4 Questions Every Small Business Must Ask About Artificial Intelligence

From Siri to Alexa, customers are becoming accustomed to AI-powered solutions and soon they will expect the same for their local businesses. Sure, an AI rollout can be daunting, but by adopting a strategic approach and adding smart software, small businesses will not only be able to differentiate themselves from competitors, but compete with the industry giants as well.   While many overcomplicate the technology, AI’s behaviors are predictable – it’s merely an advanced system that is trained, not told. AI mimics the human brain in the way that it learns. It starts with no information, and after being given thousands of pieces of information, is able to understand and make predictions about data it has never seen before.   AI will become a threat to small businesses if owners believe it won’t impact them, or isn’t already impacting them. The fact is, AI has the potential to drastically help companies of all sizes work smarter and more efficiently than ever before.   Before acting on an AI rollout, here are the top four questions small businesses should ask themselves:   What is it you are looking to achieve with AI?   AI can provide great value for sales, marketing, finance, HR, customer service, and more. Hone in on what exactly you are hoping to achieve with the use of AI – where do you need to increase productivity?   By setting highly focused goals, you will be able to develop a plan that prioritizes specific applications for AI technology. This way, small businesses can slowly adapt and familiarize themselves with the software, that will, overtime, drastically enhance the bottom line.   The most immediate benefit of AI is that it will provide immense efficiency. There will be less time entering data and more time getting valuable insight to augment decision making. There’s a mass amount of data waiting to be analyzed and AI will guide businesses on how to act.   What data has already been put into a system of record?   You’ll never hear the words “too much data” and “AI” used in the same sentence. AI systems become more accurate and effective as the volume of data increases. The big industry players have been accumulating business intel, reporting, and have already moved on to predictive analytics.   The first step in your AI project is to systematize your business. With the widespread adoption of cloud based solutions (SAAS) and the rapid reduction in the cost of storage and processing, the first step is to start instrumenting all elements of your business. Your website, your marketing activities, your sales – including the business that you “win” and “lose.”   Unlike huge, multi-national companies that are able to capture and process peta-bytes of data, small businesses have had access to significantly less data. This is changing with the adoption of cloud-based products and services and the availability of open data sets from governments and other providers. The goal for small business owners is to have the appropriate systems and infrastructure needed to go and analyze data and extract even more business value.   What is your ability to explore your business data and understand what’s going on objectively?   If you’re looking at the raw data it’s easy to “torture the data” to get the answer you want to be there – don’t fall victim to this habit.   Your goal is to generate several hypotheses from the data. Examine outliers and the associations between data elements. Be careful not to draw conclusions too early though, as outliers could be caused by “bad data” that needs to be cleaned up, and the relationships may not be strong enough to make any definitive conclusions. We often allow our personal biases and expectations get in the way of looking at data. The numbers don’t lie, but if we look at them expecting certain results, we may end up manipulating the information to meet our expectations. In order to take full advantage of AI, we need to be able to trust the numbers.   You don’t need to use expensive tools; use the reports and dashboards that are built into the tools you already have and approach the problem with an inquisitive mind. Look for the unexpected and when you detect something that’s interesting, create one or more hypothesis to explain what you’re seeing, and then set about to prove or disprove it.   Is your technology provider on the path to add these capabilities into their product to further automate and provide more meaningful insights?   AI will not provide any benefit if small businesses lack the IT infrastructure to support it. Start by upgrading your approach to IT – move toward a cloud-based resource that can support AI once implemented. Data is a prerequisite to introducing AI into a system, and a paper system is useless when it comes to incorporating AI.   Make sure your goals are aligned with the direction your software is going. If it doesn’t seem as though your software provider is working toward the same future as you, it might be time to consider another option. It’s important to ensure your provider is taking steps to remain relevant in the future of technology.   If you’re just getting started on the business analytics journey, begin by using the reports and dashboards that your systems have today. Become familiar with the digital assistants that are already on your smartphone; explore what they are already able to do and stay current with how these systems are evolving.   By making an effort to understand and embrace AI, small businesses are optimizing operations, improving customer-service, and growing their bottom line. Imagine where your company would be if you didn’t embrace the uncertainty of the internet or didn’t go mobile in the age of the smartphone. Artificial intelligence is the newest technology adding efficiency and intellect to small business – don’t be late to adapt; be better, faster, smarter operators with the use of AI. First published in Forbes

