Social media is maturing and becoming an important part of the supply chain for many businesses. In areas like the media it is clearly a strong communication channel between content creators and their customers, but in other industries there has been an even deeper use of the technologies.
Take retail as a good example. For decades retailers have combined loyalty cards with CRM technologies to try predicting customer behaviour and to drive loyalty to certain products. There are many examples of retailers knowing individual customers better than their own family because of the data collected during their shopping trips.
A famous example is the US retailer Target sending discount coupons for products a new mother might want to a teenage girl. Her father was outraged, but he apologised to the retailer when his daughter confessed that she was in fact pregnant. The CRM system knew it before the father.
But traditional CRM has always relied on actual purchases and visits to the store. There had to be an actual interaction with a retailer to generate data that could then be analysed. With social networks and social media uploads customers provide information on their likes, desires, and preferences without even visiting the store.
This is a fantastic opportunity for retailers who can integrate social channels into their existing CRM. In addition to actual purchases, discounts and offers can be tailored to include preferences and the general sentiment of an entire group of customers.
It does require a different approach. Some kind of community management is usually needed for the retailer areas – such as the corporate Facebook page – and new software capable of ‘buzz monitoring’ other areas of the Internet has to be applied. But the opportunity for retailers of knowing their customers even better through the use of better technology systems is clear.
The same opportunity exists across all sectors – try searching for online discussions about your company name or products today. I’m sure you will find people talking about them. Now the question is, are they saying good things and if not, what do you do next to engage those customers?
Are you engaging with customers using social networking and how different is this data-driven approach to the old idea of a customer service team?
Companies such as banks have complained for years that their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system doesn’t really work. The systems are expensive and yet they rarely return what was promised when the sales team demonstrated what could be achieved.
But I think that often, the real point of CRM has been lost somewhere between the software company sales pitch, the implementation, and the end user trying to make sense of how the system operates. Take a look at this article in The Financial Brand magazine… it lists 6 important reasons why you should be reconsidering CRM. The first reason asks these questions:
“How will the data in the CRM benefit my customer?”
“How can I use this to speed up our process, to benefit my customer?”
“What events could be triggered using this data to help my customer?”
“Is there info that can be gained from the data that would help me do what is best for my customer.”
“How can my sales team best use the data to identify opportunities to help my customer?”
I entirely support this view. If the CRM system is not entirely focused on planning how processes and data can benefit the customer then there is no value in the system.
I would go further and argue that with the abilities we now have, CRM expectations should be much higher. Think of your mobile phone company as a good example. They probably offer you a monthly tariff on a fixed contract that offers a certain amount of minutes talk-time, texts, and Internet access.
But if you use too much Internet time or talk too much the customer usually gets hit with penalties – or very high per minute costs.
Yet, why would any company want to do this to a customer? You want to help the customer, not hit them with penalties surely? Why not use the data that you have on how this customer behaves – how many minutes they use on average each month, how much Internet data they use – and offer a special tariff designed just for that individual customer?
We have the Big Data expertise to do this and the CRM systems, but there has rarely been a connection between the data and how it can truly help the customer. For companies that want to succeed today, this has to change.
Could Big Data help the buses in New York run on time? That’s what one city politician is hoping for. New York City Council Member Ben Kallos has campaigned for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to openly release all their data on bus arrival and departure times.
Kallos is convinced that the buses never run on time. When he has complained in the past to the MTA they have always suggested that he is wrong. He managed to obtain three months worth of bus data and with the help of some data analysts he proved that the buses only ran on time 58% of the time.
The MTA has pleaded that the data is in a difficult format for it to be quickly released to the public so his project has not moved further than this pilot stage, but this demonstrates the power of citizens and politicians understanding how much data is available from public bodies.
London has released live position data for their buses for several years now. Anyone can create a Google map like this, showing the real-time position of all the buses in the city.
Some of these online maps may appear to have no purpose other than to astonish the viewer – look at how much data is available! However, when politicians start using Big Data projects to help citizens then the value of Big Data is clearly going mainstream and being understood by the general public.
Keeping log of business relationships is not only the concern of a salesperson but also of everyone who has to work with clients, vendors or suppliers. It is not a newsflash that with the evolved technology there is no more need for long paper forms, notebooks, and business card holders and everything can be stored in a mobile device.
People from different divisions within IBA Group were looking for a mobile application that is easy to use, can store safely business information of a contact person and a summary of the conversation, can get more information about the interlocutor’s company form social media, can be useful in one-on-one meetings and trade fairs, and has other advantages. There are mobile applications that do that stuff, but not all of them together.
