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I recently attended my first U.S. Dreamforce, the annual salesforce.com event designed to showcase its products and services as well as those of its partners, and I was impressed. I was told that Dreamforce ‘15 would be big, and it was – just about every hotel, restaurant, meeting room in San Francisco seemed to have been taken over for the week, and still the company had to bring in a cruise ship to accommodate people and events. I was told it would be manic, and it was – more than 100,000 attendees, and buses and cabs blocking surrounding streets. I was told it would be busy, and it was – more than 600 conference sessions.  I was told it would educational, and it was – I gained many insights into new product developments, both from salesforce and several of its partners. Here are some of the key takeaways for my research practice.

The main buzzword for the week was “connected.” Salesforce seems to base its strategy going forward on the assumption that everything will be connected; indeed, it has moved on from speaking of the Internet of Things (IoT) to the “Internet of Everything” and launched its IoT Cloud, which supports connecting any digitally enabled device to all other similar devices and to people online, including customers. It is powered by Salesforce Thunder, an event processing engine that can ingest and analyze event data from billions of devices. Thunder enables companies to collect data from any enabled device, process it and build rules that allow proactive, personalized interactions with customers through the devices of their choice; at last companies can envision reaching the goal of building one-to-one relationships with customers.

Another hot topic was usability; in what must have been one of the loudest introductions ever at a trade show, the keynote audience was treated to an introduction to Force and Lightning. This platform supports mobility and provides the basis for a new user interface for all salesforce products. The first capability enables companies to build smart mobile apps to connect with customers through these devices. The second is a new generation of user interface common to all salesforce apps, both easier to use and more appealing to users who rely on smartphones and tablets. The UI has more point-and-click capabilities, better visualization, alerts and views of key information. There is also more capability to customize screens to individual requirements and render these on different devices. Both of these developments will appeal to today’s users and are aimed at increasing adoption of the software by employees and of mobile apps by customers.

Another major product announcement was about Wave Analytics. This is the latest version of salesforce’s analytics product designed to ingest various forms and large volumes of customer-related data, whether it be structured (such as ERP and CRM records), unstructured (voice and text) or event data (from digitally enabled devices), analyze it all and produce visualized information in forms suitable for each user. Despite the initial release, not all the functionality is available yet; salesforce still needs to develop capabilities to ingest all the forms of customer data now being generated and to manage identifiers so that companies can know, for example, that phone calls from an identifier are from the same customer who sent a particular text message, posted this comment on social media or used this mobile app. Customer and engagement analytics has become a hot topic lately; if it can deliver on all these features, salesforce can provide users the information and insights they require to carry out their tasks, even if they are away from their desks.

I also caught up with five of salesforce’s partners that specialize in contact centers in the cloud: 8×8, Five9, inContact, NewVoiceMedia and Transera. At the core of each of their product suites are capabilities to manage multiple channels of engagement in the cloud and route interactions to the person most able to resolve a customer’s issue. Each has a slightly different focus, and thus capabilities, which I will be analyzing in the coming weeks. I also met with Pitney Bowes, which has entered the customer engagement market, as I have written, with EngageOne Video, its interactive video product. The company also provides data management products, which I believe will become essential as companies try to manage the flood of customer-related data and use it to produce a complete view of the customer.

A strong message in salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s keynote was that the combination of IoT and mobility changes the way businesses do what they do. For example, the ride service Uber was used on several occasions to show how mobile use can transform the ways customer engage with each other and companies, where and how people work, and how we consume services. Another new technology – cloud computing – changes the model by which some companies charge for goods and services from one-off purchases to subscriptions.

The most obvious case of this in the consumer market is telecommunications where part of what customers pay is based on rental and usage (calls made).Zuora is a new company has latched on to this change and provides products and services that help companies manage the end-to-end customer life cycle, proactively manage customer engagement, and drive up customer lifetime value throughout the duration of the agreement. Companies considering this model should investigate how Zuora’s software does this.