Culture Defines LinkedIn’s Customer Experience

We’ve all had good and bad customer experiences. Unfortunately, it’s the bad ones that we remember most. We mull them over in our minds, fixating on how the vendor could have delivered a great experience if they had only done this or that.  To us the solution is so clear; why doesn’t the vendor see it as well? Scott Shute, VP of Customer Operations at LinkedIn, had one of those telling experiences traveling with his young family over the Thanksgiving holiday. Scott arrived at the Las Vegas airport with just 22 minutes to make his connecting flight, and he literally raced a mile to arrive at the departure gate just as the last few passengers were boarding the plane.  Out of breath, Scott approached the gate agent to let her know that his wife and toddler will be arriving momentarily.  He asked if she could just wait 90 seconds for them to arrive. “Ha,” exclaimed the gate agent as she turned to the boarding door. Scott’s frustration with that airline’s gate agent left an indelible imprint on how he defines customer experience at LinkedIn. A company’s culture defines the customer experience In a recent interview with show host and Fanatics Media managing director, Mark Fidelman, on CX Factor, a customer experience show sponsored by Oracle, Shute explains the connection between LinkedIn’s culture, the company’s ‘members first’ philosophy, and its phenomenal success. Their rapid growth, from 30 million members in 2008 to 467 million members in October 2017 all starts with a culture of empowerment.  And that starts with C-Suite ownership of the culture. LinkedIn’s culture is based on the core values of permission and trust.  Each employee has permission to do what is right for the customer. Shute says owning the solution to the customer’s problem is possible because employees know they have full support of the C-Suite to do what’s right.  That sense of ownership spans the entire company from customer support through product development.  Each employee knows they are part of the solution. Don’t take lightly the value of permission. It implies trust, the most valuable kind; that leaders trust their employees to make the right decisions for their customers, first, and the company, second. To establish that level of trust in your organization, you need all of the following:

  1. Clearly defined values and a management team that demonstrates these values day in and day out through their actions, behaviors and decisions.
  2. A recruitment process that tests for these values, and hiring decisions are made accordingly, without compromise. The best candidates live by these values as well as possess the required skills.
  3. The customer experience team has a deep, detailed understanding of customers’ journeys, as defined by both paid members and platform users, for the entire relationship lifecycle. This means going beyond interaction points and content to include emotion and intent mapping for each role at every level within the organization.
  4. Defined processes and information based on lifecycle journeys that in turn enables them. The focus is on providing employees with the right information at the right time.
  5. Opening all parts of the company to the customer to encourage dialog and personal relationships across all communication channels.
Customer experience is not a platitude.  Yet for many companies it remains a slogan, a marketing initiative or something that pertains only to front line staff.  Therein lays the seed bed of poor customer experiences.  What these brands don’t realize is the linkage effect. According to Peter Drucker, culture drives strategy, which in turn defines organization and processes. Employees, who themselves don’t feel valued, recognized, or appreciated, have a hard time consistently demonstrating a different set of values to their  customers. Shute’s airline experience demonstrates that, as does a recent experience I had at JW Marriott at the Mall of Americas that included the “erroneous” removal and theft of a personal item from my room.  In both cases, the message was clear – the customer was not valued – which calls into question whether the staff themselves are valued Listening is a critical requirement to empowering employees with the right insights and advice upon which to act .  LinkedIn relies on more than its state-of-the-art social customer listening system to hear its customers.  The company monitors customer emotions around key issues that executive leadership prioritizes weekly to address. The combination of a culture focused on customer satisfaction; employee empowerment to directly solve issues; a rich, deep data set, and modern technology infrastructure enables LinkedIn to continually innovate and respond timely to customer needs. Shute’s advice can be put into action with these best practices:
  • Ensure the C-Suite owns the customer and models the behavior of ‘customer first’
  • Proactively define a culture that values employees and empowers them to act in the customers’ best interest
  • Create human connections at the individual level
The last point is the most important. Technology enables asynchronous conversations to employee productivity but they’re only effective if customer experiences are supported by real, meaningful relationships. First published in Forbes at https://www.forbes.com/sites/christinecrandell/2017/08/18/culture-defines-linkedins-customer-experience/#66b01184529e