Our developers took the challenge and came up with a mobile application for iPhone and iPad called Marketing Application for Leads at Events (IBA.MALE). This application provides a solution for the following requirements:
• Use at events: upload a list of possible persons who will be at that event
• Capture and store interlocutor’s business information:
o by scanning of a business card and recognition of the text on it
o by scanning and recognition of a barcode or QR code and matching these with the person’s data in the pre-uploaded list
o by manual entry of information
• Receive online information on interlocutor’s company. The application allows for retrieving information on the contact person from LinkedIn online. It takes less than a minute
• Log the conversation summary
• Easy search of contacts by name, title, location or interests
• Export of contacts via email or Bluetooth.
Author of The Analytics Revolution, Bill Franks, recently wrote a fascinating exploration of database structure in Forbes magazine. This might sound like an oxymoron – database structure and interesting – but bear with me.
When most people think of databases they think of relational data – fields of information. A database captures specific information such as name, address, phone number, all in a certain way so each field of information conforms to certain standards such as type (text or numbers) and length.
If you have never designed a database then think of it like this, you have rows of information that are the records of data – let’s say each one describes a customer. Then you have columns of information, each one is a field of data like a phone number or email address. So each record contains many fields… each “person” has a name, phone number, address… and so on.
For many years now the standard way of querying a relational database like this has been SQL – Structured Query Language. SQL is a series of commands and tools that make it possible to logically extract information from a database, in simple terms if you want to extract all the entries from a list of personal details where the date of birth is before 1980 then it’s a simple query. It’s just like asking a question and the database returns the answer.
But in the world of Big Data most of our assumptions around how a database is formed and how we can query it are different. There may be no fixed structure in a universe of data that is constantly expanding and changing. This makes the process of querying a Big Data set very different.
Of course this has been well known and many tools already exist that help to support Big Data analysis, but what Franks is arguing is that the skills and tools we need today are what we used to have before SQL became accepted as the standard way to interact with a database. Before we got all organized and relational, people had to query data in a much less structured way.
His book addresses this in more detail, but I find it fascinating that we can sometimes forget what we already knew about accessing data. Perhaps there will be a greater demand for people who can remember how data was queried before SQL became commonly used? It’s an interesting idea and goes to show that, in technology, the new is not always new.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is taking off at the Consumer Electronics show (CES) in Las Vegas. The CES is the biggest annual consumer electronics show in the world and often manages to set the agenda for the technologies that will be important in the coming year.
The IoT has been talked of for several years as ‘the next big thing’ in technology. It refers to when everything electronic is connected to the Internet and able to share information in a much more open way than is possible now.
The example often used is a digital fridge that can advise when milk is running low or what you can cook for dinner with the food you currently have, but this is not a good example at all and fails to see how fundamental the IoT could be.
If everything we touch is connected then we will live in a different world. Your phone, car, watch, heart monitor, shoes, just about everything you interact with will be generating information. Your insurance company will know when and where you drive your car. Your employer will know when you are at the office and when you are at home. Your doctor will be able to monitor your health without requiring a visit to the hospital. Your car will alert the dealer directly when there is a problem that cannot be resolved at home.
Many of these actions can be taken now. The ethos of the IoT is just that we will see much more communication from the objects we interact with and that there will be communication between objects. For example, your electricity meter may actually check with electrical items in your house and send a report on which appliances use the most power.
In theory the IoT is a revolution in communication in the same way that the Internet itself created an open communication platform. However, the big danger is that different companies use different protocols and methods of communication.
The CEO of Samsung used his own speech at CES this week to suggest that every Samsung product will be using entirely open IoT data platforms within 5 years. With this kind of leadership, hopefully smaller companies will follow and ensure that all their products are open.
The possibilities for the IT industry are endless. IoT will generate vast amounts of data, therefore the principles and expertise needed to manage Big Data will be important, but when this relates to customers then linking in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) aspect will also be essential.
IT projects are going to multiply in the coming years. Products that were never previously connected or never required software – a kettle for example – may require new software and systems so that you can send a message from your phone on the way home, so a boiled kettle is ready and waiting for you.
If the CES predictions are correct, 2015 is going to be the year that IoT finally goes mainstream.
The industry analyst Gartner recently published their predictions for technology in 2015. It’s an eclectic list that includes such announcements as 90% of consumer product companies using 3D printing for personalised products and digital disruptions being created by algorithms.
Of course every analyst and pundit is making their predictions now and so if I am going to add to this end of year commentary then I would suggest the following for IT services.
I can see four broad areas where technology products and services will boom in the next year or two:
• War; the world is becoming more unstable and cyber crime (such as the recent Sony hacking) is becoming an issue of national security. War will increasingly rely on technology as much as soldiers and missiles.
• Privacy; since the Edward Snowden revelations, people have become more concerned about their own privacy and the use of their personal data by corporations and government. This will create issues for industries such as advertising and yet create new opportunities for those who can help to preserve anonymity or confidentiality.