Not every session was purely about software and services; some discussed issues connected with the impact technology has had and will have on the way people live and the way companies run their businesses. One such session was chaired by John Taschek, a salesforce “market strategy expert in cloud computing.” Three speakers discussed how technology has opened up the way tasks are carried out, developments in artificial intelligence and the possible consequence on future work patterns as machines and software automate more tasks. All in one way or another involve IoT and mobility, which open up possibilities not previously imagined. Business models have changed, consumer communication habits have changed and data volumes have exploded, but new analytic techniques allow us to extract insights from complex data, and software-driven machines can automate tasks like never before. There were examples of these at Dreamforce. Is it all perfect? No. Is it complete? No. Do we understand how to use it all? No. But it is certain that the pace of change and innovation is still accelerating, and salesforce and its partners are at the forefront of some of these changes. For those not able to attend Dreamforce ‘15, I recommend you keep track of salesforce and its partners to see how they can help you prosper in this changing world.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

ResponseTek is a software vendor whose platform and services help companies collect and act on feedback from their customers. It supports a closed-loop process that collects feedback, analyzes it, provides customizable reports and analysis dependent on the user, and most importantly enables taking action based on the information. This allows companies to understand product and service issues, customer sentiment, intentions, and likely behaviors, and where necessary ensures the most appropriate actions are taken.

The platform consists of six modules. One is (ex)pressRT, which ResponseTek calls as listening module. It enables users to create surveys and render them to customers through any channel. Users can apply existing analyses of customers to personalize surveys, with the aim of making them more relevant and thus more likely to be completed. Users can apply text analytics to information gathered through surveys and social media posts to extract insights such as root causes of interactions and customer sentiment. This allows companies to gather customer feedback through the customer’s channel of choice and ensures users gain insight into a variety of customer-related tasks.

Another module, (ex)ploreRT , analyzes data captured by (ex)pressRT and combines it with other customer data to provide real-time reports, dashboards and scorecards showing a comprehensive view of customers and their relationships with the company. All the analysis can be customized down to the individual user level so all users see the information relevant to them and the tasks they are carrying out. Each user also has the ability to drill down from higher-level analysis to the underlying data. This allows user to focus on information important to them and drill down to underlying, supportive information.

A third module, (ex)ceedRT focuses on employee performance and the impact employees have on the outcome of interactions. From that analysis it identifies areas in which employees need to improve. It includes capabilities to set actions based on the analysis and to track that such actions are carried out, for example, specific training or coaching the employee should receive and that they take identified training and coaching. This allows companies to personalize training and coaching to address specific employee needs.

In contrast (ex)changeRT focuses on the customer. It uses analysis to initiate proactive engagement with customers and allows users to personalize interactions. This allows companies to proactively reach out to and build better relationships with them by showing their voice is being heard and acted upon.

The administrative module is (ex)ecuteRT, which provides tools for system administrators to set up, modify and run the system to deliver results required by business users. All five of these modules run on (ex)celeratorRT, a cloud-based platform that provides the environment, logic and common tools to support them. It provides a scalable, configurable, reliable and secure environment so that the system can be set up to suit individual company requirements.

Our research into customer feedback management finds that vr_cfm_benefits_of_capturing_customer_feedbackcompanies face people, process and technology issues with their customer feedback management and voice of the customer programs. From a people perspective, most don’t have sufficient resources to respond to the results of feedback programs (19% said this is their top people issue), 18 percent don’t have processes in place to make best use of the findings, and from a technology perspective, companies neither have the tools to identify the reasons behind customer interactions nor to collect feedback through all channels (35% each). The ResponseTek platform addresses all these issues, and being available in the cloud allows companies of all sizes to take advantage of it. It also allows companies to close the loop and assure customers that their feedback is being listened to and action is being taken based on it; currently only one-third (34%) of companies in our research can always do. Companies that have advanced feedback software and processes said that they have received a variety of benefits, most often improved customer satisfaction and loyalty (65%), improvement in their products and services (45%) and better focused employee training and coaching (44%).

It is obvious that there is no point in analyzing data if you don’t take action on the insights from it. The same is equally true of customer feedback management; in fact poorly managed programs encourage customers to stop giving feedback because they feel it is a waste their time; this likely undermines customer satisfaction as well. Regarding employee performance effective analysis of feedback can help guide responses to customers and identify areas in which employees need to improve in handling interactions. Companies that want to gain deep insights into their customers, their feelings and their intentions, and seek to establish excellent customer relationships would do well to put in place a closed-loop voice of the customer program. Those thinking about this should evaluate how ResponseTek can support those efforts.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

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