Why Your Marketing Automation ROI Is In The ‘Lost And Found’

Marketing automation software was born out of a marketer’s need to more effectively generate and nurture leads through the funnel. Today, it is seen as a cornerstone of modern data-driven marketing practices. If marketing automation is a ‘needle mover’, then why the continued furor over its ROI? Act-On Software commissioned its inaugural study on the State of B2B Marketing Automation to determine the link between marketing automation investment and business performance. The findings tell a very different story from what we commonly believe though the study found that companies that were active MA users are more likely to outperform their peers.


53 percent of companies surveyed had implemented marketing automation. 37 percent were planning to and ten percent had no such plans.  Of those planning to implement, 87 percent said their timeframe was within the next six to twelve months. The lack of adoption is puzzling since 82 percent of study respondents agreed that marketing automation can make them more efficient, delivers a ROI and can increase marketing’s contribution to pipeline. The catalyst of adoption is a need for higher quality lead generation.  While every marketer worries about leads, marketing’s worth is measured on the revenue it generates. While generating leads that convert is at the top of the list, it isn’t the only reason to adopt MA:
  • Align sales and marketing (44%)
  • Automate customer onboarding and retention (36%)
  • Measure marketing’s impact on the company’s bottom line (31%)
  • Understand the digital behavior of buyers and customers (30%)
Despite this compelling list of reasons, a surprising finding was the low usage of MA features.  Of the fifteen most commonly found features, the top four most used features are: Email, web forms, landing pages and CRM integration.  The majority of features, nine of them, are used by 33 percent or fewer companies:
  • A/B testing
  • Dynamic content
  • Social integration
  • APIs
  • Dynamic segmentation
  • Progressive profiling
  • Lead recycling
  • Account based marketing
  • Business intelligence integration
Even more surprising is that over 20 percent of companies have no plans to use the last seven features.   Not only does lack of adoption directly imped these marketers in achieving their business goals, it prevents them from capturing the data needed for a true 360 degree view of the customer. What is holding these companies back?  The study found for many companies it’s aligning “marketing automation activities across the business, and to demonstrate the impact these activities have”.  Having to prove in hard numbers the ROI and efficiency gains is a challenge that slows adoption.

Are you a Leader or Laggard?

Leaders are defined as “those whose marketing functions exceeded their top 2016 business goal” and comprised 34 percent of study respondents.  Mainstream are companies that did not exceed but met their business goals. Laggards, by my definition, are those that missed their business goals. One area that differentiates Leaders is what keeps them up at night.  Lead generation keeps everyone up but for mainsteam and laggard companies it was also building brand awareness. Leaders are 55 percent more likely to be worried about lead handoff from marketing to sales and retention of customer/install base than top-of-funnel lead generation.  Equally, leaders are more likely to have achieved sales and marketing alignment. Leaders leverage MA technology to better understand the digital behavior patterns of customers and buyers. By capturing where, when and to what customers respond to, marketers are better able to serve up the right content and offers, at the right time, to the right persona through the right channel and in the most effective format. It all comes down to data. While MA will not provide a 360 degree view of the customer, the data it captures combined with the data from other solutions in the MarTech stack can provide the near real-time insights needed to continuously fine-tune how marketing and sales deliver value-add to customers and buyers. Interestingly, leaders use more of their MA solution’s features.  48 percent of leaders, compared to 29 percent of mainstream, use social functionality.  Another is lead nurturing and lead scoring where there is a 23 percent gap in adoption between leaders and the rest of the study respondents. The gap between leaders and mainstream/laggards becomes wider when the study evaluated what metrics they use to measure marketing’s performance.  While a majority of respondents measure new contacts and traffic to landing pages/forms the similarity ends there.  Leaders, on average, measure these additional metrics:
  • Marketing qualified leads (69% vs. 49%)
  • Sales qualified leads (64% vs. 43%)
  • Sales accepted leads (61% vs. 39%)
  • Sales generated leads (56% vs. 43%)
  • Marketing-generated opportunities (55% vs. 40%)
  • Marketing contribution to pipeline (unweighted) (51% vs. 24%)
  • Marketing contribution to revenue (49% vs. 26%)
  • Marketing contribution to pipeline (weighted) (38% vs. 20%)