• Government; consumers have a greater expectation on their governments, both as democratic legislators and as providers of public services. Both will be dramatically changed through the use of technology with services improving and greater access to information.
The traditional market for IT services has already changed from what we saw in the past decade. I visited IBA recently and learned how some of their projects are more valuable after deployment because they can then capture and utilise user or customer data – the real value is in the data not the fee for building the system.
Based on what we have seen recently I believe there will be three major factors that continue to exert major pressure for change on how IT services are delivered:
• Contract flexibility; the old days of very tight SLAs and KPIs have to end because the world moves just too fast for service partners to be relying on measures that might have been designed a couple of years earlier. This is particularly important in industries that are changing month by month – customer service technology for example. IT service companies have talked for years about being ‘partners’ – now they need to truly design contracts that reflect this partnership model because tight contracts are too restrictive for the modern world.
• The app store model will continue to develop in the enterprise. Consumers are used to using apps and IT service companies need to consider how services can be bundled into the same kind of structure for the enterprise.
• The cloud will continue to dominate areas such as storage, but with complex services such as ERP and CRM all available via cloud based tools, is there anything that cannot be delivered this way? We will see every possible option explored soon.
I think these are the three main drivers within the IT service space at present. Earlier ideas about IT outsourcing being cost-driven and with many concerns about the development location feel dated now. Nobody cares that Skype was developed in Estonia, Angry Birds was developed in Finland, Tweetdeck was developed in London, and Waze was developed in Israel.
More broadly, as Gartner suggests, we will feel the impact of technology far more on our daily lives whether we are involved in the technology industry or not. Think of many normal activities; choosing a political leader, finding the best price for a new car, finding a new partner, studying for a new degree, reading the news, almost every activity we undertake now engages us in technology. Almost everyone is a technology user and this penetration into every part of society means that for those of us who do work with technology, there is a bright future – every other industry depends completely on technology today.
Have a great holiday season and enjoy the start of 2015. There will be more comment on the blog in the New Year!
by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on December 23, 2014
Last month I was in London, invited to speak at an event hosted by the IBA Group. The theme of the event was the resurgence of CRM and how it is being combined with Big Data and becoming an important part of corporate strategy today – particularly for companies planning how to improve their customer service.
The analyst Peter Ryan from Ovum was up before me. He talked about the strategic use of CRM and how the improved use of information feeds into a customer service strategy. Ovum has predicted that improving the customer experience will be even more important than improving revenues for companies in 2015 therefore this theme is taking on a new significance.
The director of Internet Solutions at IBA, Aliaksei Minkevich, was also speaking. He described some case studies and drove home the real importance of thinking about technology projects and how they can improve the way a business uses data. Aliaksei was particularly focused on describing how a technology solution is no longer as simple as it used to be. Much of the business benefit from processes and systems today comes from the opportunities to use information in a smarter way, rather than just reducing cost or aiming for efficiency.
I started talking about the connection – as I see it – between modern day CRM and Big Data. The way customers interact with companies in all industries has changed in the past decade and this wider social change in how people communicate has to be appreciated by corporate executives.
The two big drivers of this change were the launch of the iPhone in 2007 and the explosion in the use of social networks from 2008 – both very recent dates. Of course it was possible to use the mobile Internet before the iPhone, but Apple made it so much easier and easy access became the expectation from consumers.
And, of course, people were using social networks prior to 2008, but this was when it really went mainstream. Facebook started maturing and Twitter became commonly mentioned in broadcast media, such as radio and TV. 2008 was really the tipping point when social networks became normal for everyone.
These developments have changed the way customers interact with companies. It is now fairly normal for any customer to use at least six different channels when interacting with brands – email, voice, chat, Facebook, Twitter, and review or rating websites like Tripadvisor. There are more and this changes all the time, but this is already a very different environment when compared to those days before social networks and the mobile Internet were common.
So companies should no longer be exploring how to improve customer service as an activity, they need to be working harder at Customer Relationship Management – back to CRM again. This is because the real measure of success with customers in this multichannel environment is the quality of the engagement between the brand and the customer.
Getting this right demands the use of some serious technology. Running a customer service team no longer means just answering the phone, it needs data analysts, knowledge of Big Data, and a CRM system that allows the customer to engage and enjoy interacting with the brand.
Companies that can deliver this kind of technology in a way that improves the experience of your customers are going to lead the way. Tech players will become customer service experts as the use of technology underpins how companies interact with their customers.
Underneath all this remains the fact that how we all communicate has changed. If you want any executive to understand why this is important, then just ask them about the last time they needed to select a politician to vote for, a restaurant to eat in, or a hotel to stay in. If all these decisions are now being shaped by data, then don’t you think that the relationship between your own customers and your company are also about to be shaped the same way?
Last month eConsultancy asked their readers which digital marketing technologies they have increased investment in during 2014. The number one response, at 49%, was CRM and number two was business analytics.
