery—the questions start big and then narrow down until the task is completed and the best recommendation can be given. In order to provide the best recommendation, the bot must understand what the traveller is really looking for—after all, a restaurant recommendation in Miami will be different based on if someone is traveling for work or pleasure. Chatbots have potential to be a powerful, personalized tool. Because they can remember things users say, it can get personal and hopefully soon learn soft signals and natural conversation. That way, even if a user doesn’t explicitly ask something, a chatbot could potentially know what to recommend based on their patterns or behavior. However, getting smarter over time is a unique challenge in travel, as people’s travel preferences can change greatly depending on the purpose of their travel, which means the bot needs to be adaptable to different travel needs.

            TripAdvisor also learned that building a chatbot isn’t a one and done process—there is always room for continued growth and improvement. The company’s next focus is to increase engagement with its partner businesses to provide better recommendations to customers.

            Jeff’s best advice from the TripAdvisor experience is for other companies to be strategic with their chatbots and technology. Don't create a chatbot just for the sake of doing it, but instead think of what it can do to move your business forward. When done correctly, chatbots can create great opportunities for an organization.

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