Close the Gap

Marketing automation is not a ‘load and forget’ piece of software but a catalyst to change; part of the pathway to becoming a more effective, data-driven marketing organization. To be successful a strategy and plan is needed.  Prioritize the MA features to be implemented based on where the initial low hanging fruit is. In other words, go slow. Start with small changes that show success and progressively tackle more sophisticated workflows.  But you need to have a plan first and to partner with someone that specializes in change management. Second, based on your plan define the current marketing workflows as well as the new ones. Define the roles, hand-offs, data and sources, and new activities. Starting with the initial set of low hanging fruit workflows/activities will give you a very in-depth understanding of the degree of change –people, process, data and technology – needed for measurable success. Third, socialize, socialize, and socialize.  Implementing new technology/processes that touches many parts of an organization is always more successful when the people affected have a voice in the process, are adequately trained, and regularly kept abreast of progress. I’ve seen implementations fail because technology was implemented in isolation and the lack of grass-roots support sabotaged a well-meaning effort. Fourth, get clear on the type of MA solution that is right for you. I see a tendency in companies to either want to buy a Cadillac when what they need is a Prius or buy a stripped down Corolla when they need a F150 pick up. No offense Toyota.  Every business is different just as are customer’ journeys and lifetime experience expectations.  Before jumping into demos, invest the time to develop a solid set of requirements – business, technical and functional.   Go back to your plan and your redefined workflows and use them to define the requirements. Lastly, have a heart-to-heart with your senior leadership and finance. Ensure that funding is available for future years to provide the necessary resources to grow into your MA solution. It took companies in the study three month to a year or more to get to measurable ROI. +Too often, the focus is on the initial cost of the solution and the renewal terms – overlooking the need for additional training, resources, etc.   First published in Forbes at https://www.forbes.com/sites/christinecrandell/2017/08/15/why-your-marketing-automation-roi-is-in-the-lost-and-found/#20f9e1631cb9  

Lessons General Motors Teaches Us on How To Become Customer-Centric

General Motors has made a remarkable come-back from the brink of failure in 2009. And large part of that is a result of its shift from traditional automotive products to a customer experience company. GM’s business goal today is to be the best in customer experience across any industry. They don’t compare themselves to Ford, Toyota or the Volkswagon Group but to USAA, Starbucks, and Amazon.Brands that have successfully achieved cross-functional customer alignment and continually innovate experiences in response to evolving customer needs and expectations.