It is like CRM is undergoing a renaissance, an acceptance that after all the failed projects and strategies, it is really important after all. But why has this happened now?
The eConsultancy article does list several points, but in my view the top three are:
1. Customers are defining how they interact with companies. They choose the channels and companies need better analysis tools to find where customers are talking about their products, and how they prefer to interact. Customers do not just call a pre-determined phone number today.
2. Access to mobile Internet means that customers are engaging far more often. They want information before, during, and after a purchase.
3. Knowing your customer is vital for loyalty. Traditional loyalty programmes are dying out and being replaced by better engagement. Customers want a real relationship with companies, not just some points.
This change in CRM technologies strikes at the heart of how modern companies are organised. Many companies will need to change their internal structure to meet customer expectations, but one thing is clear, CRM is making a comeback.
Last month, I visited Minsk in Belarus. It’s not a place that too many Europeans visit because a visa is required to enter the country and at this time of year it is bitterly cold. But I wanted to see what was happening in the technology industry in Belarus so I went as a guest of IBA Group along with Peter Ryan, an analyst from Ovum.
My first impression on arriving in Minsk was astonishment. I have been to many countries in Eastern Europe and several that were behind the old Soviet Iron Curtain, so I had a preconception of what I might see, but the first thing I noticed was that the road from the airport into the city was so smooth and new, it would be a skateboarders dream surface.
I had expected to see an environment similar to that in Moscow, plenty of historic buildings and many examples of the old communist architecture – big concrete blocks in my non-architect view. However, my first thoughts on seeing the buildings in Minsk were that it resembles East Berlin. The city is felt very European and very modern.
A local described to me how Minsk has been completely renovated over the past twenty years. Naturally this is the period since the end of the Soviet Union. Many churches that are hundreds of years old, but fell into disrepair during the Soviet era, have been beautifully restored and there is an enormous resurgence in worship. The Orthodox and Catholic churches that I took a look at were all busy even during daytime in mid-week.
During our stay, Peter and I visited one of the development centres of IBA Group. This company was born in Belarus in 1993 and now has almost 3,000 people all over the world and customers in 40 countries. They are now headquartered in the Czech Republic, which means that they are based inside the EU, but they maintained a software development facility in Minsk – a team that is growing so fast they have commissioned an entirely new building that is under construction now.
IBA Group is an interesting company because they are focused on complete solutions, rather than software development alone. A good example is the public transport ticketing system they developed for use in Minsk – it’s very similar to the Oyster card system in London. However, they put together all the card readers, terminals, and software needed to make it work. They are also able to earn from the knowledge the system provides on how people move around the city – sometimes this data can be more valuable that the IT system itself.
Minsk does have some distinct advantages for the technology industry that are not obvious unless you have explored Belarus in person. During the Soviet era, Belarus was the IT and technology hub for the entire USSR. Belarus supplied over 60% of all the IT and technology systems used in the Soviet Union meaning that there is a long heritage of technology knowledge as well as deep expertise in a variety of technologies.
This heritage of working with technology may also explain an important cultural difference with other technology hubs, such as India. When teams of techies are assigned to a project in Belarus they usually feature a range of ages, experience, and knowledge of many technologies. The culture of being an engineer or technician remains strong in Belarus, so an expert programmer doesn’t feel shame in remaining ‘just’ a programmer and not pushing for promotion to systems analyst or project manager.
This is a big difference in my opinion. I have worked with many software development teams and trying to maintain some stability was always a challenge with people quitting for a few bucks extra at a competitor down the road or angling for promotion just because their family believe it’s time they had a ‘better’ job title.
The autocratic nature of the Belarus government counts against the international image of the country – this cannot be denied. However, I asked several people about the reality of living there and everyone I talked to dismissed the ‘last dictatorship of Europe’ mantra as a cliché.
The government doesn’t like political opposition very much, but is extremely supportive of international business and it struck me that it would be hard to criticise Belarus and then feel comfortable doing business in China, Singapore, or Vietnam. All countries where the government is far more controlling than Western Europeans are used to and yet it cannot be argued that the regular man on the street is oppressed in any way in Belarus.
I went to Belarus to learn more about the IT industry there, and I learned far more than I expected to. It is certainly a place worth considering for any organisation that needs expertise with a few knowledgeable “grey beards” on the same team as the young technology wizards.
I also reinforced the experience I have had in the past of prejudice and preconception about places. Places that I have worked in the past include Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka. Countries that often suffer negative stereotyping and yet were ready for business when I visited.
Belarus is the same. I’d love to return and perhaps take the train from Minsk to Moscow. I believe that anyone involved in IT, or the services supported by technology, should take a look. But maybe go and visit in the summer because that cold wind doesn’t care how many jackets you are wearing!
Minsk, November 25, 2014