In a World Where Innovation = Automation, People Still Have to Come First
(Photo : In a World Where Innovation = Automation, People Still Have to Come First)

The future has arrived and emerging technologies are making amazing things possible: streamlining operations, accelerating progress, and maximizing productivity. But even as companies get more tech-savvy and automate processes, the value of human-to-human interaction has not diminished. If anything, customers are more conditioned to expect personalized communication and rich interactions. With endless opportunities to take their business elsewhere - and a digital context rife with instant substitutions for both goods and services - companies need to develop their customer intelligence in tandem with the rest of their tech. Too much is at stake to ignore customers, a point evidenced by the sizable investments that enterprises are making in customer success (CS).

The History of Customer Success

In the mid-1990s, customer success groups began cropping up across multiple industries. This happened around the same time that the first customer relationship management (CRM) tools were developed. With the advent of that technology, companies gained visibility into the customer experience and were better able to manage communications and track interactions. While early efforts were rudimentary, they steadily evolved as data from every big company made it clear that how customers feel directly impacts what they will spend. In an effort to stop churn and promote long-term customer loyalty, the customer success department was born.

CS and Sales

An easy point of connection is customer success and sales. Frictionless customer experiences simply make it easier to do business. Sales teams were the first group to actively use customer success data, gleaning insights from early efforts like pulse surveys, phone surveys, and more to understand what the customer experience was like.

Expanding Possibilities: What can be Tracked & What Can be Done

Over time, the scope of what can and should be tracked has expanded. Customer Success leaders began to imagine how much better they could understand the value and return for specific products and services by managing customers from point of entry to post-sale. Over time, huge bodies of data were collected by industry leaders. With AI, collecting this data has become even easier. But the people at the top of companies, C-suite executives and the like, are left with a remaining challenge: how to make this data make sense? And, then, what to do about what they learn?

People Success Platforms

One of the premiere leaders in the customer success space for the past several years is Mary Poppen. She was the Chief Customer Officer at Glint, and before that, the Global Head of Innovation Enabling at SAP SuccessFactors and the Chief Customer Officer for SAP's Global Cloud Business. Now, she is leading the way into the future of customer success by joining a company called involve.ai, which is venturing into uncharted territory, unlocking new possibilities for the future of Customer Intelligence.

"Deliver it Before They Ask."

The future of CS, from Poppen's perspective, is this: "CS has been like a 'cost of goods sold,' a must-have to make sure customers get what they need to be a revenue-generating part of the company. But today, especially after COVID-19, business leaders recognize it as a new growth engine. There's an additional piece: 'we know our customers so well, we know them better than anyone else.' That has been missing, but it is the piece that enables companies to know what customers need even before they know they need it, and deliver it before they ask."

Poppen admits that the technology has not existed to lend this predictive capacity to CS efforts, but involve.ai appears to have cracked the code. Early on, Poppen was connected to the development team at involve.ai as a customer. She quickly spotted the potential of what co-founders Gaurav Bhattacharya and Saumya Bhatnagar were developing, and wanted more. After they delivered above and beyond on a challenge she issued, she was sold.

The Start Of the Customer Intelligence Movement

The biggest problem with CS as it has operated is this: even the right data is delivered too late. CS teams are almost always functioning reactively, with the best insights occurring as hindsight. Especially now that the body of customer data has grown, Customer Intelligence efforts haven't been able to keep up.

involve.ai directly solves this and many more customer-centric problems.

First, they build out in-depth CS insights regardless of a company's existing tech stack. In an age of ever-growing tech, the infrastructure of companies can be highly dispersed. Regardless of how well or even underdeveloped a company's tech operations are and how siloed their data, involve.ai can unify and analyze any source of customer data to yield predictive and prescriptive insights.

Second, the insights provided by involve.ai's proprietary, patent-pending AI comes from real-time tracking that occurs all of the time in the background. This gives CS teams dynamic, real-time insights not just into what went wrong (which is what old CS tells them), but what to do next (prioritization) and what should be done next to drive success. This is paradigm shifting. Poppen describes her first exposure to involve.ai's system in this way: "They could give our team the insights into what is the next value-add activity or information to share with customers because they could run the patterns of data by customers in the background."

Third, CS leaders can use all of the Customer Intelligence data, patterns, and more to gain insight into aggregate trends around the customers who might churn versus the ones who have stayed active and might even be ready to grow, then follow exactly what to do next to drive those successful outcomes. That enables CS leaders to identify which activities, training, webinars, etc. are driving customers to stay versus the ones that have no value in terms of retention and growth.

Fourth, and most importantly, seeing more and understanding customers better is the best way to identify fresh opportunities. CS professionals talk about the "moments that matter," in other words, what are the key touchpoints and interactions that can secure loyalty? What if companies could actually identify those insights, in real-time well before they come? That's where personalized experiences (at scale) can be created and the ways in which companies can truly surprise and delight customers with outstanding interactions in order to drive that growth engine (and their NRR) that is their existing customer base.

This isn't Just About Customer Leaders Anymore

CS has evolved and will continue to evolve. It has gone from being a subsection of the sales department to playing a vital role that informs key strategic decisions and company-wide growth. The best of AI and ML processes can be leveraged to see more, creating a spiral of opportunity that has a positive impact on the entire company. The mission of CS is to deliver winning experiences to make customers as successful as possible. Regardless of the size of a company, regardless of the tech stack, regardless of what is being done right now, what can be done in the future could be totally different, and totally game-changing.

Companies that adopt new technologies to support customer-centricity will arguably lead the way. This is true of an industry in any area of the world, and the tech exists to make this change happen... today.

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