GM’s path to becoming customer-aligned is an interesting one and therein a role model on how to successfully transform from a product to a customer-centric organization. While GM’s transformation is unique to them, there are valuable lessons for anyone involved in customer-alignment. Getting Started The CEO is critical to a successful transformation. They define the approach, are the champion, hold teams accountable, defines what success looks like, and model daily the behaviors that they want their organization to embrace. In other words, the CEO owns this and needs to get their hands dirty. Mary Barra, General Motors’ CEO, doubled down on customer alignment transformation by rewriting the company’s vision and values when she took the helm. She communicated these through an internal video called “earning customers for life” which demonstrates, from the customer’s perspective, what a great experience is. GM’s approach to customer-alignment is a series of pilots, small projects and initiatives. The pilots are defined based on journey map data that identified where initial low-hanging fruit and key opportunities were. Dave Mingle, Global Director of Customer Experience Strategy and Enterprise Experiences of General Motors, is a strong believer in the value of journey mapping to discover and understand the relationship lifecycle of personas, key interaction points, and micro-moments of pain. “Getting the organization to focus on micro-moments of pain is critical to changing the customer experience,” he shared. GM knew that becoming customer-aligned was, at the root, change management and that requires people, process and systems to evolve. “The opportunity is to get past the vision discussion and on to ‘how do we turn a silo centric legacy system business’ into one that is truly engineered to deliver customer experiences,” said Don Schuerman, Chief Technology Officer of Pegasystems, a customer engagement and operational excellence platform, and key IT ecosystem partner of GM. “What I see happening in enterprises that are doing this right is a top-down and bottom-up culture commitment coupled with a strong vision of what the company wants the customer experience to be.”That empowers everyone, not just the front line, to deliver the desired experiences and helps employees change how they think about their role. Before Mingle’s team jumped into journey mapping, they reviewed existing information and defined a hypothesis on what customers valued, experience pain points, and root causes. That equipped them with a clearer focus as they launched journey mapping, using qualitative and quantitative techniques. “To get started – some journey mapping is needed. Organizations need to do just enough analysis to have an educated belief and then get it out there to test and learn from it,” said Schuerman. “In many organizations, the danger is trying to do something perfect instead of good enough. What is the minimum you can do that is loveable by your customers and have a net improvement knowing that you are going to iterate on it?” To achieve this, Mingle kept initial journey mapping at a high level by targeting North American personas as defined by GM’s brand management and documented those interactions and moments that mattered most. That gave the team not only a manageable place to start but a realistic path to success without causing duplicate work down the road when more detailed segmentation journey mapping would be done. GM’s initial mapping identified six customer journey stages:
  • Learn
  • Shop
  • Buy
  • Onboard
  • Use
  • Own
To GM’s surprise, the Onboard stage was a high pain point. By the time the customer reached this stage they had been through what can be a long and stressful experience of the Learn, Shop, and Buy phases.Certain customers even reported some level of buyers’ remorse primarily because they didn’t understand what they had just purchased. The team learned that one of the root causes of dissatisfaction was a lack of education on the vehicle’s features, how to properly use them, etc. Based on journey data, initial customer alignment pilots were prioritized and success defined, which helped secure internal seed funding. Pilots that achieved success and earned ROI within a business unit where advanced to the next stage of the process and rolled out across the organization.  According to Mingle “Getting the strategy approved is easy. Implementation is harder because business unit leaders are not always aligned on short- and long-term customer experience investments, especially if it impacts their short-term metrics.” The customer alignment transformation focused first on fixing the Onboarding pain points. Pilots focused on enrolling customers in services and education programs within the first 30 days of car ownership. Some of those pilot programs that have been successfully rolled out across GM include enrolling all customers in OnStar Services, the Owner Center and encouraging them to download a GM application to their smart phone. “When customers don’t go through the ‘how to’ modules that we know address likely pain points, the owner center and app may prompt the customer to complete the activity,” said Mingle. These interactions provide a persistent connection between the customer, the car and GM. Dealers were also provided with a more structured process to follow in Onboarding customers and how to anticipate and proactively address problems. Fixing the Onboarding process was a significant and very visible win that touched every business unit. Mingle’s advice is to “Eat the journey, one bite at a time. “ Schuerman recommends doing “one journey at a time. Pick a journey, not a channel, that has a clear outcome attached to it and fix that .” The very act of doing that touches multiple parts of an organization and highlights changes needed – retrain employees, change brick / mortar layout, redo processes, etc. - to support the target outcome. Journey mapping a process or stage will naturally result in numerous variations of that journey based on the product and persona researched; each variation represents a slightly different set of experiences. “Pick the stages or processes that have a high degree of commonality and focus on researching and documenting the variations,” advises Schuerman. “Then reuse the journey map for additional products/channels/personas to find differences - building off the commonalities.” Mingle’s fledgling customer experience group was formalized into the Global Connected Customer Experience Team which reports directly to Barra.The global team now has about 30 members and is measured on customer loyalty, CSAT, service retention, digital engagement, and connectivity leadership. To avoid the common problem of spotty functional group buy-in when companies set up dedicated CX teams to ‘own’ the customer experience, GM took deliberate steps to seat ownership within the business units. They achieved this by socializing pilots and soliciting ‘hand raisers’ from all levels and functions in across business units to help execute pilots. Mingle’s team trained and worked with these employees on how to storytell the results within their own business units which earned the CX team and the many ‘hand raisers’ credibility. Today, the six journey stages are owned by functional groups. Sales and Marketing owns Learn, Shop and Buy. The corporate CX team owns OnBoarding, CX governance, and the digital customer experience. Customer Care and After Sales owns Use and Own stages. These three teams bring the customer journeys to life across General Motors. Lessons Learned
  1. Discover key micro moments through journey blueprinting; build on them by mapping additional personas and sales situations.
  2. Technology is not “the” silver bullet to achieve customer alignment; it requires end-to-end streamlining of processes, data and culture.
  3. Integrate CX methodology into the product development process; define what success and failure looks like for each journey step.
  4. Process owners must be held accountable for bringing each customer successfully through their journey segment and to the next process point and process owner.
  5. Data and infrastructure are the glue that stitch together new experiences and enable employees to do the right, informed thing.
  6. Story tell in ways that matter most for each audience; tune each story to the interests of internal business leaders and link CX results to each leader’s goal structure/metrics.
  7. Change the behavior of distribution channel partners with incentives tied to specific CX metrics to motivate partners.
General Motor’s New Customer Experience In bringing its vision to life, GM discovered that connectivity changes the customer journey, positively. In response GM is integrating their customers’ digital life with their vehicle. In connected cars, every time the customer turns the key the car is telling GM something about how the car is performing. That enables GM to offer highly personalized services and targeted discounts. For example, data captured by vehicles can be used to offer safety recommendations to customers on how to drive better. If you’re a good driver, you could share that data with your insurance company for a discount. Connectivity produces a lot of data – within which lie opportunities for new products and services. “We do not share customer data with dealers unless there is a specific event like a maintenance schedule, and only if the customer has consented,” said Mingle. Of the 12 million connected vehicles on the road, 4.5 million have 4G LTE which turns the car into a mobile hot spot and keeps customers connected with their digital lives. In 2016, that resulted in 200 million customer interactions. GM uses Pegasystems to handle 200,000 OnStar in-car calls per day from drivers last year and automate over 1 million decisions an hour. The goal is to make it easy for customers to enjoy their car. General Motors currently uses the Pega Customer Decision Hub and the Pega Platform to power their standalone decisioning engine that drives capabilities into all channels their customers use to interact with the company. When a customer contacts General Motors, the Pega solution uses rules, predictive intelligence, and machine learning to drive the next best action regardless of channel for consistent, relevant interactions. Additionally, the Pega Platform provides a model-based environment that enables General Motors’ development teams to easily make changes as they need, so customers see continuous improvements in service. The lessons General Motors has learned in how to transform into a customer-aligned organization are applicable to everyone. The key lessons are:
  • Start small by picking a customer segment, product line, or business unit.
  • Come to terms that this is change management, not a one-time Sales or Marketing project.
  • Journey map through the buyers eyes the journey stages, key interactions and pain points.
  • Adopt a proven methodology, like the Sellers Compass, to guide you through the process.
  • Secure funding and support by storytelling the ROI in ways tailored to leaders’ metrics.
  • Involve employees to own the pilots, it increases success and momentum.
  • Established a funded (small) central CX team as a COE, the rest of the company owns CX.
If GM can make this transformation, so can you. Where are you getting stuck?   First published on MarTech Advisor.